Writers' Taste Buds Tingled by Burgundy's Three-Starred Chef Bernard Loiseau Visits N.Y.C. to Herald New Book

Article excerpt

The applause was as thunderous as for any successful Broadway show. Nodding and smiling in the middle of New York's elegant Restaurant Daniel recently were a half dozen chefs, dressed in white from toque to toe. They had just produced a dazzling seven-course lunch, straight out of France, that spoke to taste buds many of those present did not even know they had. Normally hard-to-impress New Yorkers were impressed.

Only 20 restaurants in all of France carry the top, three-star rating in the prestigious Michelin Red Guide that signals "cooking worth a special journey." In this case, La Cote d'Or in the Burgundy farm town of Saulieu, one of the select Michelin 20, in effect came to the Big Apple for the day.

Directing the show, and very much the star performer, was chef Bernard Loiseau, the tanned and smiling owner of La Cote d'Or. His admitted obsession with perfection and authenticity not only led him to bring along not only six members of his restaurant staff, but also to import the needed supply of frog's legs, foie gras, fresh perch, poisses cheese, and chocolate.

The occasion, lunch for 70 journalists and editors, was in honor of the publication of "Burgundy Stars: A Year in the Life of a Great French Restaurant" (Little, Brown & Co., 311 pp., $22.95). Written by journalist William Echikson, the book tells the lively story behind Mr. Loiseau's hard-driving, and ultimately successful, reach for the elusive third Michelin star.

The energetic Loiseau, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the book's author, exudes the air of a man ready to meet life's every challenge head on. This is a man who admits, according to the book, "I live at 150 miles an hour."

Yes, he can lose his temper and even fire employees when a dish is overcooked or a plate of food looks less than beautiful. He wants his staff, which includes 25 chefs, to always work harder and do better. Yet the book makes clear that he is also a man who has a deep affection for his employees and an almost indefatigable joie de vivre.

As Mr. Echikson notes, this is no "fairy tale account of haute cuisine." Behind the glamour of gastronomic excellence lies an enormous amount of hard work.

Fond of saying he started his career with nothing more than a toothbrush, Loiseau dropped out of school at age 16. He worked first as a pastry chef for a cousin and then apprenticed, peeling potatoes and carrots, in the two-star restaurant in Roanne owned by the respected Troisgras family. Two weeks after his arrival, Michelin awarded the restaurant its third star, and Loiseau has been working for one of his own ever since. …