Less than one week after receiving a crushing two-bell review from Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan, legendary Le Bec-Fin founder Georges Perrier has signed a deal that will yield control of his 42-year old French restaurant to Nicolas Fanucci, a former Le Bec general manager and current GM at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley.
This afternoon, in an exclusive interview with Foobooz, Perrier said that the deal had been in the works for the last seven months and was finalized just three days ago. “I don’t have it anymore, and I recognize that,” admits the 69-year year old chef, who introduced Philadelphia to fine dining when he opened Le Bec in 1970. “There is an age for everything, and in this business, you have to be 25, 35, or 40. I am almost 70 years old. I am due to take it easy.”
Perrier would not reveal the financial particulars, other than to say that he will retain some ownership interest in the company and stay on in an advisory role–at least for the time being. “I will still be involved,” promises Perrier. “I will do what I do best: talk to people. I am charming. And I will still make some stuff.” He’ll also continue to own the Walnut Street property.
Current Le Bec-Fin chef Nicholas Elmi will be replaced, although Perrier will not disclose the name of the new chef at this time. He says that Fanucci is bringing in someone from the Thomas Keller organization to lead the kitchen. When pressed, Perrier told me that it is “the chef from Per Se,” Keller’s exquisite expense-account restaurant that the New York Times recently declared the best in New York City. When I asked for clarification (could he possibly mean the chef from Per Se, i.e. Eli Kaimeh?), Perrier backed away. “I don’t want to upset Thomas Keller,” he said. “You will know the name soon enough.”
Last week, I’d called Perrier to ask him for his reaction to LaBan’s review and demotion of the restaurant to two bells on the four bell scale. At the time, he politely declined to comment. Today, though, he was more forthcoming. “Craig LaBan is a great food critic,” began Perrier. “But he didn’t go after the food. He went after me, and I will never forgive him. It’s unfair, and it’s rude. I have hundreds of people who work for me. I took care of them. I took care of their children. I took care of their school. And I don’t deserve the way that Craig LaBan put me in the trash can, in such a violent way.” Perrier also noted that the review in no way affected the arrangements with Fanucci or the timing of the deal.
Perrier expects that Le Bec-Fin will remain open through the first week of April, after which it will close for renovations.
“I am excited,” said Perrier. “I am giving the opportunity to Le Bec-Fin to be great again, and the people of Philadelphia deserve that.”