Top chef's death shocks France, sparks condemnation of critics

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

PARIS -- Like many a great artist, Bernard Loiseau was a fragile and sometimes tortured soul, a perfectionist tending to one of France's greatest passions: food.

Loiseau's apparent suicide Monday shocked France, plunged the gastronomic world into mourning and raised a storm of condemnation from fellow culinary masters, who blamed all-powerful food critics for pushing the celebrated chef toward despair.

Loiseau, 52, was found dead in the bedroom of his home in Saulieu, near his three-star "Cote d'Or" restaurant in the Burgundy region southeast of Paris. A rifle was at his side.

Dijon Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Alacchi said suicide was "very probably" the cause of death.

The energetic Loiseau was a pioneer inside and outside the kitchen. He was among the first chefs to promote "nouvelle cuisine," lightening thick, creamy sauces and cooking various ingredients, like vegetables, separately to maximize their savor.

Loiseau, who had three children, also became an entrepreneur, with a line of frozen foods, a boutique near his "Cote d'Or" restaurant and three eateries in Paris. He published numerous books and appeared on television.

Amid it all, Loiseau managed to maintain his restaurant's top three-star rating, first awarded in 1991 by the benchmark Michelin Red Guide. But the Red Guide said it was forced to issue a statement Feb. 7 to stop "all the rumors" that Loiseau could be losing a prized star.

Fell in ratings

Loiseau did lose two points, going from 19 to 17, in the 20-point rating system of the GaultMillau. That guide has gained in prestige and power in recent years.

Top chefs castigated the rating system of which they all are captive.

"He said, 'If I lose a star, I'll kill myself,'" said another three-star chef, Jacques Lameloise.

Paul Bocuse, who said he spoke with Loiseau three times a week, predicted the chef's death would raise questions about the system.

"These critics are like eunuchs," he said. "They know what to do but they can't do it."

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