Chef Frederic Kieffer and Artisan Restaurant
Chef Frederic Kieffer is the culinary curator of twin restaurants, Artisan West Hartford and Artisan Southport. Kieffer grew up in France and attended culinary school in his home country in the late 1980s; he first visited America when he participated in a culinary exchange program with Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Following the exchange program, Kieffer began working in Greenwich, ultimately spending over a decade in restaurants both there and in Manhattan before opening his first restaurant, L’Escale, in Greenwich in 2001. 10 years later, Kieffer opened the first Artisan location in Southport, Connecticut. Artisan’s grand opening in West Hartford followed in September of 2017, and this, the newest of Chef Kieffer’s ventures, leaves him with much to be proud of.
Artisan’s West Hartford space is divided into distinct sections that transition smoothly into one another. In pleasant weather, outside in an intimate and charming garden, guests can enjoy cocktails and small bites on wicker chairs and wooden benches. White linen tablecloths and yellow festoon garden lights remind guests that despite the soil beneath their shoes, the ambience remains sophisticated.
Inside, there is a small but bright and private dining room. Against an adjoining wall is the tavern, the largest and most luxurious room, adorned with polished silverware, glistening glassware, and a small pink flower arranged on each of the square tables. The tavern also features a large bar and a variety of seating, including cushioned benches and small tables. Here, more casual fare and brunch are offered. Custom murals painted by Stockholm artist Jonas Wickman decorate the walls of both this and the dining room. In the entry hallway, floor-to-ceiling wooden panels pay homage to Connecticut’s tobacco barns in Windsor.
While Artisan offers traditional New England dishes like pot roast and cedar-plank salmon, Kieffer’s French roots lends a unique fusion to the restaurant’s dishes. “Artisan isn’t necessarily a French restaurant but there is some influence, especially in the technique and preparation of dishes,” says Kieffer. Although the menu is steeped in long-established culinary tradition, Kieffer also participates in one of New England’s newer food trends: sourcing locally produced ingredients. Artisan is committed to serving fresh, sustainably grown, local ingredients, and Kieffer is well-known for highlighting Connecticut-grown produce in his menu. “I started doing farm-to-table even before Artisan. It’s not a trend for me,” says Kieffer. “The farmer is the star. It’s a labor of love. It’s about passing it on to the next generation.”
Locally produced New England fare appears throughout Artisan’s menus. Breakfast offerings include Connecticut bacon from Nodine’s Smokehouse in Torrington, Vermont maple syrup and cheddar cheese, and Artisan’s acclaimed, house-made scallion English muffins. The Tavern menu features expected New England dishes like Connecticut Blue Point Oysters, Maine Lobster roll, and fish and chips, as well as less familiar options like “Pork Less” Charcuterie, which includes chicken liver mousse, duck prosciutto, and rabbit rillettes. Even the cocktail menu has a local approach, utilizing Connecticut gin – Hartford’s own Wild Moon Liqueur from Hartford Flavor Company – and Vermont’s Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin.
Kieffer and Artisan’s Chef de Cuisine, Thomas Kaldy, divided the full menu by “The Garden,” “The Mill,” “The Sea,” and “The Land,” furthering emphasizing the importance that guests both understand and appreciate where their food comes from. Artisan’s famous seafood chowder takes center stage alongside local quail, Rohan duck breast, cider braised veal breast, and baked vegan tian.
Kieffer’s sustained relationships with Connecticut and New England farmers is a hallmark of his tenure as a chef. Artisan partners with Renee Giroux and Gilberties Herb Garden, which is one of the largest USDA-approved organic farms and located in nearby Easton. Kieffer sources cheese from throughout Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and notes that the selection at Fairfield Cheese Shop is vast and impressively curated. “They bring their staff to farms,” he says, “and they go to every creamery and farm they source from. Cheese is like food – it is seasonal. It has ups and downs.”
Kieffer’s philosophy also extends outside the workplace. He maintains three of his own personal garden beds, each of which are 18’x6’. Depending on the season, Kieffer grows eggplants, tomatoes, parsley, tarragon, mixed greens, beans, peas, and fruit. As any farmer or gardener knows, it takes more than a green thumb to be successful. As Kieffer explains, “planting is one thing but maintaining them is the hard part. You have to find the time to make marmalade when all of the peaches are fully ripe. So, it’s like two o’clock in the morning and I’m making 20 jars of peach marmalade.”
It’s clear that Kieffer’s dedication to New England’s traditional, sustainable food production methods is more than just a façade to lure customers; it’s a core part of his personal customs, and one that he happily shares with his family. “You have to practice what you preach. I can’t do what I do here at work and not at home. Farm-to-Table isn’t a trend or a business model, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not supposed to be a business model. You can’t have whatever you want whenever you want. [Farm-to-Table is] more expensive, it’s harder on the chef to coordinate, but it’s important.” If the process is more complicated and laborious for Kieffer and his team of culinary crafters, their extra effort is not wasted: delicious and unique plates await their guests in the multifaceted ambiance of Artisan’s newest location.