Roger Vergé, a prominent French chef and one of the founding fathers of nouvelle cuisine — the lighter, fresher generation of French cooking that originated in the mid-twentieth century — has died at the age of 85 of complications from diabetes.
Chef Vergé is credited with reviving interest in Mediterranean gastronomy, according to The New York Times. His particular style of produce-forward, rural French Provençal cuisine has influenced many of today’s modern French and French-American chefs, including chef David Bouley (Bouley Restaurant), Daniel Boulud (of Restaurant Daniel and 12 other restaurants in New York City), and Alain Ducasse (Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London). All three chefs trained at chef Vergé’s renowned restaurant, Le Moulin de Mougins, located near Cannes, France. He also owned the well-respected cooking school, l’École de Cuisine du Soleil Roger Vergé, which promoted his style of “sunny” fare.
Daniel Boulud cooked at Le Moulin de Mougins from 1974 to 1976, and later worked for chef Vergé at a restaurant he was consulting for in Copenhagen. Boulud described Vergé as a “kind of godfather” to his original Restaurant Daniel.
"The Moulin,” Boulud told The Daily Meal, "was really a special place. Roger was a classically trained chef but traveled quite a lot, in the U.S., South America, Africa, and was very open-minded with his creativity. He was someone who could take a classic dish and update it with a Provençal influence, giving it a very fresh and more seasonal character. He was about creating soulful food with great technique and great taste."
Other prominent chefs remember chef Vergé’s influence, and what he called his “happy cuisine,” which steered clear of the heavy, rich, “pretentious” dishes that had for so long been associated with French gastronomy before nouvelle cuisine’s rise in popularity.
“Roger Vergé was in my book the first chef to elevate Provençal cooking to an international level,” chef Jonathan Waxman, who owns New York’s Barbuto and often dined at Le Moulin de Mougins, told The Daily Meal. “He was an exuberant and playful chef; Roger, along with Louis Outhier [Vergé's fellow three-star chef in Provence, formerly of L'Oasis in La Napoule], managed to help make French cuisine fun and bright."
Even for those French chefs who did not directly work under him, chef Vergé was an inspiration.
"When I started in the business, at Troisgros, he was one of those great figures who made us dream,” Parisian chef Guy Savoy, whose eponymous restaurant, with three Michelin stars, recently moved into the elegant La Monnaie de Paris, told The Daily Meal. “Vergé was a key figure to a whole generation of French chefs.”