Your first step into the fine European dining experience known as Au Courant brings a flurry of warm and friendly energy.
The minimalist design plays contrast to the cozy atmosphere. Sleek wooden tables and chairs contribute to that classic neighborhood feel, while the high tin ceiling adorned with suspended globe lights invokes a sense of spaciousness and elegance. Hanging plants surround the center horseshoe bar that adds to the fresh, lively ambiance.
Owners Benjamin Maides and Carlos Mendez envisioned a restaurant that carried out a new take on European cuisine. This style of cuisine encompasses a much broader range of ingredients and techniques, while remaining true to its roots.
Maides, who oversees the culinary side of Au Courant, says, “I was tired of being told what to cook and how to cook it.”
He wanted to innovate and be creative in his kitchen. The cultured co-owner lived in Switzerland for nine years and spent years traveling and honing his craft on his journey to become a classically trained chef. As a boy, he also gained inspiration by watching his mother and grandmother cook.
Maides’ experience, which includes time under world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller at a 1-star Michelin restaurant in California, taught him to be diligent in the way he crafts his cuisine.
“We are very OCD about the flours we use,” Maides says. “We are very specific about the local farm-raised eggs that we use.”
Maides not only wants to provide the best possible experience for every guest, he wants to support and contribute to local farms.
Maides works to find a balance between his innovation and old-world traditions. For example, he uses classical training from his time in Italy to make hand-made pasta, but he innovates with different stuffings and sauces.
Maides stays committed to the traditional principles he learned in cooking, despite his desire for innovation, saying, “We still just do things classically sometimes.”
The ability to stick to the core tenets of European cuisine while continuing to innovate is what separates Au Courant as a fine-dining experience.
While innovative cuisine remains the focus, it’s not the only aspect of Au Courant that stands out from competition. The cocktails and hand-picked wine selection contribute to the cuisine and ambiance.
“We have a talented sommelier,” Maides says. “Wine is a big part of what we do and how we do it.”
Au Courant’s menu changes every week, and the sommelier must find good, affordable wine that pairs with the menu items. Not only does sommelier and general manager Samuel Bloomer need an excellent, attentive palette, but he also must keep the wines’ price points reasonable. Maides says he would rather guests enjoy bottles instead of glasses as it contributes to a more enjoyable experience overall.
The restaurant also prides itself on the atmosphere. “We want to provide great food and great company,” Maides says. “And, we want to provide that in an unpretentious way.”
The off-the-beaten path location in the heart of Benson allows Au Courant to maintain the air of an inviting neighborhood restaurant. Maides says he loves being a part of the community that allows his culinary expertise to shine through in the best possible way.
Maides’ involvement and support of the local community is the measuring stick he uses to gauge the success of his restaurant. He says Au Courant’s success is not measured by monetary gains or vain personal satisfaction.
In the future, Maides says he hopes his passion for using quality, locally-sourced ingredients “continues the cycle of buying amazing products from farmers and giving them to guests,” as they enjoy the ultimate European fine-dining experience.