Bernard Loiseau: The Famous Chef Who Took His Own Life
In all his cooking, Bernard Louiseau strived for perfection.
The UK Indendant
Bernard Loiseau was a culinary giant – but fear of failure led him to take his own life. Charlotte Cripps gets a taste of haute cuisine at a contest set up in his memory
There is no doubt that the French take gastronomy extremely seriously. But when the top French chef Bernard Loiseau tragically killed himself in 2003, there were those who wondered if it had all gone too far. The 52-year-old chef, who was first awarded three Michelin stars in 1991, was famous for his classic low-fat frogs’ legs dish with parsley and garlic puree, at his Burgundy hotel-restaurant, La Cote d’Or at Saulieu. He was known to worry obsessively about his cuisine and to put himself under enormous pressure to be the best. Then one day his wife of 13 years, Dominique Loiseau, found him dead in his bedroom. He had shot himself in the mouth with his hunting rifle.
Loiseau was one of the world’s greatest chefs and his death sent shockwaves through the culinary world. Soon rumours were circulating like Chinese whispers that the three Michelin star chef had killed himself in fear of losing a star. The rumours were picked up in the press, and soon the story was out all over the world.
In fact, Loiseau knew a few days before he pulled the trigger that he hadn’t been downgraded in the Michelin guide. Even though it was published a few days after his death, he had received the call with the news he had been waiting for before he shot himself. But this doesn’t mean that his chronic perfectionism and workaholic lifestyle didn’t play a part in his downfall.
What did drive a talented chef, with a thriving business, to take his own life at the height of his powers? I am tiptoeing around the sensitive subject with his widow, Madame Loiseau, who believes he wore himself out trying to be perfect. “He was depressed every winter in January and February, because they were quiet months in Saulieu. That year he was depressed again, but I did not realise that something would happen,” says Madame Loiseau. “We had no financial problems at the time, despite reports in the press. He knew he had not lost the three stars – but somebody had written in a newspaper months before that he could lose a star. This maybe gave him more stress than before and made him more fragile – but he was disturbed by a lot of things because he was a perfectionist. He never took holidays and on the rare occasions we went away, he would return home early to the kitchen. He was tired – really tired. He had worked so hard for 27 years. Everybody knew he was depressed but nobody could imagine he would give up. He was a winner.”