One of the oldest and most respected of France's great restaurants, Auberge du Pére Bise in Talloires, in the Haute-Savoie — which has been under the same family ownership for 103 years — has been sold, and will be reopened by a talented chef from the ski resort of Val Thorens not far away.
In 1903, when a young hotel worker named François Bize [sic] bought a wood-frame chalet on the shores of Lake Annecy, just south of Geneva, and turned it into a simple bistro, Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House and Tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia. Bize's wife, Marie, was a talented cook and soon earned a reputation for her cooking. After a quarter of a century at the stove, Marie turned the kitchen over to her daughter-in-law, Marguerite, while Marie's son, Marius, took command of the dining room.
A tall, elegant gentleman, Marius earned the nickname "Père [Father] Bise" (the family had by then changed the spelling of their name) for his warmth and charm, and the property was baptized Auberge du Père Bise. Marie's cooking won the place a Michelin star in 1948 and a second one a year later — and in 1951, Pére Bise won Michelin's highest accolade, a three-star rating, which it retained until 1983. It won the rating back for two years in 1985, then descended to two, and more recently to one.
The Bises's youngest son, François, took over the chef's post after Marguerite's death in 1965, holding it until his death from cancer in 1983. His wife, Charlyne, ran the dining room. In 1987, their daughter, Sophie, became head chef, continuing in that post until the sale this month.
In its heyday, with its fairytale lakeside setting and superb cuisine, Pére Bise drew not only gastronomes from around the world but also an illustrious international clientele that ranged from Queen Elizabeth II and Richard Nixon to Charlie Chaplin and Brigitte Bardot. The restaurant's culinary brilliance dimmed in recent years, but it remained an extraordinarily pleasant Alpine stop.
Pére Bise closed officially Oct. 29. The new owner of the place is Jean Sulpice, who plans to keep running his eponymous two-star establishment in Val Thorens during the winter, moving to Pére Bise each summer. He took official possession of the property Nov. 2, but has not announced whether he will maintain its time-honored name.