Gaston Lenotre, one of the Chefs de France, dies at 88

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GastonGaston Lenotre, who, along with Paul Bocuse and Roger Verge, owned Chefs de France, the restaurant that is the jewel of the France pavilion at Epcot, died Thursday at his home in Sennely, south of Paris. Bruno Vrignon, executive chef at the Epcot restaurant, said that Lenotre had been diagnosed with cancer a year ago and had been hospitalized recently. He was released a few days ago, said Vrignon, "so we all knew the end was near." Bocuse, who was in Orlando, where he maintains a home, flew back to France this morning.

Lenotre at 88 was the oldest of the three chefs -- Bocuse is 83 and Verge is 78.

Letnotre's specialty was pastries, and he was one of the most famous pastry chefs in the world. He opened his first bakery in Normandy after World War II. He was successful enough there to buy another bakery in Paris with a partner, Colette, an author known best, perhaps, for writing the novel Gigi.

Lenotre eventually had bakeries in Berlin, Japan, the Middle East and the United States. He was so influential that his death warranted a special obituary in today's New York Times.

Missing from the obit, of course, is any mention of his involvement with the restaurant at Walt Disney World.

Bocuse is the only one who still regularly visits the Orlando restaurant. Verge, who also has a house in Central Florida, next to Bocuse's, has been unable to travel for a couple of years. Lenotre had not been to Orlando in at least five years, said Vrignon.

I had the honor of having lunch with all three chefs in 1996 when, on a rare occasion, all were in town at the same time. They spoke French during the meal -- only Verge knew enough English to carry on a conversation -- and at one point the three men, who had been talking privately to each other, became animated in their conversation. It was an argument -- some things are easy to identify regardless of the language -- with arms waving and hand gestures indicating a dismissal of what the others were saying.
 
After watching for a few moments, I asked a translator what the argument was about.

They were arguing about the best way to remove the skin from a pepper. Bocuse and Verge roast the peppers over a flame. Lenotre puts them in a paper bag and puts them in the microwave oven. A heated argument indeed.

Later at the meal, Lenotre moved the plates aside and started to fold his napkin. Then he unfolded it and refolded it a different way. He wasn't demonstrating linen techniques but rather the best way to fold pastry dough from making croissants.

Just some of the things world famous chefs talk about when they get together.

Vrignon said the Epcot restaurant does not have any plans to commemorate Lenotre's death.