Benoit Violier (1971 - 2016)
By: Legacy Staff
2 years ago
Chef Benoît Violier, whose acclaimed Le Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville in Lausanne, Switzerland, was ranked recently atop a list of the world's best high-end dining establishments, was found dead at his home Sunday of a likely self-inflicted gunshot wound, police reported.
The restaurant in western Switzerland, which Violier operated with his wife, Brigitte, was the recipient of three Michelin stars, a mark of top quality in haute cuisine. Violier took over the restaurant in 2012 after having worked under its previous owner, Philippe Rochat, for 15 years. Rochat became a mentor and father figure to Violier over the years before passing the torch. According to Food Arts magazine, Violier made the kitchen his own upon taking over. He used environmentally conscious techniques in building the kitchen, including installing induction stoves – "To me, it's the way of the future, just like the electric car" – while creating a spacious work area that he called his "dream kitchen."
That dream kitchen cost $1.3 million, and some would say the investment was well worth it. In 2013, the Gault et Millau guide named Violier Chef of the Year for Switzerland. By 2015, Le Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville had been named the best restaurant in the world by French organization La Liste, which ranks the 1,000 best restaurants. Along with the restaurant's honor came the implicit knowledge that Violier, as its chef and owner, was the greatest chef in the world. The Telegraph reported that Violier responded to the La Liste ranking with forward-looking delight: "It's wonderful, it's exceptional for us. This ranking will only motivate our team more."
Among the stars of Violier's menu was wild game, a culinary passion of his that went hand in hand with his hobby of hunting. Violier followed the nose-to-tail ethos, working to create dishes that would use the whole animal and eliminate waste. His dishes featured game including wild hare, woodcock and chamois, highlighted by supporting ingredients that were often local and even foraged – morel mushrooms, wild asparagus and truffles, for example.
One popular dish was a crispy Landes duck foie gras. Another, this one seasonal, varies from day to day depending on what local hunters have been able to obtain from their forays. Violier shared some of his recipes in his 2008 cookbook, "La Cuisine du Gibier à Poil d'Europe (The Cooking of Flightless Game Animals of Europe)."
The attention lavished on the man named the best chef in the world also brought new pressure to his work life. The culinary world is fiercely competitive, and Michelin stars are as easy to lose as they are difficult to gain. The work of a celebrity chef is both physically and mentally demanding, with long hours spent in a high-stress environment. The world's top chefs pour their hearts and souls into their work, and Violier was no exception. In a 2014 interview – during his peak stardom, but before the La Liste honor – he told Swiss TV RTS, "It's my life. I go to sleep with cooking; I wake up to cooking."
It was reported that police were considering Violier's death Sunday afternoon in Crissier, Switzerland, as a suicide.
Some speculation was reported that Violier was despondent over the recent death of his father. Violier suffered an additional loss when his mentor, Rochat, died in 2015. A further setback came just a few days before his death, according to a source close to Violier. The source indicated that Violier had received some bad news, though the nature of the news was unknown, and that Violier had been "troubled ever since and was not the same man."
If Violier did take his own life, he would not be the first to do so in the food world. Homaro Cantu, an acclaimed chef known for his massive talent in molecular gastronomy, took his own life in Chicago in April 2015. Bernard Loiseau, the French chef and owner of the Michelin three-star Côte d'Or, died by suicide in 2003.
Violier's death prompted an outpouring of condolences on social media. The legendary French chef Paul Bocuse shared his thoughts on Twitter: "Great leader, great man, gigantic talent. All our thoughts are with the family and relatives of Benoît Violier," he wrote in a tweet, translated from the French language.
The Michelin Guide released its list of starred restaurants in France Tuesday. It was a list that would not have included Le Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville, as Violier's restaurant is located in Switzerland, but Violier had planned on attending the accompanying ceremony. He was remembered at the ceremony with a minute of silence.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius released a statement praising Violier as an "iconic chef." France, Fabius said, has lost "an eminent ambassador of 'a la française' taste and know-how."
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