'King Georges': Film Review

Chef's personality propels an engaging foodie doc

Pioneering restaurateur Georges Perrier, in his restaurant's final years.

Young foodies may not recognize the name of chef Georges Perrier, or that of the Philadelphia restaurant Le Bec-Fin, that for 40 years was a beacon of old-school French cuisine in America. The fashion for that sort of heavy, stuffy fine dining has passed. But there's nothing moribund about the action in King Georges, the lively first film directed by doc producer Erika Frankel, which observes the perfectionist workhorse in his kitchen. If his charismatically prickly personality and some exciting back-of-the-house drama weren't enough, the presence of Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi and a slew of testimonials from superstar chefs should ensure attention from the foodie crowd.

Stars Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert (not to mention former Philly mayor Ed Rendell) sing the praises of the Lyon-raised Perrier, who learned to cook at his mother's knee and promised her, when he disappointed everyone by deciding to become a chef instead of something more respectable, that he'd be the best chef in the world. The honors given to Le Bec-Fin over the years in the press did nothing to diminish his confidence.

Reportedly, Frankel didn't start shooting at Le Bec-Fin until Perrier announced plans to sell it in 2010. The film is unclear about this, playing as if we were entering the kitchen under normal circumstances. Either way, Perrier proves to be the semicomic hot-head variety of toque, chiding and complaining and cursing about things done any way other than his. (But he takes responsibility: When he catches someone getting ready to serve some galettes he thinks are burned, he tosses the plate on the floor and runs down to the basement to cook up a new batch. Elsewhere we see him doing dishes and vacuuming the floor.) Personalities aside, Frankel is on hand for one night of real drama, when a gas leak throws the kitchen for a loop during a private dinner for an especially important group of diners.

The staff seems to remain affectionate despite the tantrums, especially Elmi, a protege in line to be the restaurant's next leader. When Perrier decides to sell, then changes his mind after a public outcry, he declares that Elmi will be his partner. Things don't play out as planned (Frankel leaves some of the business details out), but the failure of Le Bec-Fin 2.0 seems to have changed nobody's mind about Perrier's place in the history of American restaurateurs.

Director-Producer: Erika Frankel

Director of photography: Frederic Tcheng

Editors: Grace Kline, Amanda Larson

Music: Michael Montes

No rating, 75 minutes

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