On a recent evening in Chestnut Hill, a small group of diners sat down for a special dinner conceived by one of the city’s most revered chefs.
The event, held at Heirlooom restaurant Nov. 14, featured a menu created and executed by Georges Perrier, who ran Le Bec-Fin in Center City for years until closing it in March of this year. The dinner was Perrier’s first venture in the kitchen since shutting down the famed French eatery.
It was also a reunion of sorts.
Al Paris, head chef at Heirloom, and Perrier have been friends since Paris returned to the area after a stint in San Francisco. When Paris mentioned to Rene Verdon (once the White House chef for the Kennedys and chef of San Francisco’s famed Le Trianon) that he wanted to come back to Philadelphia, Verdon told him, “First you must talk to the little French man.”
“It was protocol,” said Paris. “Actually, it is more like a culinary Cosa Nostra and Georges was the godfather,” he joked.
Paris got Perrier’s blessing and came back to launch his notable Philadelphia career with ventures such as Circa, Oberon and Pomodoro.
Striving for balance
The dinner at Heirloom, caught Chef Perrier in a reflective mood, ” For me,” he said, ” it was very enjoyable because I haven’t cooked in a long time. I still have the touch, it’s nice to know I’m still there.”
Although, the days of preparation did take its toll.
“My back is killing me tonight,” said Perrier. ” It’s very demanding and physical. I don’t think I could do it every day anymore.”
Closing Le Bec-Fin was a big adjustment for Perrier. His mornings once began in the market at five, arriving at the kitchen by seven. His day would end around one or two the next morning.
Today, he sleeps in until seven or eight o’clock.
“As I look back, I would do it differently,” said Perrier. ” I would balance work and life. The big lesson is I was not able, myself, to balance both. It was all work and no private life.”
Continued Perrier, “The success of life is to be able to balance both. You can be successful in this business but the key is to surround yourself with talented people and be a leader to tell them what you want to do in the kitchen to support you.”
A night to remember
Perrier wasn’t the only person moved by the evening. For Paris’ staff at Heirloom, it was a chance to work side by side with a master.
” Oh gosh, everybody here is changed,” said Paris. ” What I told the staff in the kitchen and on the floor is that this is this kind of night that five years from now you’ll understand exactly what happened here. You’ll carry these techniques, you’ll carry the intensity, you’ll carry this understanding with you for the rest of your life.”
“That’s what I love about classic cuisine,” he added. “you are a link in the chain of history and no one in this country is a better ambassador of classic cuisine than Georges Perrier.”