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.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 < Previous Next >View as One Page

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Todd

    Crisman’s portraits of Perrier are brilliant. He’s captured his pomposity, while celebrating the great tradition of french chefs. This chef says well done.

  • Jason

    Why can’t we appreciate Jose Garces, Jen Carroll, Morimoto, Marc Vetri, AND Georges Perrier…at the same time?

    It’s sad that Georges’ original vision of a restauant with elegant surroundings, impeccable service, and world-class foodwhich is now fully realizedis undesired by those who think having all three somehow makes one passe. (And as a graphic designer who absolutely hates wearing ties…well, I do not for one minute mind throwing one on if it means experiencing Le Bec-Fin in all its glory.)

    It’s so easy to be cynical; everybody loves to hate; and all thingseven greatnessare cast aside when something shiny & new appears on the horizon.

    People will lament Georges when he retires, and wax poetic at his funeral. That’s fine. But until then, I think I’ll appreciate his cantankerous nature and succulent offerings right now while he’s still around!

  • Carol

    I have only had the exquisite pleasure of dining at Le Bec Fin three times but I wouldn’t trade the experience for any other. I have also dined at most of the Starr restaurants as well as Amada and Tinto. While these places are very good, Georges’ point about the cost, compared to Le Bec Fin is true. The sticker shock at Le Bec Fin is known, upfront and you can buy your wine accordingly. The sticker shock at the others comes with the bill. I still believe the best meal I have ever eaten was my first dinner at Le Bec Fin.

  • Nathan

    This was a delightful article, but I disagree with its central premise. It’s not that Philadelphia is no longer interested in a formal, elegant, impeccably serviced, world-class restaurant–it’s that Le Bec Fin is no longer elegant, impeccable or world class enough. 1993 was a long time ago. Quality in service, decor and food is constantly evolving (see New York’s 3-star restaurants), and Le Bec has simply failed to keep up.

  • Simon

    this article is brilliant and eye opening. I hope for only the success of Le Bec. This article should be considered for a James Beard in Food writing. I was completely consumed by it

  • Ardie

    It was Perrier’s numerous PR agencies that created the image he wants to take credit for. There were other french restaurants that were better, but didn’t spend the money for PR.

  • Chef

    You can keep your flashy Steven Starr joints that are more about flash than food. George and Le Bec Fin is why I became a Chef. I wear tee shirts and jeans all day but when I dine I want to wear a coat and tie. It is called class. George once told me that the FOOD and SERVICE has to be the best anywhere and the guest must have a experience that they will get nowhere else and will remember forever. Of course if Le Bec Fin has to change decor I prefer the decor of the Fountain at the Four Seasons. Maybe George will go for that… As Alton always says “I am just here for the food!”.
    Lec Bec Fin is my “La Pyramide” and George is my “Fernand Point”.

  • Jake

    It doesn’t require a coat and tie to have a great dining experience. While Georges is one of the pillars of dining in Philadelphia, he, like many other classical French chefs have not evolved. As our country changes, so do our tastes. Chef Perrier creates an absolute fantastic product, but the market has changed.

    Georges Perrier is the best analog in a digital world.

  • Jason

    GEORGES PERRIER AND LE BEC-FIN, THE BEST!!! I GET TREATED VERY WELL THERE BY THE STAFF AND CHEF PERRIER! THE FOOD IS THE BEST I EVER HAD.
    LE BEC-FIN DESERVES RESPECT. DINE WEARING PROPER
    ATTIRE, NOT JEANS AND A T-SHIRT. THIS IS NOT SOME LOW-CLASS JOINT, THIS IS CLASS, THE BEST IN THE WORLD!

  • Mark

    I remember when Steven Starr couldn’t cook a burger. Don’t forget Steve Poses as one of the forerunners of the Phila restaurant scene.

  • http://keefrh@hotmail.com bRENDAN

    What a pompous ass.