Michelin honours for widow who kept chef's dream alive

A year after one of France's best-loved chefs committed suicide, his wife and his kitchen staff have been given the greatest accolade in cooking - the preservation of his restaurant's cherished three stars in the latest Michelin Guide.

Last February, Bernard Loiseau, 52, well-known in France from his frequent appearances on television cookery programmes, took a hunting rifle to his bedroom and shot himself.

The reasons for his suicide remain unclear, but his restaurant in Burgundy had been downgraded in another food guide, apparently plunging M. Loiseau into depression.

His wife Dominique and his kitchen team, led by his deputy Patrick Bertron, immediately decided to carry on his life's work at the Côte D'Or in Saulieu, northern Burgundy.

On the evening of her husband's suicide Mme Loiseau insisted that guests must still be served. The following morning she summoned the staff and they resolved to continue running the restaurant in her husband's honour. In the Michelin Guide for 2004, to be published later this month, the Côte d'Or has maintained its status as one of France's 27 best restaurants - those decorated with Michelin's ultimate, three-star accolade.

Mme Loiseau greeted the news with "great joy but some sadness". "Bernard is proud of us. We stood up to destiny," she said. "We wanted to avoid becoming a museum while maintaining the Bernard Loiseau spirit of hospitality and quality."

She has indeed kept the restaurant a temple to his culinary ideals. Diners can still choose between chicken filled with leeks, carrots and truffles, or the Loiseau classic - frog jambonettes and poultry with foie gras and truffles.

Loiseau described himself as a merchant of happiness. In February his right-hand man of 20 years, Patrick Bertron, took the reins in the kitchen and continued his mentor's lighter style of French cooking, in which sauces are based on meat stock rather than cream or butter.

When Loiseau was alive, 65 staff worked in his restaurant and local farmers depended on him for custom. In the past year they have united behind Mme Loiseau's efforts to preserve her husband's restaurant.

M. Loiseau had a history of depression and in 1992 suffered a breakdown. He felt unable to compete with the restaurants of Paris hotels, which are subsidised by multinational corporations, and complained that the playing field was no longer level. Like all chefs of his status, he dreaded the withdrawal of his third Michelin star. Just before his death he said: "I've only gone up in my life. Now I'm on the top. How do I come down?"

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