Chef David Blair | The winding path to fine French cuisine

Restaurant Owner Turned Chef after Decades of Being in the Local Food Industry

On a cool September evening a handful of diners are tucked into Le Bistro in Incline Village, Nev., to enjoy delicious contemporary French-fusion cuisine. Back in the cozy kitchen, owner and chef David Blair is at the helm with a variety of sizzling sauces, soufflé potatoes and meats cooking to perfection.

When Blair visited the Tahoe Sierra as a youngster, he never thought that 40 years later he’d own and cook at a fine-dining restaurant on the North Shore. Blair came here for the skiing and took a job in the casino at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Yearning for stable hours that still allowed him to play during the day, Blair ended up at Timber Cove in South Lake Tahoe serving prime rib dinners and dressed baked potatoes.

Blair also became a wine writer for the Tahoe Reader, a free publication sent to local mailboxes. In the early 1990s, he moved to Tahoe City and worked for Gar Woods Grill & Pier, continuing to learn about food and wine pairing. Blair then transitioned into wholesaling wine while also spending a five-year stint at Swiss Lakewood Restaurant learning how to make French fare under then-owner Albert Marty.

In the mid-1990s, Blair became more interested in French wine and started working at Le Bistro while skiing 100 to 120 days a season and run trails in the summer with his chocolate Labrador retriever Yogi Blair.

In 2006, Blair formed a local bluegrass band called The Rusty Strings, which included Kerry Andras, now a bassist in Sneaky Creatures and Jenni Charles of the Dead Winter Carpenters.

Through his wine distribution job, Blair accumulated a massive French wine collection, yet sold a lot of it to buy a new mandolin.

King Salmon with saffron with baby shiitake

“I have always been good at food and wine pairing and talking to customers about what they like to drink,” he says. “Some people have a photographic memory with faces. I feel that way about flavors. I have a vivid memory of tastes and flavors.”

Even though Blair wrote about wine, distributed it and served it at various Tahoe restaurants, he never really thought about being a chef. However, at one point in time he paired up with Michelle Rintala of the Yogurt Factory, now called The Dam Café in Tahoe City, and they ended up taking third at the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival with a yogurt sauce lamb gyro creation.

“I was surprised when she brought back the medal,” he says.

However, even though Blair may not have realized it at the time, he always had a natural propensity for cooking.

“It’s always been a knack of mine to think about flavors and how they work together. Just like the very best wines should have a lot of flavor and identity, the goal is knowing how to make that food and pair it well with wine,” he says. “Food should have opulent flavor — balanced, harmonious and savory.”

After working at Le Bistro for more than 20 years, Blair took over the reins in 2016. He had a few interesting and talented chefs come through, including a Culinary Institute of America graduate. But the job seemed to appeal to a transient workforce. Blair eventually took over the role with local dessert chef Liesl Panke who handcrafts all of the baked goods at Le Bistro’s, including the loaves of rustic artisan bread served with every meal.

“I thought about running a restaurant for a long time. One of my best friends is Ed Coleman [known for Truckee establishments Pianeta, Bar of America and Cottonwood, and who manages Tahoe City’s Christy Hill] and I spent a lot of time eating at local restaurants. I’ve always been comfortable with a lower volume establishment that’s more quality driven, a place that takes a hands-on approach to the operations.”

With Le Bistro, he’s kept a similar five-course format, added his own twist on certain items and has integrated Asian-inspired dishes. One of his favorite foods to make is coq au vin.

“I enjoy the science, working with numbers, doing things in order and by the book. I use a timer for everything. I want to create an environment that’s an oasis of food and wine in the area,” Blair says.

Coq Au Vin

From the Kitchen of Chef David Blair

12 chicken thighs
¼ yellow onion, diced
2 pieces lean bacon, crumbled
3 ounces brandy
1 bottle Pinot Noir
6 medium carrots, diced
24 oz. mushrooms, diced
12 Cipollini onions, diced
Salt & pepper
Italian parsley

Heat the Pinot Noir to a boil and ignite until the flame expires. Slowly sauté the onions in butter and bacon.

Season the chicken with the herbs, and add it to the pan, skin side down, until browned. Pour brandy over the chicken and ignite, turning the pieces skin side up.

Pour the reduced Pinot over the chicken until covered with liquid. Place in a 300-degree F oven for 90 minutes covered loosely with foil.

Separate the chicken pieces, remove bones. Allow the liquid to cool in a container and remove the fat from the sauce. Service the sauce over the chicken and vegetables.