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Jean-Claude Vrinat

 
Jean-Claude Vrinat, for more than three decades the owner and director of the Taillevent restaurant in Paris, which is regarded by many as the pinnacle of elegance in French cuisine, died Monday. He was 71.


A spokesman for the restaurant announced the death but gave no details.

Under Mr. Vrinat, Taillevent became a gastronomic benchmark by which other great Parisian restaurants are judged.

Mr. Vrinat, a slight, self-effacing man who could envelop the most nervous American guest in his warm, understated welcome, was calm on the surface but tyrannical when it came to his food, his service and his magnificent dining room.

He is the Tiger Woods of restaurateurs, a Cesar Ritz for our times, and Taillevent is his monument, wrote R. W. Apple, the New York Times correspondent who was famous for his expertise in the good life, in 2002. �Superb in all respects decor, atmosphere, welcome, service, menu, wine list it epitomizes the glory of French dining.

Mr. Vrinat, a nonchef who was known for his wine expertise, devoted almost all his life to Taillevent, which had been founded by his father, Andr, in 1946, just as Paris began its long recovery from the privations of the German occupation in World War II. The elder Vrinat opened his restaurant in the modest Hotel Worms, on the Rue St.-Georges, in the commercial Ninth Arrondissement. In 1948, he won his first star from the Michelin Guide.

Two years later he moved the restaurant into its present location at 15, rue Lamennais, in the more elegant Eighth Arrondissement, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. The building was constructed in 1852 as a residence for the Duc de Morny, the profligate half brother of the Emperor Napoleon III. Later, it served as the Paraguayan Embassy.

The restaurant received its second Michelin star in 1954, and Jean-Claude Vrinat joined his father in 1959, after working briefly elsewhere as a wine steward.

Jean-Claude Vrinat was born in 1936 at Villeneuve-l Archev que, near Chablis. He received his diploma from l cole des Hautes tudes Commerciales, a business college in Paris, in 1959. In his early days at the restaurant, he spent time as a sommelier, developing what became a passion for wine that was to inform the rest of his career.

In September 1972, he succeeded his father as owner and director of Taillevent. The following year, the restaurant was awarded its third Michelin star, an honor it held until last year when, stunning the world of haute cuisine, the guide rescinded one star.

Despite whatever private pain that might have caused him, Mr. Vrinat maintained his characteristic calm, telling any interviewer who asked that the restaurant would immediately set about correcting whatever might have been wrong.

He was more colloquial in his newsletter. When you fall off a horse, he wrote, its vitally important to get right back on.

Without ever leaving Taillevent, Mr. Vrinat extended his influence with a wine shop, Les Caves Taillevent, opened under the direction of his daughter Valrine in 1987, and a second restaurant, LAngle du Faubourg, opened in 2001.

The cooking at LAngle is a bit lighter and more innovative than the fare at Taillevent, and prices are a bit more affordable.

�My intention was not to create an annex of Taillevent, Mr. Vrinat said. The decor signals the change in emphasis; Taillevents elegance gives way to a clean contemporary look. The wine list is shorter but no less intriguing.

In 2005, he opened another wine shop in Tokyo, then in 2006 added yet another, in the Printemps department store in Paris. In the early 1990s, he took over one of Pariss most famous fish restaurants, Maison Prunier. The restaurant, an Art Deco landmark opened in 1925, had fallen on hard times and was closed in 1989. A Japanese company bought it and asked Mr. Vrinat to restore and manage it.

Mr. Vrinat was a frequent diner at his competitors restaurants in Paris and the French countryside, and he was frank about complimenting them on things he thought they were doing better than he was. He found time, now and then, to visit the United States. He celebrated Taillevents 60th anniversary two years ago with a gala dinner in his own restaurant, then followed it with a dinner at Gramercy Tavern in New York, prepared by Taillevents chefs. On other occasions, Mr. Vrinat and his brigade of chefs did dinners in New York at the Tavern on the Green and at the Four Seasons restaurant.

Taillevents home, the Palais du Morny, is also home to the Vrinat family. Mr. Vrinat began his day in his office and made a point of greeting his guests both at lunch and dinner.

His toughest job, Mr. Vrinat once said, was handling requests for reservations. About 30 letters or e-mail messages arrived each day, he said, many with money enclosed. The restaurant seats about 60 guests so that with some turnover, it serves about 160 each day.

Like his father before him, Mr. Vrinat was a restaurateur who confined himself to the front of the house.

I came along before Paul Bocuse led the chefs out of the kitchens, he would say with a grin.

When the restaurant celebrated its 60th anniversary, he observed that in its long history, Taillevent had employed only six head chefs. The current master of the Taillevent kitchens is Alain Solivrs, who follows in the conservative tradition of the famous Taillevent chefs Claude Deligne and Philippe Legendre.

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