Le Bec Fin surrendering its stars

April 4, 2008 8:59:01 PM PDT
Le Bec Fin is one of Philadelphia's finest restaurants, but starting Monday night it will have a whole new personality. For the last 38 years, Georges Perrier has been at Le Bec Fin cooking delicious, decadent food, like buttery escargot and silken crab gallette.

"This is one of my famous signature dishes," he said.

The food, served in formal, three hour long, six course dinners, earned Perrier five stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, the highest culinary honor.

He has held five stars for 26 years -- currently the only chef in the state, and one of only 17 chefs in the country, to meet this standard.

"When you are five star, you are talking from the elite of the elite. You are talking the top of the top," said Perrier.

But on Friday he dropped this bombshell: Perrier is giving his five stars back.

"I always had fun before. Always. But you know, the fun left my soul because the five star Mobil was demanding. It was so stressful," he said.

Perrier says Le Bec was becoming a relic, shunned by younger diners.

"It's different now. People don't want to sit for three hours. Not even me," he explained.

So on Monday, Le Bec Fin premieres a new look. Gone will be the elaborate place settings and heavy silver, replaced with one fork, one knife, and a simple white plate. Diners can even wear jeans. And there is a mostly new a la carte dinner menu with dishes like lamb chop.

"That's what you want. Light, light, light," he said.

Perrier says having no stars let's him be free.

"I want to have fun. If I have ten more years to live, I want to have fun," he explained.

But that doesn't mean this is easy.

Cooking since he was a teenager, Perrier came to Philadelphia in 1967, 23 and ambitious. At 26, he opened Le Bec. But five stars came at a price: Twenty-two hour workdays, a failed marriage, and a newborn daughter he saw for 10 minutes before running back to his kitchen.

"I felt very guilty. She didn't have a father. Her father was working," he said.

Another reason this move is shocking is Perrier's reaction in 2001, when Mobil dropped Le Bec Fin from five stars to four. He was famously devastated.

Perrier says ego made him spend a million dollars revamping Le Bec to become the only chef to ever regain a lost star.

But now, at 64, his heart says let them go. He has a new wife, a good relationship with his daughter, and new projects like his steakhouse, Table 31, to enjoy.

"I don't feel I want to be judged again," he said.

Perrier told his 97-year old mother on Thursday. He informed Mobil on Friday.

"I feel the release today. I'm sad. And you can see, I'm very emotional, but it's time. It's time. I have nothing to prove," he said.

And now he starts joining a life of Le Bec Fin, or good taste, hopefully with more joie de vivre -- great fun.

In the interest of full disclosure, Tamala Edwards is married to Le Bec Fin's pastry chef.