At the corner of First Avenue and Fort King Street on the Ocala Downtown Square sits a small slice of French flavor in the middle of Central Florida. French natives Patrice Perron and Elodie Guinard Perron, owners of La Cuisine, have been providing that flavor with a Central Florida twist since 2009. “We are a family restaurant, we really care about people, and we are here to make sure that everything is nice for [our customers] to have a great experience,” Patrice said.
La Cuisine serves such French staples as escargot, duck a l’orange, poutine, and more. The ambiance is that of a small French cafe, and diners may choose to enjoy their meal on the restaurant’s patio overlooking a nearby street.
Patrice and Elodie both are French natives, and a trip through Florida first brought them to the area. “We took a road trip in 2005 right after the big hurricane, and we stopped in Ocala to see a friend,” Elodie said. “He gave us a tour around and showed us all the horse farms and such, and he said for all of that, there’s only one independent restaurant here [on the Square]. Everything else is a chain. So, it would be very cool to have a French restaurant here.”
The trip planted an idea in their heads, and they spent the next few years giving it some consideration and weighing their options. “We went back home and talked about it, and after three years, we made it happen,” Elodie said. “Patrice came here in 2008 and bought the building, and then the kids and I followed in 2009.”
Opening a French restaurant in an area where people may not entirely be familiar with French cuisine presented a unique challenge, especially around the time of the 2008 recession.
“Everyone was like, ‘A French restaurant in Ocala? Why?’” Elodie said, laughing.
But they powered through, completing renovations and first opening their doors in 2009.
“We made the restaurant from scratch,” Patrice said. “It was an office building, and on the other side it was a ceramic shop or something. We turned on the lights and redid everything inside. The market was tough, because in 2009 it was terrible. The [local] market wasn’t used to French cuisine, so it was tough.”
French cuisine is the beginning of cuisine. In many cuisines, the basics you learn in the kitchen, [are] usually French.— Elodie Guinard Perron
Patrice is a highly trained chef who studied under the tutelage of world-renowned chefs in France, including Josef Viola, Paul Bocuse, and more. His hometown of Lyon is considered one of the food capitals of the world, and Lyonnaise cuisine is home to all sorts of traditional dishes and practices that have gained popularity the world over.
Food plays a big part in many French homes, and as such, numerous French traditions and cultural norms are centered around food, and both Patrice and Elodie have their own thoughts on just why that is. “French cuisine is the beginning of cuisine,” Elodie said. “It’s the creation of cuisine, and I’m not trying to be condescending or anything, but it’s true. In many cuisines, the basics you learn in the kitchen, [are] usually French.”
Meals in France often are nothing like what many of us in the United States are accustomed to. When you sit down for a meal with loved ones in France, expect to be there awhile. “In France, even right now, you are always talking food,” Patrice explained. “When you are eating, you are talking food. There is a point, every day, to a breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, but when you sit down, we are taking the time to eat. There is a culture here in America that’s all business — work, work, work.”
Elodie demonstrates just how important family meals are in France. “Family meals take forever,” Elodie said, laughing. “I was talking to my parents the other day, and it was noon here and 6 p.m. there, and they were like, ‘Oh, we just finished lunch!’ Whenever you go to France and you’re with family or friends, it’s always around food. You really sit down and have multiple courses and you get out of lunch at 6 or 7 p.m. And then everyone is like, ‘Well, it’s almost time for dinner, should we do something else?’”
For Patrice and Elodie, their goal is to bring that same culture here to Central Florida. They invite diners at La Cuisine to sit and stay awhile. Giving them time to enjoy everything that French culture and cuisine has to offer.
So, the next time you are planning a date night, birthday dinner, Sunday brunch or simply want to enjoy a nice meal, pay a visit to Patrice and Elodie. You can bet they will have a table waiting for you, ready to spend an hour (or three or four) enjoying everything France has to offer in downtown Ocala.
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