Philadelphia is one city where history is serious stuff. Not just ancient, stuffy stuff either. Neither Rocky Balboa, Will Smith, Terrence Howard, Justice Alito, or Kobe Bryant were contemporaries of Ben Franklin or Ben's fabled Colonial crew [the term “posse” would puzzle and perhaps disturb Ben]. Suffice to say that Philadelphia is proud of its living history too. With Le Bec-Fin, Georges Perrierhas inextricably intertwined both his iconic restaurant and his larger-than-life persona into the historic fabric of the city.
In contemporary Philly, Georges Perrier is a recognizable, popular Philly personage. His impact and influence on the culinary arts in the Delaware Valley is unmatched. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphia foodie who can't chuckle up a Georges Perrier tale or two, many of which recount the Chef's thunderous and occasionally thundering personality. Perrier was the gastronomic pioneer whose influence decades ago unofficially captained the transformation of a rudderless fleet of nondescript Philly restaurants into the impressive coherent armada it is today.
Georges arrived in Philadelphia in the Sixties, bearing the gastronomic heritage of his native Lyon, France. This charming city is often dubbed the Gastronomic Capital of France – though vociferously dissenting Parisians differ.
The cornerstone of Georges' cooking philosophy and his ultimate success resides in his ability to reshape. I won't say reinvent – a strategy driven too often by trend rather than value. The French insist with pride and prudence, “Les temps changent. Les bons goûts restent” [“The times change. Good tastes abide.”] Indeed, as the four-decade success of Le Bec-Fin attests. Still this sagacity does not preclude continuous improvement, nor expanding the hallowed Escoffier pantry. Escoffier's recipes while fundamentally sound did not – could not – include the panoply of foodstuffs and ingredients available in today's global state of commerce. So though he sticks to tried-and-true classic-French techniques, Georges does not confine the reach of his kitchen. His menu is dynamic, never failing to tantalize and surprise with tweaks and twists on the classics. Roasted rack of lamb might perk with golden raisin mostarda rather than the more traditional – and perpetually pleasing – breaded Dijon coating. Zesty apricot purée might substitute for more traditional accompaniments in sublime foie gras. Regardless, there is no compromise or deviation in kitchen organization and procedures. Attention to detail, thorough apprenticeship in every phase of the operation, unswerving excellence in execution every step of the way in the preparation process, reign inviolable. The litany of the eatery's “alumni” reads like a Who's-Who of Philadelphia cuisine. Each will attest to Perrier's unflinching quest for perfection.
Long the flagship of the Philly restaurant fleet, Le Bec-Fin is a muliti-recidivist recipient of both the Mobil Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Awards. A few years ago, Georges started to “democratiser” his famed establishment. In other words, he set about making Le Bec-Fin more accessible to the dining community. In 2002, the main dining room underwent a transformation conceived by the esteemed Philadelphia architectural firm DAS. The Chef's instructions were: “Change everything but the chandeliers!” Thus from its renowned Louis XVI interior, the famed dining room morphed graciously into the 19th-century elegance of a Parisian dining salon.
To the delight of foodies near and far, the process of increasing accessibility and affordability gallops on. Le Bar Lyonnais, a chill-out, Happy-Hour-friendly, bistro-priced bar downstairs from the main dining room now serves a bistroesque carte that includes a Burger Lyonnais, a luscious Gallic take on our American staple, the hamburger. For the lunch-hour-pressed center city business contingent, Georges has even developed an express lunch – a concept that the overly rigid would summarily reject.
As far back as 1976, Georges Perrier's skills were receiving global acclaim. That year, he was inducted into the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France whose 200 esteemed members comprised the finest French chefs globally. In 1989, the group voted Perrier Chef of the Year by awarding him the Silver Toque. Perrier has not rested on those laurels. Furthermore, Le Bec-Fin's changes have only elevated Georges' culinary star. In 2005, French Senator Jean Besson bestowed the status of Knight in the National Order of Merit on him. And in April, 2009, he was honored in Paris with admission into the Légion d'Honneur, France's greatest recognition conferred on those who have distinguished themselves through civilian or military valor. Fellow culinary legend and personal friend, Guy Savoy, Grand Officer of the Legion and chef-proprietor of the eponymous Parisian and Las Vegas restaurants made the presentation.
Georges Perrier burst on the dining scene wowing with heavy classic-French sauces. The wows continued when he morphed his approach seamlessly into nouvelle cuisine. These days, he's juicing up classic recipes with uncustomary ingredients. And the raves persist. The result? After four decades on top, the city that Frenchman General Lafayette once called home now includes Frenchman Georges Perrier in its esteemed history. Vive la France!