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 for all of the young men surrounding him, none share his bloodline, and for a passionate Frenchman, particularly one named Georges Perrier, there can be no substitute. Geneviève knows this. The day after our lunch, she sends me an e-mail. In regard to the challenging question of my taking over the restaurant that was posed yesterday, I gave it some thought and here’s what I feel makes sense: “If he is seriously considering retiring, then we will seriously have the conversation.” This is an honest answer, for as you have noticed, the man may say he wants to retire one day, but he sure doesn’t look or act like it.

No, he doesn’t. During the weeks I spend meandering through the Perrier orbit, I ask Georges — more than once — why he doesn’t just quit. Declare victory, hang up the toque, play golf. He talks to me about the food cree-teeks, how they have hammered him, and how all of this — the new pricing, the new talent, the new fokking dessert cart — “is it. The last push. And after that, then maybe I say it’s time for me to walk away. Slowly. But if I walk away, I walk in the glory. I am not going to walk away defeated.”

I tell him I had lunch with Geneviève, that I mentioned to her our conversation in the car about her one day taking over Le Bec. He perks up. “What she say?” I quote from her e-mail, feeling a bit like Jimmy Carter at the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks.

“I am very serious to have zis conversation with ’er, because I think it’s time,” he says. He goes quiet again, which despite his new scented-candle persona does not happen very often with Georges, which is perhaps why it’s still so noticeable. Why the air feels so thick. Studying him, I think back on something else he told me during our car ride. I had asked him if the criticism — that the era of grand dining represented for so long by Le Bec was over, that he was past his prime, that it was simply time for him to go — hurt. “Yes,” he told me. “But you know, it hurts, but I always say, if somebody criticize you, then maybe you not doing zings the way they should be done. So you gotta look at yourself.” He trailed off for a second, took a glance out the driver’s-side window into the navy early-morning sky. “You can say, ‘Ah, ah, I think zis guy is wrong.’ And I can look at it zis way. Maybe I bitch like zis. But deep inside, when I am by myself, I say, ‘Oh, Georges, maybe you are not doing it the way it is supposed to be done.’”