What led the celebrated 44-year-old chef Benoît Violier to commit suicide, soon after his restaurant was named the best in the world?
The facts of the story are still unfolding, but news of the tragedy has shaken the food industry. Violier's restaurant, Restaurant de L'Hotel de Ville in Crissier, Switzerland, had three Michelin stars and was recently named the world's best by France's La Liste, which puts out rankings of 1,000 restaurants in 48 countries. Violier was also scheduled to attend the party celebrating the release of the new Michelin guide for French restaurants on Monday, February 1.
Violier's suicide is, sadly, not the first among chefs in the high-stakes world of Michelin-starred restaurants. Bernard Loiseau of Burgundy's Côte D'Or committed suicide in 2003 after rumors that he would lose one of his three Michelin stars. And Michelin-starred chef Homaro Cantu of Moto in Chicago took his own life in 2015, at age 38. The French media and the New York Times reported that the French Gault & Millau restaurant guide had recently dropped Violier's restaurant slightly in its rankings, much to his dismay.
Chefs face an often cripplingly high level of stress, across the restaurant industry and perhaps even more notoriously in the most ambitious kitchens. Losing a Michelin star is a prospect chefs often fear: It can reportedly lead to a 25 percent drop in earnings. French chef Olivier Douet of Le Lisita in Nimes gave his Michelin star back in 2013, saying he didn't want the pressure that tends to accompany the ranking.
Awareness of the psychological and emotional challenges that chefs often face is on the rise. For instance, the new site Chefs with Issues, created by Tasting Table editor-at-large Kat Kinsman, attempts to help chefs and the general public understand and bring these issues to light. As its post about Violier puts it: "This has to stop, and it’s not going to until we have a frank, public discussion" of the issue.
Numerous chefs and food-world celebrities reacted to the Violier news on Twitter:
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