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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who is this?

Mysterychef Last Saturday morning, I was at the club lounge at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay. David was attending the Inside the Kitchen event at the hotel for the weekend, et moi, I was just arm candy. (So no serious report from me, check Amy's and Nitin's for that stuff.)

At breakfast that morning, the table next to us was full of French chefs. One of them was Fréderic Robert –perhaps one of the two best pastry chefs in the world- another, I think, was Bruno Davaillon, of Mix in Vegas, and a few other French chefs I didn't recognize. Commanding the attention of the whole table was an older, slightly unkempt man in a track suit, speaking rather loudly in French while the others listened rapturously.

I didn't recognize him, and strangely enough, neither did David.

I gathered from the conversation I was pretending not to listen to that he was also a chef. He must worked somewhere in the Midwest, as the other chefs were quizzing him for his opinion on a few famous restaurants in Chicago –and no, I'm not repeating what I was pretending not to listen to....no....

I saw him later on that same day, this time in the kitchen where David was prepping for the Grand Cru dinner that night. He showed up in shorts and a Les Bleus #10 jersey, that's Zidane's –so, yes, obviously he's French, and probably from the South. In the kitchen was also Roland Passot, Hubert Keller, and Ron Siegal, all of whom have four stars from the Chronicle. The mystery man seemed to know Hubert and Roland quite well, especially Roland.

I finally found out who he was, and was duly impressed, David even more so. The man is a legend, perhaps the first serious French chef to open a restaurant in the US. His restaurant was for a time considered the best French restaurant in the country. And, despite being literally in the middle of nowhere, his restaurant was so successful, diners flew their private planes in to visit his dining room.

He was also arguably the first celebrity chef in the US. Hubert Keller told me how he, as a young man, was inspired by a story about this mystery chef in the French tabloid Paris Match, posing with his collection of rare watches and sports cars with a headline "Millionaire Chef".

Do you know who he is?

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