Annie Boutin King is the Queen of French Cuisine in the Nation’s Capital

Boutin King was “born and raised” in the Vendée region, the heart of Catholicism in France.

French cheese tray
French cheese tray (photo: Jill Wellington / Pixabay/CC0)

Washington, D.C., restaurant goers surely know the name or the face of this prominent French lady, who for years has worked with famous chefs in D.C. and organized the non-profit galas at the city’s Ritz Carlton Hotel for many years.

As she has confirmed again and again, her food passion and Catholicism come from her heritage: Annie Boutin King was born and raised in the Vendée region of France, a major tourist attraction for its spectacular seaside setting and a major Catholic part of France.

“I was born and raised there,” she said. “The area is 95% Catholic (much fewer practicing nowadays). Most of us were raised Catholic, and my family was very much so. I went to religious schools and my father was a teacher in a Catholic school and had a second job as an insurance agent.” When she was a little girl, her family was a constant fixture at Mass and Vespers; she received her first Communion at age 6 and Confirmation when she was 12 years old.

That explains Boutin King’s Catholicism, of course. But her cooking passion? As she said, “Cooking? Everybody cooks in France. We sit down three times a day for our meals, and not everyone is a good cook, but that is the way it is,” she said. The family meals always included a starter, and then a main course, followed by cheese offerings, a salad and dessert. It perdures in most homes.

“It was never the same food every week,” she said. “For example, for the family meals there is always a starter and a main course, always cheeses, salad and dessert. It is never the same things over and over so for a starter, for example, it might be pâté with fish as the main course. Or it might have been some fish or seafood appetizer followed by a meat main course. Balanced meals are very important to ensure having all the necessary vitamins and nutrients. There were always tons of vegetables as accompaniments.” 

Desserts, she said, included fresh seasonal fruit, homemade milk puddings, flans or yogurt, or in the summer, a slice of fresh fruit tart. And, she added, it was not proper to take second helpings. At the time in her French area, there was no pasta, though now times have changed.

With such a culinary heritage, it confirms why Boutin King entered the food world, not as a professional chef, but as a restaurant aid and event planner. “I came to the United States directly to Los Angeles in the early 1980s,” she said. “I started working for the Biltmore Hotel as the assistant to the Food and Beverage VP. It had four restaurants and one of them was a four-star French restaurant. They saw that I knew food and wine, so I started selling the private dining room,” adding she then moved to catering sales.

And that is when she met the late Michel Richard, the once owner of several restaurants in California and D.C., and a James Beard award winner. As she noted, in Los Angeles at the time, Richard and Bernard Jacoupy (her boss) started the Club Culinaire (Culinary Club) and Boutin King became its secretary to coordinate events for the Club.

Richard started with a pastry shop there. “I got to know him via the Club, which had 50 French chefs then,” she said. “I would be the point of contact when a chef/restaurateur was looking for cooks and vice versa. This is how I got to know all these chefs there and then later in Washington, D.C., as this is a tight community.”

When Boutin King and Richard happened to move to Washington, D.C. in 1997, he took over the reins of Citronelle and she became the director of catering at the Crowne Plaza where Richard was corporate chef. She continued in the catering world, then at the Omni Shoreham and in 2004 at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C.

And she recalled how she involved Michel Richard in the St. Jude gala and the American Heart Association “Heart’s Delight,” both still going, and in many non-profit organizations where chefs and pastry chefs would be invited to demonstrate their skills and do tastings for fundraising events. “Giving back to good causes and the intertwined knowledge of food and wine is a way of living my religion,” she said.