‘Chasing An Ideal,’ World-Class Chefs Find Themselves Under Extreme Pressure

February 4, 2016

The world of haute cuisine lost one of its brightest stars over the weekend.

Benoit Violier, a French Swiss chef who many said was the best in the world, died in his home in Switzerland in what appears to have been a suicide. He was 44.

Violier owned the Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, near Lausanne. It’s one of the few restaurants in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars.

There has been some speculation that the pressure that comes with operating a restaurant at that level may have had something to do with Violier’s death.

It is a notoriously intense business, as Eric Ziebold well knows.

He’s a Washington, D.C.-based restaurateur who for years was chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry, which has three Michelin stars. Ziebold is currently chef and co-owner of Kinship and Métier, which will open in the coming weeks.

Ziebold hasn’t yet received any Michelin stars at his own establishments, but he’s striving to offer his guests a “flawless” luxury experience.

He spoke to Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne about the pressure in the kitchen and the office.

“In the kitchen there’s an incredible physical pressure; it’s not uncommon for it to be an 18-hour day,” says Ziebold. “Outside of that, you get into the pressure of everything that it means to be operating a restaurant that isn’t just at the highest level, but a restaurant that is chasing an ideal.”

Ziebold says he’s trying to anticipate his guests needs. For example, he keeps a supply of pashminas in the restaurant to offer to guests if they’re cold. “Hopefully you have a color that will go with their outfit,” he says.

It’s a luxury experience, and, Ziebold says, “when you get to that point of Michelin three stars, it’s an experience worth building a trip around.”

At this level, chefs also become hypercritical of every detail.

“For me personally, [the death of Violier] … has been reflective for me in trying to make sure that what we do is sustainable, that we’re not going to be just a flash in the pan, but we’re going to be able to carry out and chase our vision.”

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