The Daily Meal Hall of Fame: Frédy Girardet

The most revered French chef of the late twentieth century was actually Swiss
Staff Writer
Frédy Girardet

Honoring Frédy Girardet

The Daily Meal is announcing the inductees into its Hall of Fame for 2016. The Hall of Fame honors key figures, both living and dead, from the world of food. We are introducing the honorees, one per weekday. Today's inductee is Frédy Girardet.

Back before television so centrally changed the world’s assessment of who was truly a world-class chef, we (then) young Turks in this country spoke, in that un-twittered universe, of a rare few chefs that we revered — Vergé, Pic, Troisgros, Guérard, Senderens, Chapel — which was hard, because so few of had the means to to their temples of gastronomy and experience them first hand. Of those we bowed our heads to, circa 1978, next to none came from America, and the ones who did would likely have been named André Soltner or Jacques Pépín.

After I became friends with Charlie Trotter and Emeril Lagasse, a new name began to join those other, exclusively French ones: that of Frédy Girardet, who was creating near-hysteria by producing what many regarded as the finest food in the world — and he was not French!

He was Swiss, cooking at the Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville in the town of Crissier, near Lausanne.

I was toiling away in the tropical island town of Key West when one day I walked to the local bookstore and found a copy of the chef's first book, The Cuisine of Frédy Girardet, within. I felt like I had discovered a book on magic that Houdini himself would have coveted. I took it home and marveled at the simple but divine purity of his ideas. There was not a single photo on the pages, so I had to use my imagination entirely. It was frustrating! But in some ways it added to Girardet’s mystique all the more.

Many times over the ensuing years, Charlie and Emeril and I talked over bottles of some appropriately fine wine about how something was slipping in America when most of our very own young cooks had hardly heard of the genius from that small, dreamy, delicious town in Switzerland.

Girardet was a perfectionist — I think that our own perfectionist, Charlie, was inspired as much by Girardet's dedication as by his culinary ideas — and he was always in his kitchen, establishing standards that even his better-known French peers admired and that young American chefs of the period could only stand in awe of. I believe that even those who've never heard of him somehow benefit from the commitment to excellence that he embodied and transmitted to so many of us.

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