Jean-Claude Vrinat, proprietor of the famous Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant Taillevent in Paris, died this week of lung cancer. He was 71.
Under his direction, Taillevent was awarded three stars by the influential Michelin Guide in 1973, reverting back to two only just last year. Vrinat's passing signifies the end of an era, said Yannick Alléno, head chef at Le Meurice, another three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris. "He was the last owner of a top restaurant who wasn't a chef. He was an extremely efficient manager, as his customers were his reason for living. It's very sad that he left us when he still had years ahead of him. We have added a dish named after Jean-Claude Vrinat to our menu as a form of homage."
Vrinat dedicated his life to Taillevent, following in the footsteps of his father, who opened the restaurant in 1946. "He originally knew nothing about cuisine, as he was a business-school graduate. But he did know how to pick competent people to work with," said Burgundy vintner and family friend Jean-Michel Raveneau, who will attend Vrinat's funeral this Saturday.
Taillevent was also known for its dedication to wine, and Vrinat's personal passion for it led to the creation of two retail stores called Les Caves Taillevent. The first store opened in Paris in 1987 and the other in Tokyo in 1994, both boasting a selection of 1,300 wines.
"He was a genuine connoisseur, who even knew all about winemaking," said Daniel Cathiard, owner of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, who first met Vrinat at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco several years ago. "He took everything he did very seriously, and was always moderate and responsible. I will remember him more as a great man, then a close friend."
A string of French presidents dined at Taillevent, as well as President Richard Nixon, Frank Sinatra and French race-car legend Alain Prost. The restaurant is currently managed by Vrinat's daughter, Valérie Vrinat, who became her father's right hand in the business in 1987.