When Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar opened its freshly renovated space at 811 E. Walnut St. last March, a new chef took his place on the line. The 32-year-old chef had arrived in Columbia from New Zealand the previous November and was excited to start.
“I came on board just as they entered the new building,” Chef Chris Dignan says. “By the time I came on board, I started cooking on the line and helping them on and then very quickly got promoted to head chef.”
As Dignan transitioned into his new role in the kitchen, mastering the logistics of preparing and serving 300 to 400 meals in an evening proved to be a challenge, he says. Now, with those hectic months behind them, the staff and chef at Bleu have settled into the new space and Dignan recently updated the restaurant’s menu to feature seasonal flavors and comforting fare.
“We’ve taken the summer dishes off the menu,” Dignan says. “We’ve streamlined the salads, and we’ve put more hearty, winter food on there. I’ve got some confit duck leg with potato gnocchi, which is really classic winter fare. But we’re also doing a lot of interesting modern American cuisine.”
In addition to managing the menu, Dignan implements an ever-changing weekly features menu at the modern American restaurant. This features menu is where Dignan and his two sous chefs, Brandon Quade and Brandon Kampeter, introduce innovations and try new things.
Dignan has been trying new things since he first started cooking at age 14 in his hometown of Manchester, England.
Dignan earned his certification in food and hospitality management from a Manchester culinary school. Armed with his culinary tools, he set out to make great food all around the world. From Manchester, he traveled to Australia to cook professionally, and then he was off to Spain. From there, he set off for New Zealand, where he lived and cooked for five years. There, he met his wife, Maggie, a Columbia native who was exploring New Zealand. Dignan brought his international culinary experience with him when he arrived in mid-Missouri in November 2011, and still maintains an interest in the international culinary community.
“I’m constantly looking at what the next big thing is, what the next culinary trend is in New York or LA or London or Japan,” he says. “But I actually do consider Columbia to be a culinary destination. I was surprised about the diversity of food and the good quality of food that you can find in Columbia. You’ve got a lot of smaller, independent restaurants here that are striving to do some good, quality food and raise the bar over the norm of restaurants.”
However complicated the flavor profiles of his dishes, the culinary adventure that led him to Bleu or the recipes of his feature menu entrées, Dignan’s cooking philosophy is quite simple.
“My personal culinary philosophy is to make food taste good; that’s the only philosophy you need when you’re cooking,” he says. “Obviously you want to be using the freshest possible ingredients. You want to be using good, high-quality food. But the goal at the end of the day is to make everything taste amazing.”
Dignan will take his cooking philosophy with him to the Missouri Organic Association’s Midwest Iron Chef competition on Jan. 7. He’ll compete against some of the top chefs in the region, but he’s not preparing for the competition. With his culinary experience and knowledge of international cuisine, he already has all the ingredients for success.
Check out Bleu’s updated menu at http://www.bleucolumbia.com.