2006-12-22 / On The Town

World-class chef brings his talents to new Simi restaurant

The only thing more flamboyant than the cook is the food
By Angela Randazzo Special to the Simi Valley Acorn

IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers FRENCH FLAMBE´––Executive Chef Gerard Guijarro cooks up filet mignon at Coco D'Amour in Simi Valley. Guijarro, a native of France, has been a personal chef to the rich and famous but chose to open a restaurant in Simi Valley because he wanted to cook for diners who would truly appreciate and enjoy his Tahitian/French cuisine. The interior of the eatery, below, has a distinct island feel. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers FRENCH FLAMBE´––Executive Chef Gerard Guijarro cooks up filet mignon at Coco D'Amour in Simi Valley. Guijarro, a native of France, has been a personal chef to the rich and famous but chose to open a restaurant in Simi Valley because he wanted to cook for diners who would truly appreciate and enjoy his Tahitian/French cuisine. The interior of the eatery, below, has a distinct island feel. With his French accent, flamboyant personality and time spent in the French Foreign Legion, chef Gerard Guijarro immediately puts a guest at his restaurant in a “Casablanca” state of mind.

Guijarro has brought his experiences as a world traveler and his skills as an executive chef to Coco D’Amour, which opened this month on Tapo Street.

The restaurant’s food and décor are drawn from the tropical islands off the south coast of Africa. Palm trees surround patrons, and coconuts and African tribal masks adorn the walls.

Guijarro invites his diners to escape the humdrum world and revel in an island adventure.

“The food is not American food. It’s island food,” Guijarro said. “You can have nice fresh seafood with passion(fruit) sauce, and the atmosphere gets you off the gray and problems outside. You can just have a couple of hours with your friends and relax. It’s like a free vacation.”

Guijarro and his partners, Laura Krajewski of Simi Valley and Delphine DeMore of the San Fernando Valley, wanted to create something different when they decided to open CoCo D’Amour, Krajewski said.

“We wanted to create a place you would be comfortable going on a date. It would be kind of quiet and out of the way,” she said.

The restaurant, tucked in a shopping center at 2321 Tapo St., offers an intimate setting and unusual dishes not found in most eateries.

“Whenever I go out I want to eat something different,” Guijarro said. “Everywhere you go it’s mostly big chain restaurants, and it’s always the same.”

The chef prides himself on the menu of fresh made-to-order dishes. Among the choices are passion of sole—an oven-roasted sole doused with a bittersweet passionfruit butter—and baked mahimahi encrusted with macadamia nuts in chardonnay.

For dessert there’s feuilleté Creole—pineapple, mango and banana flambéed with an island rum on a bed of puff pastry—and papaya Gauguin, a papaya baked in the traditional island style.

“I cook fresh food, made to order. If we don’t have it, it’s not in the market,” Guijarro said. “I don’t want frozen, preservatives, sugar, salt in my food, because if you’re eating too much prefab food, you’re having a problem with your health. Your parents and grandparents cooked fresh food every day. They didn’t have frozen, prefab, vacuumpacked, and those people lived a long time.”

Opening a new restaurant can be risky business, but the partners said they are up to the challenge.

“My experience in Simi Valley is, when you really have good food and service, people will come,” Krajewski said. “We’re striving to do that, and if we do those two things, I think we’ll be fine.”

Guijarro said he studied the art of cooking in his native France. He joined the French Foreign Legion to see the world. He sailed for Tahiti, but that island was only the first of Guijarro’s destinations, which included the Fiji Islands, Kenya and Australia.

“I really enjoyed the sea and started traveling islands and meeting fabulous people,” Guijarro said.

He came to California in 1973, working first in a posh San Francisco restaurant, then moving to Carmel, where he settled for the next 20 years. During his long career, Guijarro has owned other restaurants and prepared meals for the rich and famous.

After meeting Krajewski through mutual friends, the idea of opening a restaurant in Simi Valley began to percolate.

“I want the Simi Valley people to try this food,” Guijarro said. “In life, if you don’t experience difference, what’s left?”

Dinner at Coco D’Amour is served from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant will soon add a lunch menu that will be available starting at 11 a.m.

Coco D’Amour can be reached at (805) 578-2622.

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