Thoughts from chef Normand J Leclair
When we cook in the kitchen, we cook with our eyes, nose, hands and ears.
When we (I) cook, another body comes alive. Not the body of walking, sitting or talking, but the body of cooking.
A body and mind alive to flavors and fragrance, a body ready to touch and feel, a body which eats with eyes as well as mouth. Hands awaken, boundless with their own knowledge, picking up, handling, and putting down.
Cooking is a complete body experience, tasting foods and flavors that cannot be duplicated.
To experience the complete enjoyment of food, taste a small portion of any food. Let the food sit on your tongue for a moment and taste the food with your brains as well. You will experience flavors that you have never tasted before. So many people eat so fast; complete taste never gets its full enjoyment.
Normand J Leclair
Life & Career
June 8, 1936 - June 26-2022
Chef Normand Leclair retired from a long, prosperous, and memorable career as owner of the Red Rooster Tavern on Post Road in North Kingstown RI. His culinary journey began in 1959 upon discharge from the Army when he opened the Chick-n-Pick, at 7373 Post Road in North Kingstown. A stones-throw from Quonset Point, an active Naval base, the Chick-n-Pick quickly became popular, and Normand’s culinary talents expanded.
The name, coupled with an appreciation for the Chick-n-Pick offerings, prompted customers to bring rooster and chicken figurines to the restaurant. At one time, there were thirty on a shelf over the stove near the coffee area. One day, the shelf let go. Roosters and chickens went flying all over, breaking many of them.
One surviving red rooster became Normand’s lucky charm. He brought it to Lenny, the bartender up the road at the Pagoda Inn, where he sometimes went for a drink after work. Lenny sat the rooster on a shelf overlooking the bar where it continued to bring Normand good luck.
On a lucky Monday in 1969, Normand saw a for sale sign on a house across the street from the Chick-n-Pick at 7385 Post Road. He knocked on the door and struck a deal with the woman owner. The closing was held that Friday. While applying for the Liquor license, the town clerk asked for the name of the new establishment. The name immediately came to Normand, “Red Rooster Tavern, he replied!”
Over the next 5 years, Normand planned and then opened the Red Rooster Tavern. This time, Chef Normand found the perfect business partner in Frank Hennessey. While Normand was the creative executive chef of the kitchen; Frank was the concierge of the front of the house and master of the Tavern’s highly regarded wine cellar and outstanding music performed by accomplished pianists. Their combined talents shaped the Red Rooster Tavern into a five-star dining experience.
At the Red Rooster Tavern, Normand extended his rage from chicken to lobster. He cultivated a loyal team of employees who expertly served five-star entrees along with the best service. Normand would steal away from the kitchen to make rounds through the dining room to connect with guests. His goal was to make people feel “real” special. On Friday and Saturday nights, guests were treated to fine dining and music they danced to.
Relatives and friends worked at the Red Rooster. Normand’s sister Terry worked beside him and became a substitute chef. So well trained by Normand for consistency, dinners could not discern when Normand was enjoying a night off. Aunt Alice made the pies which were well known. His stepmother worked the coat room. Nieces and nephews waited on tables and helped in the kitchen.
Normand’s ability to live with purpose and authenticity was remarkable. Lorraine Johnston, a thirty-year employee said, “Normand was an absolutely outstanding boss. With his patience and encouragement, he guided me through a career as a waitress, hostess, and bartender. I became someone I didn’t know I could be. Normand could tell when staff were ready to learn more and knew how to get the best out of the people around him.”
Throughout his career, Normand was a member of the National Organization of Culinary Professionals. Those conferences were especially exciting since chef Julia Child and other famed chefs such as Graham Kerr, the “Galloping Gourmet,” oversaw demonstrations of recipes from their cookbooks. At those conferences, Normand became acquainted with Julia Child. On one special occasion at a Rhode Island convention, Normand had the honor of escorting the popular French chef on his arm, into the conference.
Time off for Normand was all about traveling the world to enlighten his mind by experiencing food, spices, and culinary creativity around the world. Normand loved Spain and visiting the island of Mallorca. He loved Portugal and Italy, especially Tuscany, where he said the food was “pure.” At the Savoy Grille in London, Normand first encountered beef Wellington. He thought, “I can do this!” Knowing that one whole tenderloin was too much for a single entrée, he set out to devise a plan. Normand’s individual beef Wellington servings became a sensation and draw to the Red Rooster Tavern. His beef Wellington success served as a practical lesson for other chefs on how to make a fine dish marketable, kitchen to table.
The years flew by, and Chef Normand Leclair was a busy man. But, not too busy to author three popular cookbooks: Chicken Expressions, Culinary Expressions, and Seafood Expressions. One Wickford shop owner, upon hearing Normand’s name exclaimed, “I’m a snowbird. I never leave RI without packing my “Chicken Expressions cookbook!” Many Rhode Islanders have at least one of Normand’s cookbooks, making Normand a Rhode Island institution.
In 2011, Normand read in the Providence Journal that Fit2cook4Kids summer camps were being offered at the Independence Square Foundation on the URI campus in South Kingstown, near his home. He called the camp director and offered encouraging words about culinary education for the young. Having known of Chef Leclair’s reputation, the director confided little culinary experience, and asked him to be an advisor. Normand agreed and for the next twelve years, became a cornerstone of the foundation upon which the culinary program was built. Several years into his advisory role, Normand agreed to serve as the Chef Instructor at Fit2cook4Kids camps where he shared his remarkable talents with hundreds of children who after forty hours of training, graduated as “Junior Chefs.” Normand embraced the challenge of teaching young people to cook. He loved seeing their reactions to making and tasting savory new foods. Upon his 80th birthday, Normand announced his retirement from teaching. His winning student, Kinnan Dowie, surprised him with a perfect cake shaped like a chef with a hat, apron and knife. Normand agreed to serve on the organization’s board of directors, continuing his promise to advise.
About the lucky Red Rooster that sat on the bar; Lenny retired and took it home with him. Upon Lenny’s death, Normand received a call from a friend who said, I believe I have something you may like to have. Finally, the lucky Red Rooster came home to rest on Normand’s fireplace mantel along with his other favorite figurines featured on the covers of his cookbooks.