King Georges: A Classic Tale of the Lion in Winter – in a Kitchen
I’m a cobbler.
This is the repeated assertion of Georges Perrier the legendary master French chef and owner of the (sadly) now closed Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia. Written and directed by Erika Frankel (producer of such documentaries as The True Story of Troy and Frontrunners) this short and deceptively simple picture about the last days of the restaurant gives us a compelling look not only at the incredible stress levels of working in restaurants (believe me I’ve been there), but also raises poignant questions about the cost of art and the inevitability of change.
Georges was one of a generation of French chefs who came to the U.S. and revolutionized fine dining in the process. In its hey day, Le Bec-Fin was a veritable institution; it wasn’t just considered the best restaurant in Philadelphia but in the country. At an inaugural dinner for Philly’s premier dining society, Georges served a 13-course meal that ended with an apple whose core cleverly disguised a quail. But tastes change; the kind of extreme elegance and formality that was always part of the mystique of Le Bec-Fin (not to mention such traditional French cuisine) just isn’t what modern diners are looking for and it becomes clear that Georges days are numbered.
His personal level of investment and sacrifice in Le Bec-Fin is impossible to overstate. Georges is famous for his incredible (some would say insane) level of absolute perfectionism in the kitchen. At one point he has a psychotic break over the lack of any galettes suitable for service. Georges was well into his late sixties getting up at 3:30 in the morning to go to market and working until well after midnight. He can’t slow down for a minute or even delegate authority to anyone else not even his partner and protégé, Nicholas Elmi. (That’s the same Elmi who went on to win Top Chef and now has his own restaurant.) This sort of schedule wrecked hell with his personal life to the point where he seems to have no outside interests except for his bichon fries Isabella and the Philadelphia Eagles. And while he constantly complains of tiredness he h demonstrates an energy level that most twenty somethings would envy. What will Georges do now?!? The answers are surprising, poignant, and as classic as his cuisine.
Warning-watching this movie WILL make you hungry. Very hungry.