Chef and restaurateur Michel Richard, a longtime culinary icon in Washington, D.C., died Saturday following a stroke he suffered Tuesday, according to published reports. He was 68 years old.
Known for his culinary creativity and bawdy wit, Richard was born in Pabu, in the French region of Brittany, and moved the Champagne, France, at age 14 to train as a pastry chef. Three years later, he moved to Paris and worked at the pastry shop of chef Gaston Lenôtre.
Richard moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to open a Lenôtre shop there, and went on to open his own eponymous pastry shop, and then Citrus restaurant. He opened Citronelle in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., in 1993, and made that city his home for the rest of his life.
Over the course of his career, Richard also had restaurants and pastry shops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Santa Barbara, Calif. Citronelle closed in July 2012, but his other Washington, D.C., restaurant, Central Michel Richard, which opened in 2007, and won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant, remains open.
Richard won the Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2007. He was widely praised for his creativity, combining Americans’ love for texture — particularly crunchiness — with French technique and his own sense of whimsy.
Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema praised Richard in a remembrance published Saturday.
“Richard dazzled patrons over the years with creations that fused beauty and good taste,” Sietsema wrote. “The tricks in his seemingly bottomless bag included ‘pasta’ coaxed from onion and ‘caviar’ created with Israeli couscous and squid ink. December brought tiny snowmen shaped from balls of meringue and filled with vanilla ice cream, and ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ yielded a fetching tray of everything you expected — save for the fact the ‘toast’ was poundcake and the ‘egg’ was a dot of pureed papaya in shimmering almond custard.
“The common bond: Pure deliciousness.”
New York-based chef David Burke, who, like Richard, is known for his creativity, wrote in a Facebook post Saturday:
Apart from restaurant Central Michel Richard, Pommes Palais, Richard’s bakery in New York City, also remains open.