Benoît Violier, the 44-year-old chef–owner of the Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, near Lausanne, was found dead in his apartment Sunday night. He had apparently shot himself.
His establishment held three Michelin stars and was named the world's best restaurant in December by La Liste (a new French-government-sponsored rival to the annual S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking).
The Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville was formerly known as Restaurant Girardet, after the legendary Frédy Girardet, who ran it from 1971 until his retirement in 1996. Girardet sold the place to his second-in-command, Philippe Rochat. When Rochat himself retired in 2012, he passed it on to his own second-in-command, Violier, who ran it with his wife, Brigitte.
The restaurant has known two previous tragedies. In 2002, Rochat's wife, Franziska Rochat-Moser, a famed marathon runner (she was the first-place woman in the 1997 New York City Marathon) was killed climbing in the Alps when a snow ledge collapsed on her. Rochat himself died suddenly last July, collapsing while riding his mountain bike.
A native of Saintes, in France's Charente-Maritime, Violier worked under famed chef Joël Robuchon in Paris before moving to Switzerland in 1996 to become Rochat's number two. He became a Swiss citizen in 2014.
He told an interviewer recently that he was depressed over the loss of his "two fathers" — his own father, who also died last year, and Rochat.
Philippe Faure, president of the French Tourism Board and founder of La Liste, issued a statement saying that Violier "incarnated the renewal of French gastronomy" and spoke of the chef's "humility, generosity, and immense talent."