Find Chef Jacques Desire Moonsamy at Hagan's Grill

By Rachel Forrest

Hampton Union, March 16, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Chef Jacques Desire Moonsamy of Hagan’s Grill, at his kitchen window [Photo by Rachel Forrest]

Chefs come and go, change restaurants, open their own, and even change careers.

I often get the question — What ever happened to? Where did "chef so and so" go? It's hard to keep track. But now we know where Chef Jacques Desire "Desi" Moonsamy is — he's at Hagan's Grill in Hampton and not only has there been a change in chef there, he's revamped the whole menu. Go&Do

Hampton is Chef Moonsamy's old stomping grounds, but most of us remember him from his many years at The Metro in downtown Portsmouth where Sam Jarvis brought the hospitality and Moonsamy brought the American bistro cuisine. Now, at Hagan's, he's also bringing some of his own European roots to the menu. Originally from Mauritius, he went to culinary school in France and speaks fluent French. Translation? Dishes infused with French flavor in a decidedly American bistro setting.

He changed the menu right away.

"I knew all about Desi," says Hagan's owner Dora Hand. "For me, it was all about identifying who we really are."

The restaurant had gone through a few chefs over the years, each adding his or her own flair to the menu, and after many years, the menu had lost focus.

"After I came here we talked a lot," says Moonsamy. "I said 'We have to give it a lift'. I had to change it. I did. And of course Dora approved it. We wanted a bistro style and that means a more French bistro style. I brought in dishes people who know my food knew — my crispy duck, key lime pie, creme brulee — all my familiar dishes. When you have a bistro in France it's usually in a hotel and not too expensive. It's for the people who stay in the hotel and here we have the food that is like that."

Dishes like a saffron bouillabaisse resonated right away with Hagan's regular customers.

"They were the most excited about that dish right away," says Moonsamy. "And the price is very good. We can change things very quickly and I use the specials to try out dishes. I'm always listening to the customers. I want the people to know me, like we know each other."

Dora says that Hagan's has built a customer base of family.

"Hagan's is really about the people and they want us to bring quality food but not sacrifice the prices. We get a lot of locals and they want to continue the consistency but take a little risk."

Moonsamy says he did have to keep some favorites on the menu like the sesame seared ahi tuna and he has made an effort to make dishes healthier by using rice flour instead of corn flour in sauces and batters. They'd also like to do away with offering bread with the meal, something Moonsamy says just isn't necessary with his big portions and big flavors, but that customers do demand it. That's just a part of staying tuned to the customers and attention to dietary restrictions is also a priority.

"Our sauces are mostly gluten-free and if someone comes in who is a vegetarian, I'm free to do that because I can change things quickly," he says.

But meat eaters will rejoice. The sirloin, made with a classic French cognac and black peppercorn sauce, is a full 10 ounces and dry-aged for 22 days. Seafood choices include a simple fish and chips with pineapple slaw and a seafood portofino with scallops, shrimp, lobster and spinach in a puff pastry shell with a sherry cream sauce. And there are more casual dishes like a pesto pizza and a half pound burger.

Moonsamy says he'll also pay a great deal of attention to what's in the local markets, like fresh wild mushrooms for a risotto dish with melting cheeses and local greens. And while many dishes reflect the flavors of France, he'll bring in the tastes from Italy and Greece as well.

"He really immediately identified within a few minutes of being here what we're all about and what we're looking to become, what we hope to bring to the people of Hampton," says Dora.

Moonsamy says he'll also try some new things like bringing in some game — rabbit, venison — and listen to what the customers like while still introducing new ideas.

"We'll have flavors from all over, but I believe Americans like good food. That's what we bring here."