The Peregian Square is a hive of activity when I arrive at the bright and airy alfresco environment at Periwinkle restaurant. The lady at the table next to me is greeted by name with a hug. Periwinkle co-owner Karin Doeldl already knows what she is going to order for lunch and which glass of French wine she will have to accompany it.
This is the beauty of a long-standing local restaurant that prides itself on strong relationships with diners as much as it does on the quality and freshness of the food that it serves.
Periwinkle has been a Peregian Beach fixture since Karin and head chef Frank Boulay, who are partners in business and in life, opened the doors in January 2017.
The youngest of their three children was only a few months old at the time, but as their little ones have grown, so has their team. Periwinkle now boasts a highly experienced staff of 21, 10 of whom are full-time, and Karin says they have become a second family as well.
Karin and Frank arrived in Australia in 2009 with nothing but a backpack each, having travelled the world working in luxury restaurants.
Frank started his working life as an electrician specialising in refrigeration before being posted for his compulsory 12 months of military service in his native France.
“There was no room for any more electricians in the engineering department, so they threw me in the kitchen and I have never left,” Frank says with a grin.
“I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Without an apprenticeship under his belt, Frank started working as a waiter to get his foot in the door, starting with a restaurant at Disney World in Florida, where he saw the famous Paul Bocuse – who was the influence for the celebrity chef character in Disney’s animated film Ratatouille – in action.
“I learned so much about food by spending my time in the kitchen and on the floor. I worked with good people and just became dedicated to learning everything I could,” he says.
Frank then waited tables on a cruise ship in Puerto Rico putting in 14-hour days, seven days a week for six months, but he quickly realised that lifestyle was not for him. One bonus, however, was meeting Karin, an Austrian who was travelling the world working in hospitality. She was a waiter on the section next to his.
The couple moved to Switzerland, where Karin worked as a waiter and Frank became a kitchen hand. When Karin was offered a job at Cape Cod in Boston, America, she had a strict caveat the management at the four-diamond Twenty-Eight Atlantic had to abide by.
“By that stage I knew he was going to marry me, so I wanted him to come with me to Boston. That was my condition for taking the job,” Karin says with a smile.
After three years at Cape Cod, the couple moved to the Caribbean where Frank worked at a luxury Westin resort before moving to the Ritz Carlton as demi chef when it opened.
Just six months later, Frank was the sous chef and preparing meals for A-list celebrities like Greg Norman, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater and Danny Glover to name just a few. When the couple decided they wanted a venue of their own, they explored locations in Switzerland, but ended up on Australian shores.
After spending four years in Sydney, Frank became the executive chef at the Sheraton Noosa Pacific Resort, which later became the Sofitel. Three years later, they realised a dream by opening their own restaurant.
Frank says it was love at first sight when they saw the Peregian Square space.
“We were looking everywhere for almost a year and came to view a lease opportunity on the other side of the square by the car park. That one wasn’t right for us. I suggested we take the kids to the park and we sat in the square and saw the lease sign in the window. When we enquired, it was already taken, so we moved on,” he says.
“We came back three months later and the sign was still in the window, so we asked again and the original tenant had fallen through, so we were able to take it! It was perfect.”
The small Peregian community began to embrace Periwinkle, which is named after a small snail from the sea, and the restaurant became a hive of activity with tourists during holiday seasons.
A quick change of tack saw Periwinkle serve takeaway only during the COVID lockdowns, but Frank says since the restrictions were lifted and trade could resume as usual, they have more than doubled their regular customer base for lunches and dinners.
It is the French fare with a Mediterranean twist made from locally sourced, fresh ingredients paired with fine French wines and warm hospitality that keeps diners coming back.
“We have taken a lot of the skills and techniques from the places we have worked around the world and we use them now in our own restaurant. I cook with a lot of French techniques, but the food itself is probably more Mediterranean,” Frank says.
“I never wanted it to be just French food. I like to create and innovate and I wanted the food to be something everyone can enjoy.”
Although Frank loves nothing more than to experiment with new dishes and change up the menu offerings every season, he quickly learned that the local favourites were not to be altered.
Dishes like the twice-baked spanner crab soufflé with creamy seafood bisque, salad and bread cannot be removed from the menu and neither can the steak frites, which includes chargrilled Bass Strait scotch fillet steak, hand-cut pommes frites, green peppercorn sauce and green salad.
“I always put things on the menu that I like to eat and things I would eat at home, so basically we just do good food and we don’t try to overcomplicate things,” Frank says.
Frank and Karin are expanding with an Italian Mediterranean restaurant called Bottarga set to open in the Maroochydore CBD in spring 2023.
With a name inspired by a traditional fish roll delicacy from Italy, Frank says Bottarga will have a footprint three times the size of Periwinkle and will push the boundaries of what you expect from an Italian restaurant.
“There are so many Italian restaurants on the Coast that do traditional fare extremely well, so we will offer unique dishes you will not find anywhere else. It won’t be traditional at all. Why would people want more of the same?” he asks.
In the meantime, foodies can get their fill of Frank’s homely French Mediterranean fare at Periwinkle for lunch or dinner.