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Bernard Loiseau

In February of 2003, all of France and the culinary community around the world was shocked to learn of the suicide of Bernard Loiseau, chef and owner of the Cote D’Or restaurant at the hotel Relais Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy. At the time, Bernard was perhaps the most famous chef in France and was one of only 25 whose restaurants held the coveted three star rating from the Michelin Guide. In fact, he sat atop one of the most competitive and high-pressure businesses in the world. In The Perfectionist, author Rudolph Chelminski asks the question: “Did France’s obsession with food kill it’s most famous chef?”

Probably not. Bernard was a driven perfectionist. While wildly successful as a chef and hotelier, his business had serious financial problems with millions of dollars in debt incurred to continue improving the property. But it was also known that Bernard suffered from bi-polar disorder or manic-depressive personality disorder. The highs that had always driven him to incredible achievements were followed often by the depths of depression and despair. While France’s obsession with food created the high pressure in which he operated, the causes of his suicide were far more complex.

He was deeply loved and respected in France. His funeral was attended by thousands and by each of the other 24 Michelin three-star chefs in France.

Following his death, the business benefited from an enormous insurance policy on his life which paid off most, if not all of its debts. His wife Dominique took over the management of the company and his primary assistant took over as chef. Today, the restaurant retains its three-star Michelin rating and the hotel is as near to perfection as you can find. We dined twice in the restaurant and were greeted warmly by Dominique, a lovely and charming woman who nightly makes her way through the restaurant to speak with each patron. All of the senior employees in the kitchen and dining room worked for Bernard for many years and remain with the property, loyal to his memory and to Dominique.

Reading The Perfectionist while staying at Bernard’s hotel and chatting with his widow was an amazing experience. If you’re ever over this way, I highly recommend it.

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