August 28, 2005
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The Perfectionist

by Rudolph Chelminski

Bernard Loiseau, a poor kid and a worse student, was packed off at 13 to be a kitchen apprentice. He was a bad apprentice, too, but worked in a very good kitchen with some very good apprentices, young men who would grow up to be celebrity chefs. Loiseau joined them: eventually, he had 3 Michelin stars and an IPO. When younger and more radical chefs started to get more attention from his friends in the media, and when rumors started to whisper that perhaps the future might hold a mere two stars, Loiseau killed himself.

The core of this book is not the food (which Chelminski describes without any particular passion) or the Perfectionist's character (although Chelminski was a friend and feels badly about how things turned out). This is a book about the irreconcilable tension between the interests of the late 20th century critic and those of the audience.

Food critics -- notably the small cadre of Michelin inspectors -- eat elaborate and expensive food twice a day, every day. Truffles and foie gras are everyday fare, and something new -- tiny portions! strange ingredients! a light meal! -- is almost a day off. The natural audience for fine restaurants, places where a quiet dinner might cost a thousand dollars, has different interests and desires. By the end of the century, the gap between the writers and the eaters seemed unbridgeable and a gun seemed a good answer.