Veteran Restaurateur Denis Seyer Recharged After 4-Year Hiatus

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

Denis Seyer at 1620 Savoy in west Little Rock: “It takes a lot of technique to do simple food.” (Photo by Russell Powell)

Denis Seyer, the renowned Little Rock chef and restaurateur with a string of fabled Little Rock restaurants on his resume, plans to put his 53 years in the business to work teaching younger culinary artists the beauty of simple food simply prepared.

It’s the culinary version of the architectural dictum: Less is more.

Seyer is starting his tutelage at 1620 Savoy in Little Rock, owned by RH Cuisine, as is the newly opened Cache Restaurant in the River Market District. RH Cuisine is headed by Rush Harding, CEO of Little Rock investment firm Crews & Associates.

Seyer has already revamped the 1620 menu and expanded the wine list to include a greater range at different price points. He has eliminated some of the steaks, is offering a lot of seafood and has tried to provide a range of entrée prices. And he’s incorporating some of his favorite food influences, like Thai, Caribbean and Indian.

Speaking of 1620’s young chefs, Seyer said, “They cooked a little bit like every modern restaurant young chef cooks. And to me, it’s too complicated, too many ingredients, heavy-handed ingredients.

“So it’s going to be, I think, a little challenge to teach them how to cook simple,” he said. “They still don’t have the philosophy yet. I’m trying to get them there, that really cooking simple is much more difficult.”

Seyer is tackling this new challenge after having recovered from a stroke suffered about four years ago in the Cayman Islands, where he’d relocated in “semi-retirement” and was part-owner of a popular restaurant, Guy Harvey’s Island Grill.

He returned to Little Rock, where his family lives, to recover and then headed back to the Caymans. He tried to work “but it was too much stress. The stress got me in the first place. So I sold all my interests and came back.”

On his return to Little Rock, Seyer did some catering, some restaurant consulting and cooked for private parties. But his return to the kitchen was too soon, he said, and for the past two years he “decompressed.”

That decompression, however, included volunteer work helping elderly people fill out their tax returns in the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program. He’s good with numbers, Seyer said. After all, he’s as much a businessman as a chef.

Diners of a certain age will know Seyer, a native of France, from his associations with the restaurants Jacques & Suzanne, Le Casse Croute, which he opened in 1980, and Alouette’s, which Seyer called his favorite among his enterprises. All three are closed but they had good runs and remain in diners’ affections.

His sabbatical from the restaurant business re-energized him, Seyer said, “So now I’m feeling pretty good. Rush approached me and I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’”



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