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.’”

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  • 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.