“My father would always cook ‘family meal’ every Sunday for all of his staff,” says François Payard, the world-renowned pastry chef who now owns and operates two beloved eateries on the North Fork of Long Island: Southold General and Southold Social. “On Sundays, everyone would be in the shop at 3:00 a.m., and by 9:00 a.m., we were done. Afterwards, we would clean up, and then we would eat together. He did this for 40 years. It was a way for him to be close to his staff.”
‘The shop,’ in this case, was the pastry shop owned by Payard’s family on the French Riviera, Au Nid des Friandises—the site of Payard’s first job in the pastry world, starting at the bright age of eight.
“But at eight years old, you’re not really helping,” says Payard. “I was covered in chocolate much more than I was helping.”
But even so, there was something to it, because by the age of twelve Payard’s father sent him to his first mentor in a village north of Nice, a community of famous bohemians and artists who lived quietly among the locals. There, aflame with passion, the young Payard would rise earlier than the sun and start his day around 2:00 a.m. alongside his mentor at the pastry shop.
“He was 65, and I stayed in his house,” says Payard. “He took me in as if I were his son.”
As someone who has intimately witnessed and worked in the service industry myself, this doesn’t surprise me. Everyone in this landscape seems to inherit a professional proxy family by default. This is especially true in restaurants, where the work is hard, the hours are long, and the camaraderie should be intense.
At Southold Social—Payard’s latest concept, a bistro serving casual, seasonal fare—you see this camaraderie between all touch points of the restaurant. Whether it is the General Manager, Iris Welcome, coaching the waitstaff in service before shift, or Payard himself guiding both young and seasoned employees towards the best execution of the most perfect flavors, there is constant mentorship throughout the front and back of the house. Payard prides himself in his team, and often challenges them to go beyond their own limits.
“To create something is to grow,” he says. So each passing week, there is constant testing and reassessment of the menu.
Southold Social may have just opened its doors in June 2022, but Payard’s core team there has been alongside him for at least two years. At any point, he may ask them for a new twist on a dish or an entirely new take on the menu. Working with the seasonality of the time, they bring ideas forward for the team to taste.
This is how Payard brings the spirit of his family, and the trust and generosity they showed their staff-turned-family, from France to Southold—though it is not the only thing about the North Fork that feels like home.
From the quality of the light to the lavender fields in East Marion, Payard has found so much to delight in here. “You could think you are in Provence!” he says.
And while he has some exciting Payard-branded products and concepts coming soon to market, Payard’s complete attention is on making Southold Social the best it can be—from his team to the cuisine.
“The North Fork is such a special, beautiful place,” he says. “It is a community that I feel lucky to have become a part of. There is an incredible network of farmers, fishermen, winemakers . . . it is a gift to be able to work with fresh, seasonal, local foods and purveyors.”
As we are speaking, Payard is preparing the delectable architectural elements for the chocolate cake on the dessert menu at Southold Social. While doing so, he recalls a favorite memory of ‘family dinner’ from 1995, when he was 29 years old and working at Restaurant Daniel in New York City.
“We used to all eat together because it was very important for [chef Daniel Boulud],” says Payard.
It is easy to understand why. For restaurant workers, ‘family meal’ offers an opportunity for everyone to bond, and to serve one another before they spend the rest of their days serving guests.
The tradition of ‘family dinner’ remains incredibly important to Payard to this day.
“If you cook a good family meal, you are a good chef,” he says. “You know why? Because if you don’t care about the family meal, you don’t care about your job. Even if it’s for the family, you should show love. If you don’t show love to your friends, your close friends, who do you show love to?”
Love. Isn’t that beautiful? Payard speaks a lot about love these days. Love for his work. Love for his team. Love for the community.
“This is not an easy job,” he says. “This job is all about love. If you don’t have love, you cannot do this.”
There isn’t always a lot to love about the restaurant industry. The work is demanding and stressful; the hours, not generally conducive to maintaining a personal life. Without love, or feeling appreciated, it is completely unsustainable.
Luckily, ‘family meals’ provide that sustenance. There, everyone gathers in solidarity, appreciation and respect. For some restaurant workers, it’s the only meal of the day they can count on. For all restaurant workers, it provides the glue necessary to bond everyone as a team.
This sense of teamwork is the secret sauce that garnishes every successful restaurant. Because, as Payard says: “No matter how great or famous a restaurant’s chef or owner is, or how masterful a restaurant’s menu is, nothing happens without a strong team.”
And just like every family—biological, chosen, or otherwise—there is no better team-building exercise for restaurant workers than sitting side-by-side, talking and laughing over a beautiful, shared dinner.