How We Met–Something’s Cooking
Something beyond a five-star meal was cooking in the kitchen of the highly acclaimed Le Cirque in New York City when Sarah Cannon and Bernard Bouissou first met. She was the first woman chef on the line and was working elbow to elbow with Bernard, the handsome but shy French poissonier. But in spite of what Sarah calls “love at first sight,” the meeting of the future owners of Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar was serendipitous.
Sarah had always loved to cook so when college wasn’t for her, she decided that she would be a chef. At 19, she boarded a plane and headed to France where she would train at a Michelin culinary school.
At the same time Sarah was heading to France, Bernard was heading to New York. Also 19, he had been training since his father sat him down at the age of 11 and said, “You need to make a choice about your future.” The ninth of ten children, Bernard always loved cooking the family meals with his mom, so he decided that would be the direction he would take.
With barely $40 in his pocket, his chef’s apron, a butcher knife, and the promise of an 18-month visa, Bernard arrived at Plaza Athénée to train under celebrated-chef Daniel Boulud. When Boulud moved over to Le Cirque, Bernard went with him.
After her training, Sarah was accepted as entremetier at Le Cirque, but she wasn’t due to arrive until one month after Bernard’s visa would expire and he’d be back in France. And then chance stepped in. Bernard literally tossed his plane ticket in the trash when a coveted “green card spot” opened up last minute.
Bernard was immediately attracted to the ambitious young woman with the outgoing personality who was fluent in French. But Sarah was off-limits, he thought, because he had heard she was engaged. “When you are the only woman in a kitchen of 30-plus chefs it’s a good idea to say you are engaged or gay so they will leave you alone,” she says.
Bernard had no intention of crossing that line. It was Sarah who made the first move. She decided to fix him up with her sister but abandoned that effort because she really wanted him for herself. Still thinking Sarah was engaged, Bernard was very surprised when one night she kissed him.
They kept their relationship secret, making sure they arrived at work from different directions. During that time they dreamed of someday owning a homey restaurant with three fireplaces and a spiral staircase. This is where they would raise the four children they planned to have.
Sarah first discovered Ridgefield when she drove through town on her way to a catering job. By then the couple had their four children, and she thought, “What is this town?” When they found that the Inn at Ridgefield was for sale with its three fireplaces and spiral staircase, they knew it was meant for them.
“That was in October 1999,” she says. “By March 2000 we had sold our house, bought the Inn, and opened our dream restaurant,” which they named Bernard’s. During the downturn, they opened a more casual option—Sarah’s Wine Bar. After 20 years of ownership and 30 years of marriage, this couple is still cooking in more ways than one.