"Because you deserve the best," is a phrase that Francois Fisera's clients are well accustomed to. Whether the chef/owner of Fleur De Lys Home Culinary Institute is discussing the Kobe beef being prepared at his cooking school, the dinner being served on the terrace at the Yacht Club de Monaco on his exclusive trips to Provence, a cooking show for Grand Marnier on board Carnival Cruise Line's Triumph, or a phenomenal bargain on a Bordeaux wine that he has negotiated for his students, Fisera focuses on the best. Quality is the key to this one-man corporation and is a reflection of both personal and professional standards.
Fisera serves as the Official Chef for WLTX, Channel 19, a CBS affiliate station in Columbia. WLTX is the only television station in Columbia that boasts a resident chef as a part of the on-air team. This team is responsible for bringing the number one mid-day television show to Columbia and Fisera's weekly cooking segments and commentary on all things food and wine have been a significant part of their success. Through this cooking show, Chef Fisera has introduced delicacies such as truffles to the Columbia market, as well as staples of French cuisine like Steak au Poivre.
For more than thirty years Fisera's commitment to culinary excellence has been recognized by his peers who have awarded him:
Induction into the "l'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne" by G.H. Mumm Champagne as Chevalier de l'Ordre in 2004
Induction into the Commandre du Bon temps Medoc Graves, Sauternes, Barsac as Commandeur in 2004
Induction into the Grand Order Du Trou Normand by Pere Magloire Cavados in 2004
Recognition from Johnson and Wales University for Pastry Demonstrations in 2003
Best American Sandwich at the Hellman's Mayonnaise Challenge in 1987
Bell's Scotch Award in 1984
Silver Medal of the Entrepreneurs Club of Broward County, Florida in 1981
Grand Order of Master Brewers of Belgium, American Chapter in 1981
Scott Cup, National Competition for Bartenders in 1971
Most recently, on January 31, 2005 Fisera was recognized by the French Agricultural Minister, Dominique Bussereau, with the Order du Merite Agricole, the Order of Agricultural Merit as the outstanding entrepreneur promoting food and wine. His receipt of this award calls for particular mention as it is normally awarded posthumously for a lifetime's work rather than to someone in the midst of a flourishing career. Out of 11,000 worldwide candidates, only 1,971 awards were presented. Only eight chefs in the United States, regardless of origin French or American, have ever been presented this award.
In addition, Fisera has received numerous city, state, national, and international awards for his work, such as
Resolution passed by South Carolina's State of Representatives honoring Chef Fisera for his representation of South Carolina in both the national and international community in 2001
Recipient of the Order of the Silver Crescent, presented by South Carolina Governor James Hodges for his representation of South Carolina in both the national and international community in 2001
Resolution passed by Richland (South Carolina) County Council honoring Chef Fisera for his representation of South Carolina in both the national and international community in 2001
Recipient of the Medal of Moscow in 1992
Recipient of the Keys to the City of Columbia, South Carolina in 1987
Recipient of the Keys to the City of Grenoble, France in 1987
"?you have established a reputation across the Palmetto State as an outstanding chef and have used your position to promote our fishing industry and homegrown products. Under your tutelage countless South Carolinians have gained not only a greater appreciation for the culture of French cuisine, but have also benefited from your expertise in maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle."
- then South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges
At the urging of the mayor of Columbia, Fisera moved to Columbia from New York City with the intent of opening a French Restaurant. When plans for the restaurant did not materialize, Fisera identified a unique niche in the culinary market that was not being met in Columbia and with only his personal savings launched a cooking school. The Fleur De Lys Home Culinary Institute opened it's doors on March 30, 1996 on Devine Street in Columbia, South Carolina, the same location that it is at today.
The debut of Fleur De Lys was quiet. There were no ribbon cuttings or full page advertisements in The State newspaper. A handful of students met at the school and learned how to prepare Bouillabaisse, a fish stew from Provence. But that handful of people told a few more people, who came, and so on? Today, Fisera's classes average 30 students, with the top students having completed between 150- 200 classes. Now, only nine years later, more than 300 students have attended classes at Fleur De Lys. This level of growth is more typical of a multi-tiered management firm, not a one-man operation. The Chef has built his business through word-of-mouth. There is zero advertising budget at Fleur De Lys. There has been no need.
Chef Fisera has created a unique business model. Through his commitment to quality and detail, he has fostered a loyal customer base and community ? almost a club atmosphere. These customers not only represent return business, but they also introduce new clients first to the cooking school, then to other services available at Fleur De Lys. It is a business model that requires an excellence of product that creates enthusiasm and a sense of community, and Chef Fisera consistently delivers through his firm belief in the uniqueness and originality of his business.
Students of Fleur De Lys not only learn how to prepare exquisite dishes, they also are taught the health and dietary benefits of the food that they are preparing. A strong and vocal proponent of organic meats and produce, Fisera has worked with local providers to bring in a greater variety and more healthy foods to the Columbia area. Meats that are free of hormone stimulants, free range poultry, and pesticide-free produce are easily found in most food stores today. There has been an explosive growth in the demand for variety. In 1987, when Fisera first visited Columbia, the only variety of lettuce available was iceberg. Now, in addition to iceberg, most grocers have radicchio, romaine, spring mixes, fresh spinach, and endive ? because their customers are asking for it. These are exciting trends for Fisera to have fostered and watch grow, as the move from "bacon fat to clarified butter," as one student describes the shift, takes place.
Expansion into other culinary-related fields has been developed methodically. He often comments that "before you can be a good chef, you have to be an excellent dishwasher." It has been important for Chef Fisera to understand the inner-workings and the ramifications of business expansion before proceeding into it.
The cooking school led to the in-house development and production of a Gourmet Hot Sauce that is distributed solely through Fleur De Lys. There was a natural move to the catering industry, which is now a significant piece of the Fleur De Lys annual revenue and includes both private sector and corporate accounts. Once again, Fleur De Lys does not offer typical catering services ? no weddings, no Bar Mitzvahs, no barbecues, no cookie-cutter pre-set menu selections. Fisera offers catering on a much more intimate level. He works with each client to develop a unique menu based of the tastes and experiences of the client.
Leveraging contacts made during his tenure as Director of Special Events for the Bacardi Family as well as his cache in the food and wine industry, Fisera moved into the international travel business, escorting clients on gastronomic adventures in France. The VIP exploration of Paris, Bordeaux, Provence, the Riviera, Monte Carlo, and Normandy is readily available for the Fleur De Lys customer base, and expansion into The Czech Republic with a focus on Prague, is planned for 2005. The key to Fisera's success in the travel business is exclusivity ? trips are limited to no more than eight people. This allows entrance into private rooms at Versailles, private tours and Cognac tastings at Courvoisier, dinners on the terrace at the Yacht Club de Monaco, and luncheons and tastings at Mumm Champagne, just to name a few of the highlights.
In 2002, Fisera made his leap into wine sales. Buoyed by wine tastings at the cooking school sponsored by Southern Wine and Spirits, selling wine was an organic extension of the existing business. Students could purchase bottles of wine to accompany their meal at the school in addition to buying wine to take home. This too has become a lucrative part of the Fleur De Lys portfolio. By choosing to work with Southern Wine and Spirits, a well-established wine distributor, Fisera has been able to learn much about the business of selling wine from their generous and knowledgeable team of wine experts who are now considered part of the ever-growing Fleur De Lys extended family. And the addition of the wine business has added to the quality of the cooking school as well.
Fisera's relationship with the Mumm organization extends also to his wine business. It would be easy to discount Columbia as being a market not particularly interested in French Champagne, particularly a high quality French Champagne, but Fisera has repeatedly sold more than 50 cases annually from his Devine Street location. These extraordinary results have not escaped Mumm, who, in turn, have granted privileged visits to Fisera's VIP clients traveling to France.
Travel to the Bordeaux region of France has offered similar results for Fisera. His promotion and sales of Casa Lapostolle, a Chilean wine of Bordeaux descent, and engineered by Michel Rolland, world renowned oenologist, have allowed Fisera's students to visit Rolland's wife, the equally gifted oenophile, Dany, at their wine estate, Chateau Le Bon Pasteur and participate in a vertical tasting of the last six vintages of their top tier wines. Chef Fisera and his students left that particular tasting with wine-dyed teeth and tongues, which led to the addition of the "purple teeth" story to an increasing vault of "Fleur De Lys Tales."
Fisera has also taken some business lessons from his Bordeaux colleagues. A prime example is Jean Michel Cazes of the famed Chateau Lynch-Bages. Cazes is legendary for his business savvy and diversification. Production is limited for Chateau Lynch-Bages so as to yield the very best wine. In addition to the fifth-growth classification Chateau Lynch-Bages, Cazes owns the Cordellian Bages, a Relais Chateau property in Paulliac. Like Cazes, Fisera believes in setting limitations on production so as to maintain high quality, and diversify in areas that compliment existing core competencies.
Others industry giants who have contributed key learnings to Fisera regarding the production of top-quality products, business management, diversification, passion for work, and customer care include Vieux Chateau Certan, Petrus, Chateau Figeac, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Branaire, Chateau Haut-Brion, and finally Pere Magloire Calvados, the distillery that taught Fisera the importance of learning new things and accepting new opportunities.
Fisera's students learn from these visits as well. The trip to Bordeaux is as much an education as it is a vacation. Walking through the vineyards of Paulliac premier cru classe Chateau Lafite-Rothschild with the master winemaker is a stroll not to be taken lightly, as he discusses the merits of severe pruning to allow for only the best grapes to grow. It too is a lesson in survival of the fittest.
Unique experiences are offered to Fisera's clients when they travel with him. One particularly moving visit was to Omaha Beach in Normandy, the site of the Allied D-Day Invasion of World War II, where so many Americans lost their lives. While visiting the cemetery at Normandy, amidst the rows of stark white crosses and Stars of David of the soldiers, Fisera's small group was permitted to participate in the end of day Flag-Folding Ceremony, with Fisera himself assisting the curator in folding the American Flag. That experience is one that neither Fisera nor his students will forget.
Through partnerships with local businesses, Chef Fisera has also been able to expand his business. Whether performing a cooking demonstration at Sam's Club, taking his students to a fish shop to watch the fishmonger clean, dress, and serve an entire grouper, visiting a pasta factory, making fresh sausages at Earthfare, or going on shopping expeditions at the local Piggly Wiggly, Fisera's courses have not only been of financial benefit to his own business, but those with whom he has partnered.
There is no other business that offers this range of services in the culinary field in Columbia, or in South Carolina for that matter. His clients are a diverse group ? politicians, shoe repairmen, dignitaries, business people, cruise ship captains, educators, priests, journalists, artists, attorneys, carpenters, housewives, children, and even canines for his infamous Fleur De Lys's Gone to the Dogs nights. Interest in food spans all racial, religious, and social strata. It is the common thread of cuisine that draws them together in an environment where they can discuss, debate, exalt, enjoy, and savor each morsel of food, and not surprisingly, life. This is the environment that has been created at Fleur De Lys.
Chef Fisera recognizes that the city and community have been good to him, and he reciprocates. He donates free cooking classes for charitable auctions, hosts luncheons for the Irish Children Program, and when he made the decision to upgrade his electrical and gas cooking ranges to those designed by his sponsor General Electric, proceeds from the sale of his existing range were donated to a local children's home. He also promotes Columbia and South Carolina through his work with major corporations. One example of this is his affiliation with S. Pellegrino of the Nestle Water Group. A company as large as Nestle could pull demonstration chefs from large markets, such as New York or Los Angeles. Instead they have utilized the skills of Chef Fisera of Columbia, South Carolina as he uses their product and promotes it in his daily work.
The same is true of companies like Pere Magloire Grand Marnier, Hamilton Beach, and French's ? they too call on Chef Fisera because he is enthusiastic about their products and uses them in his school. A subtle message in Fisera's promotions for brand-name products is that South Carolina, is a great place to do business. And it serves as a signal to Fisera that he is on the right track with his business.
The creation of recipes is a vital aspect of Fleur De Lys. Fisera promotes state and local producers by inviting them into the school and introducing them to the students, then using their fare in a signature dish. Giving this access to the producers and the students forges an emotional bond between the students and the product. Entrees such as Edisto Shrimp, Manchester Farms Stuffed Quail, a variety of South Carolina Pork dishes, South Carolina Trout, Venison, and other local game have been very successful for both Fisera, the producers, and the State of South Carolina.
While there are numerous areas that would allow for growth such as expansion of the existing travel business, cooking school, catering, or Hot Sauce production, most would require the addition of fulltime employees or possibly franchising, steps that Fisera is reluctant to take, as it is his personality and style ? his brand - which are the cornerstone of his business.
The most feasible area of growth for Fleur De Lys lies in the communications field ? increased product sponsorship and increased television coverage which could possibly include a television show on the Food Network. All aspects of his current business would support these additions, and his recipe for success in these new ventures would be the same as for his existing business ? Hard Work.
There is also opportunity later for a cookbook and memoir, tentatively titled "Food goes to the Stomach and the Heart Follows." Fisera is actively building a collection of recipes and anecdotes for this purpose.
Chef Fisera concludes each cooking class with the following phrase, "If you like the cooking class, bring your friends; if you did not like the class, send your enemies." This is an appropriate motto for a business built through determination and ingenuity, the signs of a true entrepreneur.