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Le Francais:
Renowned Chef Jean Banchet Has Retired
gourmet articlesarchivele francais

Chicago - 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.

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