Obituary: Benoit Violier
Three-starred Michelin chef who championed simplicity
Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30
Benoit Violier, who is said to have shot himself last Sunday aged 44, was one of the world's leading chefs.
Violier was chef patron of Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville at Crissier in Switzerland, which holds three Michelin rosettes in recognition of "brilliant, subtle yet powerful dishes... worthy of the best classic cuisine [and] accompanied by exceptional service".
The restaurant had been named in December as the best in the world by La Liste, a French government-sponsored ranking of the world's top 1,000 eateries.
But Violier received the accolade with modesty: "The ranking that really counts is that my customers continue to enjoy coming here."
Founded in 1953 by the celebrated Swiss chef Fredy Girardet in the former town hall of a suburb of Lausanne, Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville was already a celebrated temple of gastronomy when Violier joined its brigade de cuisine in 1996. Girardet handed over the following year to his long-time protege Philippe Rochat; Violier became executive chef in 1999, succeeding Rochat as patron in 2012.
Violier's cooking championed simplicity and strove for perfection in the balance of flavours, with seasonal ingredients and a traditional approach to saucing. He specialised in game, but his tasting menus, at prices up to €340 per head, were dazzling in their creativity.
One recent diner waxed lyrical over "an amuse-bouche of sea urchin from Galicia, served with fennel, resting in a rose Champagne sauce and topped with caviar", followed by "confit of foie gras with purple hibiscus flower jelly", perfectly sauced morels from the Auvergne, "frog leg crackers", John Dory from Quiberon Bay, langoustine tail with asparagus and Bresse pigeon - before finding room for "a vast cheese selection", caramelised pineapple, nougatine of red fruits, perfumed mango ice cream and petits fours.
Not every visitor was so satisfied. Crissier was not listed in the British-published World's Top 50, and a reviewer for a London paper - having paid almost €260 a head, not including service, for a disappointing meal - reported "an exceptionally anodyne" dining room under a maitre d' who "never once made us feel welcome". Among his peers, however, Violier's reputation was stellar: Paul Bocuse called him "a gigantic talent".
Benoit Violier was born at Saintes in the Charente-Maritime region on August 22, 1971 and grew up in the village of Montils, where his father was a winemaker and hunter. From 1987, Benoit was apprenticed to a local chef-patissier, Didier Stephan, before continuing his training in Bordeaux, Toulouse and Senlis and moving to Paris in 1991.
There he worked with a roll call of great names, Joel Robuchon among them, in establishments such as Lenotre, Fauchon, Le Tour d'Argent and the Ritz and also came to understand that maintaining a world-class reputation was a stressful business.
"I go to sleep with cooking, I wake up to cooking," he said. "Everything must be done all over again every day."
An ardent game hunter, Violier had recently published a book on game cookery running to more than 1,000 pages and dedicated to his father.
He declared mushrooms of all kinds to be his favourite ingredient, loved black truffles in winter and named his mother's version of poularde fermiere aux cepes as the dish he would request for his last supper.
Violier had been due to attend the launch of the 2016 Guide Michelin in Paris on Monday. He had been deeply affected by the deaths last year of both his father and his mentor Philippe Rochat, but those who knew him well were stunned by the news that he had apparently taken his own life.
He is survived by his wife Brigitte and by their son.