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An unforgettable portrait of France’s legendary chef, and the sophisticated, unforgiving world of French gastronomy
Bernard Loiseau was one of only twenty-five French chefs to hold Europe’s highest culinary award, three stars in the Michelin Red Guide, and only the second chef to be personally awarded the Legion of Honor by a head of state. Despite such triumphs, he shocked the culinary world by taking his own life in February 2003. TheGaultMillau guidebook had recently dropped its ratings of Loiseau’s restaurant, and rumors swirled that he was on the verge of losing a Michelin star (a prediction that proved to be inaccurate).
Journalist Rudolph Chelminski, who befriended Loiseau three decades ago and followed his rise to the pinnacle of French restaurateurs, now gives us a rare tour of this hallowed culinary realm. The Perfectionist is the story of a daydreaming teenager who worked his way up from complete obscurity to owning three famous restaurants in Paris and rebuilding La Côte d’Or, transforming a century-old inn and restaurant that had lost all of its Michelin stars into a luxurious destination restaurant and hotel. He started a line of culinary products with his name on them, appeared regularly on television and in the press, and had a beautiful, intelligent wife and three young children he adored—Bernard Loiseau seemed to have it all.
An unvarnished glimpse inside an echelon filled with competition, culture wars, and impossibly high standards, The Perfectionist vividly depicts a man whose energy and enthusiasm won the hearts of staff and clientele, while self-doubt and cut-throat critics took their toll.
What could possibly possess a three-star French chef, a master of his difficult trade in a country that reveres cuisine, to commit suicide in 2003, just after wrapping up the daily lunch service? Readers discover the reasons in a book so knowledgeable and breezily entertaining that it's easy to forget, while chuckling or salivating, that it's also something of an elegy to Bernard Loiseau of La Cote d'Or. Chelminski has lived in Paris for more than 30 years as a journalist, covering gastronomy, among other things, and is on schmoozing (and freeloading) terms with almost every chef in France; he first met Loiseau in 1974 when the 23-year-old chef was already winning notice. A high school dropout, Loiseau was an extroverted workaholic, clubby in the kitchen though shy with women, and a bipolar personality, obsessed with winning three stars in the venerable Michelin Red Guide. How he did it is a fascinating, discursive story. Readers learn what life was like for an apprentice (under the Troisgros brothers) in the 1960s in a kitchen that sounds near-medieval, and for a hot young chef in a chic Paris bistro in the '70s. Along the way (with droll footnotes), we're treated to a history of modern French cuisine, a look at how the Michelin family reached its gatekeeping apotheosis, encounters with dozens of chefs and many morsels of gossip. The pi ce de r sistance is the account of how Loiseau took a former three-star restaurant, demoted to none, back to triumphant stellar glory and then what happened.