Matchbook Memories is an occasional series or restaurant remembrances based on matchbooks picked up at host stands from around the world, and especially Central Florida.
The building that now houses Ravenous Pig, and before that its sister restaurant Cask & Larder, for many years was home to what many considered to be one of the area’s swankiest restaurants: Le Cordon Bleu.
It was owned by Swiss-trained chef George Vogelbacher and his wife, Monique, who ran the front of the house. Its menu, of course, was classic French. It seems odd now but when I first arrived in Orlando in the late eighties, there were few restaurants specializing in French cuisine. By that time, Le Cordon Bleu, which predated the now-defunct local chapter of the cooking school with the same name, had been around for a couple of decades, since 1968.
I first reviewed the restaurant in early 1989, during my first year at the Sentinel as I made my way around to check out the longtime local favorites. My review has been lost to the electronic gods who oversee newspaper archives, but I remember my assessment was less than a rave. More than the food, I took issue with the decor, which I recall featured a lot of red-flocked wallpaper. I seem to remember having a discussion with my editor about whether or not I could use the word whorehouse. I could not. I might have gotten the words French cathouse past the copy desk.
Le Cordon Bleu shared the building with a bar called Harper’s Tavern, which one might describe as an upscale dive. Together, the two businesses were local landmarks.
Then, in the summer of 1996, a fire severely damaged the building and forced both businesses out. Harper’s closed, but the Vogelbachers took over Jordan’s Grove, the restaurant on the property of the Enzian Theater. They chose not to call it Le Cordon Bleu and instead named it Nicole St. Pierre after their daughter and son. They featured some of the dishes that had been on Cordon Bleu’s menu, but the vibe never was the same. Perhaps people missed the wallpaper. The Vogelbachers eventually sold the restaurant, which became Chef Arthur’s Nicole St. Pierre. It didn’t last long and the structure, an old house, was eventually razed for expansion of the movie theater.
In the meantime, repairs to the fire-damaged structure allowed another business, O’Boys Barbecue, to move in, mainly on the tavern side. It was out not long after and plans were announced for a restaurant concept called Big Star with the lounge to be called Osceola Room Bar. I have no recollection of them ever opening.
Following the sale of Nicole St. Pierre, Vogelbacher worked as a caterer and private chef. Then, in 2009, he teamed up with the partners opening Winter Park Fish Company to be its chef. He left there and now, in his late 70s, is the chef at Maxine’s on Shine.