- After 48 years in the kitchen, 18 of which were in his beloved Le Francais,
renowned chef Jean Banchet is retired, effective Saturday, February 24,
2001. Heralded as “the epitome of a chef” by Jacques Pepin and considered
one of the most influential chefs of all time, Jean Banchet has focused
on refining his craft throughout his exemplary culinary career.
Both loyal patrons and food critics have flocked to Le Francais to experience
Banchet’s relentless dedication to excellence. Mimi Sheraton of the New
York Times claimed her dinner “the single best and most lavishly presented
French meal” she ever had in this country. Bon Appetit called Le Francais,
the “Most Influential Restaurant of the Decade” in their recent millennium
issue. Noted food writer John Mariani says, “Banchet’s results are magnificent.
“ and Chicago Tribune critic Phil Vettel says, “Banchet’s food transcends
time and trends.”
Banchet first opened the doors of Le Francais in 1973. People questioned
his sanity for locating a high-end, French restaurant in Wheeling, Illinois,
a suburb of Chicago thirty miles from downtown. Word spread that something
special was happening in Wheeling and knowledgeable diners beat a well-worn
path to his door. The press soon followed and by the end of the decade
the praise for Banchet was pouring in. Among the many plaudits he received
was the cover story in Bon Appetit magazine proclaiming Le Francais the
best restaurant in America. Banchet’s well-deserved spot in the upper
echelon of chefs was secure.
"I have always enjoyed working with classic foodstuffs classic, simple
presentations, classic cooking methods" says Banchet with pride. Banchet's
culinary background is impeccable, with years spent in the kitchens of
Paul Bocuse, Jean and Pierre Troisgros and La Pyramid's infamous Chef
Mercier. Young American chefs have also inspired him. "When I first came
to the United States we Frenchmen taught the Americans how to cook, but
now they [the Americans] have come so far that even old Frenchmen can
learn a thing or two," says Banchet with a gleam in his eye. Banchet is
betting on this American youth to continue the tradition of Le Francais
long into the 21st century. The restaurant is not being closed, but sold
to partners Phil Mott (of North Pond Cafe) and noted chef Don Yamauchi
(Gordon, The Bistro in Highwood & Carlos ) who will re-open its famous
doors on March 8, 2001.
The décor of the “new” Le Francais will remain the same. (The restaurant
underwent a complete renovation in 1999.) The service staff will remain
the same (some of whom have been with the restaurant since it opened.)
And even some of the menu will remain the same. “Even though Don will
prepare his own style of food, we will continue to present classic French
cuisine and will always have a few signature Banchet dishes on the menu.
Le Francais is Banchet and his heart and passion will always be evident
here,” says partner Phil Mott. “Chef Banchet has been very generous to
us. He will be helping us get situated, helping Don better understand
his cuisine and mentoring us both,” Mott adds.
Le Francais is located at 269 S. Milwaukee Ave.
in Wheeling, IL. The restaurant will soon re-open for dinner Monday through
Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from
5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Reservations will be required; call 847-541-7470.