The giants of French gastronomy have paid tribute to the French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier, who was found dead at his home on Sunday.
He died of shotgun injuries in what was believed to be a suicide.
Violier, 44, ran the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier, near Lausanne, which was named the best in the world in December by La Liste. In 2013 he was named chef of the year by the influential Gault et Millau guide, second only to the Michelin guide among gourmets. He was due to attend the unveiling of the new Michelin guide in Paris on Monday.
Marc Veyrat, a three-star chef, said he was “destroyed” by news of Violier’s death. “The planet has been orphaned by this exceptional chef,” Veyrat wrote on Twitter.
Pierre Gagnaire, also a three-star Michelin chef, who was named by his peers the “biggest star chef in the world” and who has restaurants in Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Moscow and Berlin as well as Sketch in London, added: “Terribly sad news for an extremely talented chef.”
Paul Bocuse, named “chef of the century” by Gault et Millau and the Culinary Institute of America, said: “A grand chef, a grand man, a gigantic talent.”
Fredy Girardet, a friend of Violier and his wife Brigitte, and another three-star titan of Swiss haute cuisine, who had previously run the Crissier restaurant, said he was “completely stunned”. He told the Tribune de Genève: “I can see no motive for such an act. He was a brilliant young man, with enormous talent and an impressive work potential. He gave the impression of being perfect. This news is so sad.”
Violier’s death came hours before the gastronomic bible Michelin, the oldest European hotel and restaurant guide whose star rating can make or break a restaurant, was due to unveil its 2016 edition.
While a Michelin star can bring glory, the pressure to maintain the rating is intense. A maximum of three are awarded.
In 2003, the competitive world of French cuisine was shocked by the suicide of the three-star chef Bernard Loiseau, 52, who had been distraught about criticism of his restaurant La Côte d’Or in Burgundy, and rumours that he would lose his third star.
Veyrat closed one his restaurants, the highly rated Auberge de l’Eridan in Annecy, which had been awarded three stars since 1995, “for health reasons”.
Violier had succeeded chef Philippe Rochat at the Crissier, who died in July 2015 after falling ill while out cycling.
In an interview with Swiss TV RTS in December 2014, Violier said the stress of haute cuisine was necessary to maintain standards.
“It’s my life. I go to sleep with cooking, I wake up to cooking,” he said. Last year he was hit by the death of his father as well as his “mentor” Philippe Rochat, whom he regarded as a “second father”.
The café at Petersham Nurseries in London received a Michelin star in 2011, but the founder and chef Skye Gyngell tried to have it removed after customers turned up expecting formal dining.