Georges Perrier Profile: Last Days of the French Chef

Critics say he needs to change. Customers say he needs to change. His staff says he needs to change. But change, as Georges Perrier will tell you, can be very, very hard

Because if Georges really tries to take on Stephen Starr by being like Stephen Starr, what will we all say then? We’ll think he’s sad and pathetic. And the beauty of Georges is that, deep down, he knows this. He is thrashing about to keep up, to keep Le Bec au courant even though it hasn’t actually been au courant for years. But he feels, in a place very deep and very significant, that the city needs Le Bec. How could he not? Because if the city doesn’t need Le Bec, the city doesn’t need Georges Perrier. And this is a possibility Georges cannot face. Will never, ever face. “It’s his blood,” says Chris Scarduzio, who opened Brasserie and is now a partner with Georges at Table 31 in the Comcast Center and Mia in Atlantic City. “It’s his life.”

But the future comes whether we want it to or not, and as Georges celebrates his 66th birthday this month, that future may look a lot more feminine. Georges has a daughter, Geneviève (pronounced Zean-vee-ev), a willowy, pixie-ish 35-year-old brunette with big brown eyes who came back home to Philadelphia several years ago after spending almost a decade as an actress in New York. At the age of six, she famously toppled into a bubbling stockpot at Le Bec, only to be plucked out and immediately swathed in tablecloths packed with ice.

Geneviève has a certain Amélie quality, and sitting across from her over a salad at Parc, I can easily picture her in the front of the house at Le Bec, her shiny chestnut hair swept up in a chignon, her slim body hugged by black Chanel. She is pursuing her MFA in theater at Temple. “My father always makes jokes about ‘Where did you get it from?’ in regards to the theater thing,” she says. “And I’m like, Are you kidding me?”

On the obscenely early morning I went with Georges to the produce distribution center in South Philly, he talked to me in the car, in one of his quiet, reflective moods, about Geneviève. Specifically, how he wants her to someday take over Le Bec, to be its face, to carry on its traditions. “That’s who made the biggest sacrifice,” Scarduzio says. “It only makes sense that he would pass the torch in that direction.”

As we rolled down Broad Street, I asked Georges what Geneviève thought of this idea, and in the roundabout way Georges talks about things that are uncomfortable, he left me with the impression that things were, shall we say, up in the air. So over lunch, I bring all of this up to Geneviève, who in her own Geneviève way tells me that yes, there is an obvious parallel between theater and restaurants. She asks me what he’s said, which I repeat. But she doesn’t reply. Not really, anyway. She only says, “We touch on it,” and that’s all. Like all good daughters, she can be protective and defensive about him. But she seems diffident. Not about him, but about the mantle he so clearly wants her to not only inherit, but sustain.