Last year, Alexander’s celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in Naples. Chef Alexander Bernard grew up in Maine and graduated from Johnson & Wales culinary school in Rhode Island. His culinary journey included stints at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach and at Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Resort, where he worked with Swedish chefs and honed his appreciation for classic, old-world techniques.
Upon moving to Naples, Bernard served as chef and partner at the now-defunct Margaux’s before opening Alexander’s. His devoted clientele includes many regulars who have been dining with him for three decades. He hosts frequent cooking classes during the season and is the author of Alexander’s Restaurant Cookbook. Turn the page to read our Q&A with chef Bernard.
NI: What are some tips for surviving 26 years in the restaurant business?
Bernard: Work hard, listen to your customers, and find your market niche; don’t try to be all things to all people. Be flexible—the importance of that was demonstrated last year, when we and many other restaurants had to shift to a carryout format. On a practical level, open with enough capital to survive for two years until you become established. Above all, don’t sit on your laurels—you need to continually change and market yourself.
You identify your cooking as “American cuisine.” What does that mean to you?
It really revolves around American applications to traditional European dishes. We have shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, and macadamia-crusted snapper. But we also offer duck liver paté and veal ragout, and we even have a few Asian influences, such as our miso sea bass.
Your wife is a personal trainer and fitness instructor. Has that influenced your cooking style?
Absolutely. I have an emphasis on healthy eating that I might not have had otherwise. All our meats are free from hormones and antibiotics, and we seek out sustainable seafood. We have a spa menu that changes every month: a freshly squeezed juice, an appetizer, and the choice of two entrées. And there are items on our menu such as the watermelon, burrata, and tomato salad with toasted pistachios.
How does today’s menu differ from 26 years ago?
The portions are slightly smaller, and the sauces are lighter but more intensely flavored. Many of the items are presented differently—we’re using healthier side dishes, such as grains in place of mashed potatoes. We have appetizers like lettuce wraps filled with pulled duck, kimchee, and hoisin sauce that you never would have seen back then.
Many restaurants advertise farm-to-table cuisine. How are you different?
I’m not sure if we’re different, but we do source our ingredients as carefully as possible. We get about 70 percent of our meat and poultry from D’Artagnan Foods in New Jersey. Their animals are raised in a stress-free environment and are grain-fed without additives. We deal with small fisheries and selected fish farms. Most of our produce comes from Inyoni Farms, which is a USDA-certified organic family farm in Naples owned and operated by Nick Batty. We try to balance good nutrition with wellness.
You close for three months every summer. How does that benefit you?
My wife and I rent a house in Carmel, California, near Big Sur, which is a beautiful part of the country. It gives us the chance to relax, go out to restaurants, and see what other chefs are doing. Frequently we come up with new ideas or fresh angles on existing dishes.