“It’s time to leave the stage while people are still clapping,” says Francois Fisera.
After 22 years as the chef and owner of Fleur de Lys Home Culinary Institute in Columbia, Fisera is ready to hang up his apron. He says he’s happy and healthy and looking forward to retirement — and travel.
In 1987, Fisera first came to Columbia with then-Mayor Patton Adams. Fisera had been running the dining room at Tavern on Green in New York City when Adams and his group came in. He gave Adams the best table in the restaurant, and Adams invited Fisera to Columbia in return.
Seeing the opportunity to open a French restaurant in Columbia, Fisera relocated from New York. He later changed his plans for a restaurant and instead opened a cooking school. The first class at Fleur de Lys was on March 30, 1996, with three students who learned how to prepare a classic french bouillabaisse. Today, Fisera averages 25 students in each class.
After a while, the chef began to keep a white board on the wall where he recorded the names of his students and the number of classes taken. “There may have been a competition,” said Fisera, to see who could stay at the top of the list.
Around 2000, Fisera began offering travel excursions for small groups of students. Trips to Paris, Bordeaux, Provence and Normandy in France, Prague in the Czech Republic and St. Petersburg, Russia, were a way to supplement income for the cooking school. Travelers accompanying Fisera experienced dining at Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, went behind the scenes at Versailles, chartered a yacht for a day trip from Monaco to St. Tropez, and wined and dined with chateau owners in Bordeaux.
“There comes a time in one’s life when you have to know when to remove the foot from the accelerator and put on the brakes,” Fisera said. He is pleased to have contributed his part in what he sees as Columbia’s growing interest in food and urges people to seek out the freshest local ingredients whenever possible.
His plans now are to spend time in Paris, write a book about his experiences in Columbia and France, and to travel. Next up, he says, is a cruise in March from Hong Kong to Tokyo and to walk along the Great Wall of China. “It’s on my bucket list.”
Born in Melun, just outside of Paris, Fisera’s career includes working at Euro Disney and as the special events coordinator for the Bacardi family. During his time as the chef/owner of Fleur de Lys, Fisera has been awarded the keys to the city of Columbia by Adams and presented the Order of the Silver Crescent by Gov. Jim Hodges.
Fisera is most proud of being recognized by the French agricultural minister Dominique Bussereau, with the Order du Merite Agricole, the Order of Agricultural Merit as the outstanding entrepreneur promoting food and wine.
Fleur de Lys’ last event
What: Black tie gala on New Year’s Eve. Four-course meal featuring white asparagus, pumpkin bisque and homemade foie gras,; sea bass, Canadian mussels, Martell Cognac lobster sauce; porterhouse cut ribeye with perigord sauce, Joel Rubuchon potatoes and tomatoes provencal; Parisian creme bruleé, Absolut vanilla vodka and coulis of black truffles. $330/couple includes one bottle of Mumm champagne and one bottle of white wine
Where: 3001 Millwood Ave., (803) 765-9999
When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 31