Chef Jean Banchet, a pioneer of haute French cuisine in Chicago, died Sunday at age 72 of pancreatic cancer at his Florida home. Banchet, called “Chicago’s first celebrity chef” by the Chicago Tribune, transformed the city when he opened his acclaimed Le Francais in the suburbs in 1971; by 1980, it was a global dining destination, dubbed “America’s Best Restaurant” by Bon Appétit. Phil Mott, who took over Le Francais after the legendary chef retired in 2001, says, “He changed the landscape; he made it possible for Charlie Trotter and all the other great chefs.” Banchet was inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame in October and helped establish the Jean Bachet Awards for culinary excellence in Chicago. Eric Ripert tells the Times, “He was definitely a bon vivant, loving life in every way.” He is also remembered in the Chicago Sun Times, and the following messages of appreciation from chefs such as Thomas Keller, Rick Tramonto, and others have appeared on Twitter.
RIP Chef Jean Banchet Requested Le Francais for my 8th grade graduation dinner, my first serious restaurant. Amazing and life changing.— Stacey Ballis (@staceyballis) November 25, 2013
RIP Chef Jean Banchet.— Jitti Chaithiraphant (@cookinginvein) November 25, 2013
Today the French cuisine lost the most amazing chef jean banchet from Chicago ! He runs restaurant le français for 20 years RIP Jean 😭— Gilles Épié (@gillesepie) November 25, 2013
Karen interviewed Chicago chef Jean Banchet solo for BECOMING A CHEF (1995) & remembers him as very intense & devilishly charming— Page and Dornenburg (@KarenAndAndrew) November 25, 2013
Talked to Jean Banchet in ‘08, he was traveling on his Screaming Eagle fat boy Harley, throwing parties, cooking up feasts of coq au vin.— Michael Nagrant (@MichaelNagrant) November 25, 2013