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

Just 10 years ago, Georges Perrier would have issued a pithy response: Fokk you. But this is not 10 years ago. This is now, an age when hip, flashy city dining is threatening to turn august, Louis XIV-perfumed Le Bec-Fin into a museum. Or, worse, a mausoleum. So Georges Perrier is asking for something — or, as he would say, sumzing — he never thought he would have to ask for in Philadelphia. Georges Perrier is asking for our love and respect.

 

"TAMA! OOO-SOOL!"

The kitchen in Le Bec-Fin is surprisingly small, like the set of a cooking show, which of course it is. There are gleaming silver food covers, silver skillets and stockpots, and silver coffee pots and water pitchers and butter dishes. Blindingly white Villeroy & Boch china sits in perfectly aligned rows, like stacks of sparkling ceramic pancakes.

“Tama!! Ooo-sool!!”

That bellowing is for Tamar De Vine, Georges’s sous-chef, who started out as a dishwasher at Le Bec, and Russell Copper, his head of stewarding. It’s only 7 a.m., but Georges has been up since 4. He spent two hours at the produce distribution center in South Philly, where twice a week he stuffs his silver BMW 750Li sedan with boxes of arugula, cauliflower, lemons, tomatoes, cloves, thyme, asparagus, and anything else his finicky nose desires to make Le Bec’s dishes, all while playfully berating the vendors. (“Give me za nice escaroles. Give me good. Why, why why why you give me shit celery?! Don’t give me that, or else you’re fokking dead!”) He’ll spend the next five hours in the Le Bec kitchen, making a dozen sauces. At noon he’ll drive to Atlantic City for a meeting. And then he’ll come back to Le Bec, to check on the dinner service. The schedule is formidable, brutal. Like Georges.

He strikes a match, sends his flambé sauce up in a mushroom cloud of flames. There is a beautiful violence to Georges Perrier’s cooking, a mesmerizing, fiery tango of splashing wine and swapping pots and sauté pans on and off of the stovetop, like a race-car driver fighting for position. And of course there is the yelling and the screaming, Georges’s rendition of Tosca. “People just look at him and think he’s bat-shit crazy,” says his chef de cuisine, Nicholas Elmi. “And there’s something to that. But he’s one of the most generous people I have met in my life, ever.”

If only the world got to see soft Georges, cuddly Georges, a tad more often. “To be good restaurateur,” Georges Perrier is telling me, “to be an artist, we’re all a little cwazy. So I am a little cwazy like everybody else. And sometime, I get carried away, I know I get carried away. This is not the way a gentleman like me should get carried away, but sometime it is difficult to control your emotion. I wish I do not have Latin blood, so I be nice and quiet like everybody else. But unfortunately, it is not the way I am.”

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