I am an old guy. Older than about 95% of the world’s population. Which means I have had a greater opportunity to make mistakes in my life, have failures in my career, and perhaps have a few regrets about what I might have done or not done about them.
There’s a movie that reminds me of me. It’s called King Georges. It reminds me of me because when changes happened to society, I wasn’t always quite ready to adjust to them. I remember, as a journalist, how in denial I was when people stopped reading newsprint at dinner time and started trusting a remote control to deliver their news. And I remember in the ad biz, when art was no longer created by magic markers but by something called Photoshop, I wasn’t ready at all to fold up my easel.
Georges Perrier was a chef. A classical chef. A French chef. A great chef. But when restaurants changed, when restaurants were no longer appreciative of great, classical, French chefs, Georges Perrier wasn’t quite ready to change.
For over 40 years, Georges was the chef and owner of Le Bec-Fin, a very traditional and very luxurious gourmet restaurant. Every major city had at least one temple of French gastronomy. Georges’ temple was worshipped at in Philadelphia. The light fixtures were crystal, the napkins were linen, the plates were china, the wallpaper was damask, the clientele wore suits and evening gowns. Esquire named it “the best French restaurant in America” and a 1994 Condé Nast reader’s poll ranked it as the best restaurant in the country.
The film does a brilliant job of portraying Georges Perrier as a loud, tempetuous, sometimes foul-mouthed but always lovable perfectionist. Georges calls Le Bec-Fin, “my wife, my mistresses, my burden.” He spends eighteen hours a day in their company.
Over the years, Georges Perrier did try to make changes, replacing some of the classic dishes with modern trends but he couldn’t change the whims of his customers. First, they no longer wore ties. Then they no longer wore jackets. Fine dining now had a casual air and the formality of Le Bec-Fin was lost in the new century.
Director Erika Frankel spent years filming King Georges and she captures the rawness and the regality of restaurant life. The heart of the documentary follows the efforts of Georges Perrier to mentor a new partner and the efforts of Nicholas Elmi, the young chef to honor the restaurant’s traditions. There is love; there is war; there is humor; there is warmth.
Being a seasoned vet of some occupational wars, I have a mountain of respect and an ocean of sympathy for Georges Perrier and his struggle to keep a career alive. I have the same respect for Erika Frankel’s poignant portrait of him.
King Georges is part of the line-up at the Food In Film Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The film is scheduled to be shown at Noon on February 23. For tickets and other information, go to https://www.foodinfilmsanmiguel.com.