I realize that some may feel we tend to make too much of a deal about cooking. After all, it’s only food –right? However, for those who have and continue to dedicate their lives to discovering, creating, applying techniques, operating kitchens and restaurants, training and conducting the efforts of a kitchen team, working to understand and please restaurant guests, and enjoy professional relationships with farmers and producers, it is not “just food”, it is a life calling.
At a time when a few chefs have become household names, and in some cases – television hero figures, there are some who have broken new ground, and who made the business stand tall without much fanfare. These are the giants of the business who have made restaurant life appealing and the restaurant experience an integral part of our lives regardless of the style of cooking or price of the entrees. These are the gentle giants who continue to push cooks to be better, and to create wonderfully beautiful, flavorful, and nutritious food for everyone’s enjoyment.
One of these quiet masters acknowledged by some and indirectly known by all in the way we cook today, was Chef Roger Verge. Verge passed away last week (without enough fanfare) at the age of 85. To the French, he is and will always be an Icon; to the rest of the world he may only be a name with some passing familiarity. What can be said about him is quite simple: Verge defined how we cook today. So, because there was far too little acknowledgement of this great man, I thought that I would make a meager attempt at summarizing who this chef was.
Verge was born to a blacksmith father in 1930 France. His early education was under the wing of his aunt who was always mentioned as one of his greatest food influencers. Verge was formally trained at Restaurant La Tour d’ Argent and Hotel Plaza Athenee – both spectacular operations in Paris. From his time at these landmark operations, Verge moved to Africa where he honed his craft in Morocco, Algeria, and Kenya. He returned to France in 1960 to work at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (now the famed Louis XIV restaurant operated by Alain Ducasse).
In 1969, the chef opened Moulin de Mougins with his wife in Mougin, France – on the Rivera. By 1974 he had opened his second called: L’Amandier de Mougins in the same town while Moulin was awarded its third Michelin Star. Alain Ducasse, considered by many to be the current reigning king of chefs, worked for Verge at Moulin de Mourgins. This is where Ducasse, under the direction of Chef Verge, became proficient in the Provencal food styling that would stand out as his signature.
With his friends: Bocuse, Lenotre, and the Troisgrois Brothers – Roger Verge helped to develop the most transformational cooking of the day: Cuisine Nouvelle.
When the Walt Disney Company opened Epcot in Orlando, Florida, they turned to Verge, Bocuse and Lenotre to create Chefs du France as a landmark restaurant for this world attraction.
The Roger Verge style has been referred to as, “The Cuisine of the Sun”, marking its connections to the Mediterranean and the fresh, healthy incorporation of ingredients that were emphasized rather that the previously significant use of large amounts of butter, cream, and heavy sauce work. His style may have carried the label of peasant food, but it was certainly an elegant interpretation of those cooking styles and the ingredients used.
“A cook is creative, marrying ingredients in the way a poet marries words.”
Trying to truly define his method of cooking would be difficult to do without stating that Verge sought to emphasize freshness, natural flavors, the synergy that only comes from using ingredients that grow in close proximity, and the art of offering this food with respect. What is most interesting to me is that this formula is what drives many exceptional chefs today. Boulud, Kaysen, Ripert, Ducasse, Robuchon, Barber, Waters, and scores of others are working tirelessly to protect and honor what Verge in his early wisdom knew was going to be the way food was meant to be prepared. In fact, isn’t the current “Farm to Plate” movement all about what Verge promoted forty years ago?
Verge was a teacher who trained many of the prominent chefs of today either through apprenticeship, in his cooking school, or simply through his influence on the cooking scene.
“When you know something, you have to give other people the opportunity to discover what it is.”
Chef Verge wrote numerous books on the cooking that inspired him, beginning with his first “Cuisine of the South of France”. Whether he was formally training cooks in his kitchen, through his cooking school in Mougins, or through his incredible inventory of published works, Verge was and should always be remembered as a teaching chef, an advocate for sharing what he knew.
Chef Verge is now gone, but his legacy lives on through thousands of modern chefs who owe what they know to this great man. He may not have sought the spotlight as many of his contemporaries, but if asked, I am confident that they would unequivocally state that much of what they are is a result of Chef Verge’s work and dedication to the craft of cooking. He was a chefs, chef; a cooks, cook; and a teachers, teacher.
Rest in peace chef, your legacy will continue.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
If you have yet to add this landmark book to your collection, I would encourage you to purchase a copy of “Cuisine of the South of France”.