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.

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