Film Review: King Georges

Fun fare for foodies, especially those with a taste for classic French cuisine and nostalgia for the posh French restaurants that once dominated the culinary scene and conversation.
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On Philadelphia’s food map, there’s been more than the signature hoagies and cheesesteak sandwiches and filmmaker Erika Frankel’s highly watchable doc King Georges offers compelling proof. She provides a look at Philly’s now-gone Le Bec-Fin haute cuisine palace (1970-2013) and the still-going but retired Georges Perrier, the self-absorbed, driven, obsessed, bullying, demanding man behind it. (Yes, he sounds like the cliché of the roaring star chef, but the septuagenarian in his prime was the real deal and bears no shame.)

Perrier’s restaurant had been a solid, viable dining retort to the likes of Manhattan’s Lutèce, La Grenouille, La Caravelle and others. And the still energetic and forthcoming Lyon-born chef, who retained his French accent but heartily embraced English curse words into his adopted lexicon, is a colorful guide to the restaurant’s rise and fall.

He launched his classic and elegant restaurant in 1970 and it took off with help from a rave review in The New York Times from legendary food journalist and critic Craig Claiborne and blessings from Condé Nast readers who voted it the best restaurant in the U.S.

As for Perrier’s history, he started in kitchens very early in France but wandered soon after to the U.S. and, having befriended a Philly native, landed in the City of Brotherly Love, flourished with Le Bec-Fin and, although separated, remains there in comfortable retirement. (An elegant mansion, a lovely daughter and a beloved dog bear witness.)

But as the doc attests, Perrier in his restaurant days was hardly a screen hero: As Bec-Fin showrunner, he was a driven, single-minded perfectionist and control freak—more roaring lion than pussycat in the kitchen. Even his daughter calls him “willful” and “tenacious.”

For the camera, Perrier provides an occasional insight into cooking (something like: sauce is everything but you can’t learn it; you’ve either got the knack or not). And there’s considerable footage of the Bec-Fin kitchen.

Rich in other things, the doc is rather light on the usual mouth-watering food shots (call it unsexy food porn—soft cores and little skin). Instead, the emphasis is on the man with the toque (and stinging tongue), the kitchen drama as Perrier freaks, curses and even makes excuses (“Nobody’s like me because I care!” he blurts).

Unlike those more mellow royal fellows, this King Georges often comes off as nuts as he micromanages his kitchen, and only his peaceful retirement suggests the good that his seven shrinks provided. Flashbacks to Perrier’s family and youth in his native Lyon and the more recent adulation presented onscreen also lessen the blows.

To help round out the picture, some of Perrier’s protégés, fans, customers and local reviewers are on hand, as are, for cameos of sorts, celebrity chefs like Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller.

Click here for cast and crew information.