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Kitchen Nightmares

A missing French chef has been found dead in a freezer. What else is new?

1:10 PM, Aug 12, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Jean-Francois Poinard, a rather prominent chef in Lyon, had been missing for some time. Then authorities were tipped off about a chest freezer inside the apartment Poinard shared with his girlfriend.

Kitchen Nightmares

Inside they found the chef, as noted by the Daily Mail, "in the fetal position and covered with plastic bags." The cause of death is still uncertain—he may have been there for two years. Meanwhile Poinard's girlfriend has been taken into police custody.

No question, the news is disturbing. But taking a look back over the centuries, chefs have always seemed to have their share of bad luck and unfortunate endings:

Francois Vatel, the chef to Louis XIV, was in the midst of catering an immense meal when he learned the fish had not arrived. Rather than face the king, well, fishless, he ran himself through with his sword. Supposedly the fish arrived shortly after. (In response, said Auguste Escoffier two centuries later, "I would certainly not have killed myself over some fish. Quite simply, I would have fabricated some fillets of sole using the breasts of young chickens.")

In 2003, Bernard Loiseau, the chef at La Côte d'Or in Burgundy, suffered a serious bout of depression. The ratings for his gastronomic temple had declined in the GaultMillau standings. A newspaper reported that it may even slip from three Michelin stars to two. On February 24 he went to his home, put a rifle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. (The restaurant, since renamed after the chef, still has three Michelin stars.)

Pierre Rousseau was not a famous chef, but he did have the honor of running the kitchen of a Ritz restaurant. Unfortunately it happened to be the Ritz located on board the Titanic. According to Paul Maugé, one of only three survivors from the restaurant (all of them front of the house!), Chef Rousseau thought himself too overweight to survive a jump onto a lifeboat and went down with the ship in 1912.

And then there is the unfortunate fate of Laguipierre, a mentor to Antonin Carême (a founding father of la grande cuisine) and a personal chef to Napoleon Bonaparte. Like Jean-Francois Poinard, Laguipierre would ultimately find himself in cold surroundings. Not in a freezer, mind you, but freezing to death on the march back from Russia in 1812.

P.S.: I am hesitant to add Michael Lomonaco to this list as he is alive and thriving. But I imagine he sometimes has thoughts of "why them" and "why me?" Lomonaco was the chef of Windows on the World, on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He was there on September 11, 2001. His morning staff was serving breakfast—all of them perished that day. But Lomonaco had briefly gone downstairs to the optometrist when the plane hit the tower.

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