chef-name: Jean Banchet

Jean Banchet was born in 1941, as the first of triplets, in Roanne, France, near Lyon. Roanne was the home of the Troigros brothers’ world class restaurant, where ironically, 13 years later, Jean Banchet would start his first job as Kitchen Boy, or “Plongeur”.

Banchet was working 14 hour days, and Jean and Pierre Troigros encouraged him to transfer to the most famous restaurant in the world at the time, “La Pyramid” in Vienne, France. Chef Banchet continued his 14 hour daily work habit (one that he maintained until his death), and added a 7th day to his work week, cooking for Madam Point, the owner, on his day off. At the end of 2 years, he had been promoted 3 times and held the position of “1st Commis”.

At this time, young Banchet decided it was time to pursue a culinary internship, which in France meant working a number of different high quality restaurants in order to gain world class. He was offered a position by a fellow apprentice, Paul Bocuse, who had just taken over his father’s restaurant. He then transferred to the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, then 3 more restaurants before leaving for Algiers to fulfill his 2 year stint in the French Army as chef to General LaRoux. Afterwards, he returned to Hotel de Paris as Chef Poissonier, and it was then he grew his famous short mustache and beard. Six months later, he moved to the Pavillon “Eden Roc” on the French Riviera, as Sous Chef. He then had an offer to become Executive Chef at the Sporting Club Casino in London.

In 1968, he was enticed to accept an offer from Hugh Hefner and Arnold Morton to open the Lake Geneva Playboy Club in Wisconsin. Being an Executive Chef was far too sedentary for the energetic Banchet, so he moved to Chicago and opened three restaurants for other chefs including French Master Chef Henri Racouchot (Essex House & Ascot Hotel) and a pastryshop on Rush and Delaware on Chicago’s near north.

After 5 years as a Chicago chef, in 1973 Chef Banchet and his wife Doris, along with French Chef Henry Coudrier, opened Le Français Restaurant in Wheeling Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Within a year, Coudrier’s ill-health forced him to leave the restaurant, leaving Chef Jean and his wife Doris as sole owners of Le Français.

In 1983, Great Chefs television crew began taping their Great Chefs of Chicago series for PBS, and Chef Jean Banchet was the first chef on the agenda. It was a little extraordinary because there were all these French Chefs (later to be known as Great Chefs Jean Joho, and René Bajeux) standing around watching Chef Banchet prepare a squab salad; lobster with noodles; roast sweetbreads; noisette of venison and a raspberry soufflé. Little did we know at the time of what was to come. Bon Appétit named Le Français the Best Restaurant in America. Chef Jean Banchet retired in 1989 and leased out the restaurant to another Great Chef, Rolland Liccioni.

Banchet consulted, but missed the bustle of the kitchen. Great Chefs became close to the chef and when he announced that he was going to open a restaurant in Atlanta, we set up an appointment to tape him in at his new place to be called La Riviera. In April 1995, Great Chefs was taping their Great Chefs-Great Cities series in Atlanta, but La Riviera was still under construction, so Chef Banchet came to the kitchen of Pano’s & Paul’s where Great Chefs was taping, and prepared four more dishes: a vegetable terrine with lobster; nage of dover sole; chartreuse of squab and a warm apple tart.

In 1999 he returned to Le Français, and in 2001 he officially retired and moved to Jupiter, Florida where he passed away in November 2013, survived by his lovely wife Doris.

There are pages and pages of awards and citations Chef Banchet accumulated over the years. We will miss him.