René Verdon, the French chef who became White House chef for John F. Kennedy and his family and later opened Le Trianon in San Francisco, has died. He was 86. As the Chron reports, Verdon was recruited by Jackie Kennedy, taught JFK how to cook a proper steak, and later quit his post during the Johnson Administration in what Time called “a Gallic huff” over Lyndon and Lady Bird’s insistence on using frozen vegetables. He moved to San Francisco in the late sixties where he met his wife, Yvette, a former director of the House of Chanel, and together the two took over Le Trianon in 1972, in the space that’s now Santorini off Union Square. The restaurant had been open since after just World War II but it became a huge and critical success under Verdon’s hand, serving a hybrid of French and California cuisines.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis wrote in a telegram of congratulations, “We envy San Francisco for having you there.” Le Trianon was one of San Francisco’s top fine dining destinations for the next fifteen years, until 1987 when it closed.
More recently, Verdon was part of an informal group of French chefs living in the Bay Area who got together for dinner, wine, and reminiscing. Roland Passot, a member of the group and chef-owner at La Folie, called Verdon “a spiritual father.” Hubert Keller called him “the ambassador of French cuisine in America.”
Chronicle critic Michael Bauer last saw Verdon at a party last spring, where he took this photo of him with another local legend, Cecilia Chiang.
Mr. Verdon is survived by his wife, Yvette, who still lives in San Francisco, and funeral arrangements are pending.
Rene Verdon, French chef for JFK White House, dies [Chron]