Obit­u­ar­ies: French chef Roger Vergé, a nou­velle cui­sine leader, dies at 85.

ROGER VERGÉ, 1930 - 2015

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Elaine Woo elaine.woo@la­times.com

Roger Vergé, one of the first su­per­star chefs whose light, fresh and art­fully plated food turned his restau­rant near Cannes, France, into a land­mark of French gas­tron­omy and a bea­con of nou­velle cui­sine, has died. Hewas 85.

Vergé, whose Le Moulin de Mou­g­ins earned three Miche­lin stars within five years of its 1969 open­ing, died June 5 in Mou­g­ins, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. The cause was not given.

With his thick mus­tache and mati­nee idol charm, Vergé was, as the in­flu­en­tial restau­rant guide Gault-Mil­lau de­scribed him, “the very in­car­na­tion of the great French chef for for­eign­ers.”

Along with Paul Bo­cuse, Michel Guer­ard and the Trois­grois broth­ers, Vergé freed French cui­sine from the rules that had de­fined it for a hun­dred years, aban­don­ing heavy sauces, strong mari­nades and long cooking times for a sim­pler ap­proach that em­pha­sized the nat­u­ral fla­vors of food.

Strongly in­flu­enced by the herbs, spices and sun­ripened veg­eta­bles of Provencea nd his ex­ten­sive trav­els in Africa and Ja­maica, he called his ap­proach “Cui­sine of the Sun,” which was also the name of his first cook­book.

His culi­nary style, he wrote, was “the an­tithe­sis of cooking to im­press — rich and pre­ten­tious. It is a light­hearted, healthy and nat­u­ral way of cooking which com­bines the prod­ucts of the earth like a bou­quet of wild flow­ers from the gar­den.” His kitchen was a train­ing ground for a num­ber of cel­e­brated chefs who later brought their tal­ents to this coun­try, among them David Bouley, Hu­bert Keller, Alain Du­casse and Daniel Boulud.

“What did I learn with Vergé? Bet­ter to ask, What didn’t I learn? Ev­ery one of my cooking skills was honed,” the New-York-based Boulud wrote in his mem­oir, “Let­ters to a Young Chef.”

Vergé brought his ideas to Amer­ica in the mid-1970s when he and other lead­ing prac­ti­tion­ers of the new French gas­tron­omy gave classes in Napa Val­ley as Cal­i­for­nia cui­sine was evolv­ing along sim­i­lar lines. Later, with his friends Bo­cuse and Gas­ton Lenotre, he op­er­ated restau­rants in the French Pav­il­ion at Dis­ney World in Or­lando, Fla.

Le Moulin de Mou­g­ins, how­ever, re­mained the touch­stone. Lo­cated in a con­verted 16th-cen­tury olive oil mill across the road from one of Pablo Pi­casso’s homes, it quickly be­came a pil­grim­age spot for gour­mands and a fa­vorite of celebri­ties vis­it­ing the an­nual Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. It earned three Miche­lin stars in rapid suc­ces­sion, in 1970, 1972and1974. In1977, with his wife, Denise, he opened a sec­ond restau­rant, L’Amandier de Mou­g­ins, and a cooking school.

The son of a black­smith, Vergé was born on April 7, 1930, in Com­men­try, a vil­lage in cen­tral France. He was one of nine chil­dren in a fam­ily that loved food.

“One of my grand­fa­thers would wake up at 4 a.m., drink a cup of black cof­fee, and eat a whole roast chicken,” he once told Ju­lia Child who re­counted her con­ver­sa­tion with the chef in “My Life in France,” her 2006 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “Then he’d drink a sec­ond cup of cof­fee and eat a sec­ond chicken. Mind you, this was be­fore break­fast, just to start the day right … and ev­ery day, too!”

Vergé’s first and most in­flu­en­tial teach­ers in the kitchen were his mother and es­pe­cially his aunt, who spent the whole day Sun­day pre­par­ing food. His book “Roger Verge’s Veg­eta­bles in the French Style” (1994), is an homage to the two women, whose fric­as­see of spring veg­eta­bles, he wrote, “rep­re­sents all the hap­pi­ness that life can af­ford.”

At 17, Vergé was ap­pren­ticed to a lo­cal chef, then con­tin­ued his culi­nary ed­u­ca­tion at two of Paris’ tem­ples of haute cui­sine, La Tour D’Ar­gent and Plaza Athe­nee. Ea­ger to ex­plore other cuisines, he spent more than a decade cooking his way through the Caribbean and Africa.

When he re­turned to France, he fused the fla­vors of the coun­tries he vis­ited with those of his own. Boulud re­called mak­ing Vergé’s lamb shoul­der with Proven­cal herbs and Mid­dle Eastern ac­cents of star anise, cin­na­mon and or­ange peel. His trav­els abroad also in­spired him to use fresh fruits in sa­vory dishes, such as his ap­pe­tizer of hot oysters with or­ange pieces and or­ange but­ter.

Still, Vergé “could not have come from any­where but France,” wrote Child, who be­came a close friend. He was “a quin­tes­sen­tial ex­am­ple of what a true chef should be ... the kind of ded­i­cated cuisinier that had so in­spired my love of France and its food.”

He of­fended Amer­i­can chefs in1985 when, at a ben­e­fit in New York, he said new Amer­i­can cooking “looks Ja­panese: large dishes, small por­tions, no taste, but very ex­pen­sive.”

He later ex­plained that his re­marks were aimed at the ex­cesses of nou­velle cui­sine on both sides of the At­lantic. “Ev­ery­where, peo­ple just want to make some­thing new,” he said in Na­tion’s Restau­rant News. “But some places just don’t do it cor­rectly.”

Vergé, who ran Le Moulin for three decades, re­tired in 2003. His sur­vivors in­clude his wife, three daugh­ters and three grand­chil­dren.

Gil­berte Tourte As­so­ci­ated Press

DED­I­CATED CUISINIER John Tra­volta tastes ameal pre­pared by Chef Roger Vergé at LeMoulin de

Mou­g­ins restau­rant near Cannes, France, in 1987.

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