|Photo | Michael T. Regan
It's the day after Le Bec-Fin
's holiday staff party and Georges Perrier
sounds delighted â and not just because he had a damn fine time. Perrier informed his staff in days previous that he would not be closing his legendary French restaurant as planned.
"Such an outpouring of letters from all over the world, many from Philadelphia, insisted that I could not close this restaurant,â says Perrier. Executive chef Nicholas Elmi
said the same thing. "He wanted more," says Perrier of Elmi. "That was a thing I needed to hear â the future I was looking for." Now Elmi wields even more power in the kitchen, with Perrier taking a step back to work on other projects. "I cannot do this alone,â says the chef. "I need someone young like him to take this into the next dimension."
A next anything is a big change from what was supposed to happen. In July of 2010, Perrier famously claimed that he was putting his restaurant (1523 Walnut St.) up for sale. It seemed odd to hear it then, nearly unbelievable. Many diners thought it wouldn't happen, that the tales of sale were just Perrier testing the waters, a grand opportunity to remind diners to use it or lose it. Even Eric Ripert
of 10 Arts
reportedly didn't think it to be true, either. Perrier fluffs it off. âAh, Ripert is a good friend of mine,â he says. âNo, I was selling. I didn't really want to do it, [but] I was prepared to walk away from it if someone met my price.â Nobody did. (He reportedly sought $3.6 million for the building and $600K for the business.) Perrier won't say how close to his asking price any suitors came âÂ only that several callers did make serious inquiries, but that their prices weren't right and Perrier wasn't prepared to undervalue his treasured space.
So upward and onward to the future of LBF, which includes Elmi and new GM Sylvain Briens
, who just started today. They're younger men who'll allow Perrier to relax a bit, not have to run to the market every day at 4:30 a.m. "I'll still be there,â says Perrier. "Do some sauces. Teach them what they need to know, to be better.â Perrier knows, too, that Elmi has his own ideas, and believes LBF will benefit from an infusion of new recipes, and applications. âI am not going to be around forever."
Perrier has a few new things on his own plate. For those keeping score, Perrier stated in 2010 that he'd open two new spaces in the wake of LBF's sale. One, a bakery called the Art of Bread by Georges Perrier
in Narberth, is ready to go and should be opening in the next two months. The other thing is also happening; he can't say where or what it is yet, as the paperwork's not yet signed, but he expects it to be a done by late 2011. Le Bec-Fin will get a facelift by spring/summer, too, as its downstairs Le Bar Lyonnais
will soon become more "elegant, sexy and beautiful."
The $40 anniversary menu commemorating LBF's 40 years in business will continue indefinitely â as will Perrier himself. "All I've heard for the last six months is 'Don't close, don't close don't close' â young customers and old," he says. "It's a good sign for me to know that people want this restaurant. Remember, I changed the restaurant world in Philadelphia. I did it. It's done. There's nothing to prove. Except that we can go forward. And I'm proud to do so."