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C’est si bon! Frenchman wins big award — on Smith Street! • Brooklyn Paper

C’est si bon! Frenchman wins big award — on Smith Street!

Jean-Jacques Bernat, with his wife Leslie at his side, received the insignia of Chevalier from the French on Wednesday, an award that honors French expatriates. Guy Wildenstein, a French official (from Paris, even!), pinned the medal on the Provence en Boite owner inside his Smith Street eatery.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The French government has finally figured out what Brooklynites have known for a decade: Jean-Jacques Bernat is formidable!

The beloved owner and chef at Provence en Boite, which has been on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens since 2006 after a five-year run in Bay Ridge, was honored with the Insignia de Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, the French culinary world’s equivalent of an Oscar last week.

The Insignia is given to French chefs all over the globe who dedicate their lives to not only mastering the nation’s much-cherished cuisine, but sharing it with le monde.

“It was fantastic, a big moment for me and all my family,” said Bernat, who teared up as he accepted the award from Guy Wildenstein, a French agriculture official.

A big moment, perhaps, but one that was nearly four decades in the making.

Bernat has been in food for 37 years, first as a waiter in his home country, then as a chef-owner, and, more recently, even teaching French techniques to students at CUNY.

But to be honored by his country with a prestigious and rarely given out award might have been his biggest coup yet, Bernat said.

“My friends, my mother and sister were all very happy,” he said. “To receive [the honor] is not usual [or] something the French gouvernment gives to everyone. It shows that I have a big devotion to my career, and what I do.”

Bernat — who, with his wife Leslie, owns three businesses on Smith Street, including a bed and breakfast and the new burger shop called JB’s — was surprised when he got the call from Paris saying that he would be given this illustrious honor. Even now, a week after the ceremony, the Frenchman says the feeling hasn’t quite sunk in.

“I said, ‘Oh, wow.’ Then I got phone calls and e-mails from all my friends. I think I just start to realize now how big it is, or I haven’t realized it yet. I’m very … how do you say it? … humble.”

Provence en Boite [263 Smith St. at Degraw Street, (718) 797-0707].

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