Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? This Rock City Eat’s series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we feature Chef Chris McMillan of Boulevard Bistro & Bar.
Boulevard Bistro & Bar opened in the early part of 2015. The restaurant is an expansion of the long-time Boulevard Bread Company’s bakery and market location in The Heights. With the bistro, Boulevard owners, Christina Basham and Sonia Schaefer introduced a full-service restaurant with a focus on French and Southern comforts. Chef Chris McMillan was named executive chef and has been a key player in helping the restaurant succeed:
How long have you been with the Boulevard?
I did two separate stints of about 3 years each and now I’m here for a third time and have been here for about a year.
Which restaurants have worked in before Boulevard?
I’ve worked at more places than I care to admit, but the ones that stick out are: Pizza D’ Action where I was a bartender for a long time, Boulevard…I first did a stint under Scott McGehee, helped them at the original ZaZa, and then helped open ZaZa Conway. I eventually came back to Boulevard and spent three years there as the head chef before spending a year doing some restaurant general management and consulting for another business. And this time I was asked to return to Boulevard again to head the opening of the bistro.
How long have you been in Little Rock and how long have you been in the food industry?
I’ve been in Little Rock since I was 13 years old. I took a brief excursion to Portland, Oregon when I was 19 but came back in my early 20s. I started in the food industry when I was 15 at “Lynn’s” greasy spoon diner as a short order cook downtown on Capitol and Cumberland.
What are some dishes at Boulevard you’d consider “can’t miss” items?
The smoked pork shank with red wine sauce and gremolata, the lamb with ravigote, and obviously, the baked pimento cheese appetizer.
What do you think is special about Boulevard? What sets it apart or makes it unique from other Little Rock restaurants?
There are a lot of people doing a great job with the more interesting food movement we’ve got going on in Little Rock now. Everybody has their own unique spin on what they’re doing…which is great. I think Boulevard has been a consistent Little Rock staple for a long time and what I’m trying to do here is carry over that quality that people expect from us in way that is unpretentious but definitely elevated. I love food and I’m just creating things I love in my own way.
Who are some Little Rock chefs you respect most?
I like Brian Deloney over at Maddie’s Place…amazing shrimp and grits. Jeffery Owen at Ciao Baci is going great things over there.
When you eat out, which restaurants/bars do you frequent most?
I usually end up spending the great deal of my time at Boulevard but when I do get out, I end up crashing a place like Mike’s Vietnamese restaurant over on Asher.
What things would you like to see happen to the Little Rock food scene in the future?
When I was living in Portland there were a ton of amazing authentic Thai places everywhere you looked. I would love to have something like that here. And of course I would like to see more locally owned restaurants and less franchise places.
What are some things you enjoy most about cooking in Little Rock?
It’s easier for everyone with their own food concepts and ideas to stand out equally in Little Rock because the food scene isn’t completely over saturated here.
Any big plans or surprises headed for Boulevard Bistro in the next few months?
We’ve always got big plans. We’ll be putting out new food and new drinks every season, and that’s always exciting. We also have plans to revamp the cafe/market side of the restaurant and bring in some new creations down to the SoMa location.
Can you tell us a bit about your culinary training?
I can’t exactly say that I’m “self-taught” because nobody really learns cooking on their own. I would say I’m “self-disciplined”, a lot of trial and error, a lot of reading and studying…the old-fashioned way.
Describe your perfect night out in Little Rock?
I’m pretty low key these days…a couple of beers, take-out (pork dumplings if possible) and a nice walk sound pretty awesome right now.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in the kitchen?
I golf a bit, and I’m pretty fond of road trips.
What city (or cities), anywhere in the world, do you most enjoy eating in?
New York was just crazy when I went a couple of years ago. I have some pretty fond memories of Charleston, S.C. and Asheville, N.C., as well.