From Paris, January 2009
Gaston Lenôtre Dies at 88
The Loss of A Legend
Having revolutionized the art of pastry making, Gaston Lenôtre (Le Café Lenôtre and Le Pavillon) was none other than a culinary legend. With his recent passing at the age of 88, Lenôtre played a major role in defining "Nouvelle Cuisine," creating light and delicate desserts with help from modern techniques. Lenôtre solidified a gastronomic empire with his collection of restaurants, retail stores and cooking schools. Renowned chefs including Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and Pierre Hermé studied under the talented master, taking with them the dedication and passion Lenôtre upheld. Famed chef Joel Robuchon stated, "Lenôtre followed the same trends and same evolution as those chefs during the 'Nouvelle Cuisine' movement. He focused on lighter food, shorter cooking times and an enhancement of flavors. However, all this hard work remained invisible, as it should be, in the subtle presentation of the final product."
Another of Lenôtre's great contributions to the culinary world included the training of his U.S. ambassador Michel Richard. Richard happened to discover Lenôtre after tasting one of his gateaux and detecting the high quality of ingredients and techniques. This novelty pushed Richard to locate Lenôtre and beg him to take him on as an apprentice. This was the start of Richard's suberb career which eventually brought the chef to the United States where he opened several restaurants (Citronell by Michel Richard, Citrus at Social and Central Michel Richard). In a telephone interview, Richard expressed deep sadness and emotion at the loss of his teacher. "Lenôtre is an angel in the paradise of pastry," he said. Richard added that his love and passion for food stemmed from the lessons of Lenôtre.
As for his desserts, Lenôtre created some of the most desirable pastries in the world. His Feuille d’Automne is a cake composed of almond and vanilla meringue with dark chocolate mousse and ganache with no cream and very little sugar. Another standout is The Opéra, which Lenôtre claims he invented (although the true inventor is Cyriaque Gavillon of La Maison Dalloyau). The dessert is almond bread with coffee cream and chocolate frosting.
Lenôtre will be missed, but his legacy lives on in a truly sweet and satisfying way.