French gourmet pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre dies, aged 88
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French gourmet desert chef Gaston Lenôtre passed away at the age of 88 on Thursday, according to the chef's company, Maison Lenôtre. He became famous worldwide for his gastronomic creations.
AFP - French master pastry chef Gaston Lenotre, who built a worldwide empire with his gourmet dessert creations that defined modern patisserie, died Thursday at the age of 88.
Lenotre passed away at his home in the central French region of Sologne after a long illness, said a statement released by his company.
President Nicolas Sarkozy led a flow of tributes pouring in for "one of the greatest masters of taste."
"Thanks to his talent and creativity, his rigour and excellence, he elevated patisserie to the rank of art form," he said in a statement.
"We have lost a very great man," said three-star chef Alain Ducasse, a fellow global ambassador for French cuisine who learned the art of pastry-making from Lenotre as a young man.
Born to parents who both worked as cooks in the northwest region of Eure, Lenotre opened his first pastry shop in Paris in 1957 in the well-heeled 16th arrondissement of the French capital.
Soon he attracted a loyal clientele with his mouth-watering array of mousses, macaroons and charlotte cakes and turned Lenotre into a brand name synonymous with fine patisserie.
Lenotre broke from traditional French pastry-making by inventing lighter creations such as his trademark "Succes" (Success) cake made with nougat cream and macaroons.
Born in the Normandy town of Saint-Nicolas-du-Bosc, Lenotre liked to say he was "reared on butter and creme fraiche" and recall that after hesitating between training as a carpenter and a pastry chef, he finally chose desserts.
Cuisine was in his blood: his father was a chef at a upscale Paris hotel and his mother a private cook for the household of the baron Pereire, a wealthy French banker.
A cuisine professional who demanded the highest standards from his team, Lenotre rejected mass production methods, even if 5,000 guests had to be served.
"French pastry-making taught me to be precise, to have discipline," he once said in an interview. "If I see that things are sloppily done, I lose it."
In 1960, he opened a catering service that would lay the foundation for an international food empire, with Lenotre boutiques now open in 12 countries including the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
It was sold in 1985 to the French hotels and services group Accor and Lenotre since earned worldwide recognition as an ambassador of French gastronomy.
Lenotre opened a pastry school in the Paris region in 1971 that welcomes some 3,000 chefs each year, and in 1976 took over Le Pre Catalan, a three-star restaurant and two other establishements.
"Gaston Lenotre died at his home where he had retired with his wife Catherine in the early 1990s," said the company statement.
"He was a tireless worker, passionate and curious, unyielding when it came to quality, who succeeded in preparing a solid new guard in the fields of patisserie and cuisine, to which he dedicated his entire life."
"We have lost a father and a friend who will leave a formidable mark on the profession, in France and abroad," said Patrick Scicard, president of the Lenotre company.
"He taught us to be demanding, to share knowledge and to have a taste for what is beautiful and delicious."
A father of three, Lenotre is also the author of several books on French pastry and cuisine.