Benoit Violier, the 44-year-old head chef of Le Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Switzerland, was found dead in his home this weekend. Police are treating his death, which apparently came from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, as a suicide. Now Violier’s colleagues and admirers in the international community of haute cuisine are speculating that he may have been overwhelmed by the pressures of culinary perfection—even though, by all accounts, he had reached its greatest heights.
The restaurant, which he ran with his wife, Brigitte, has three Michelin stars. In December, it was named first on La Liste, the French government’s new ranking of the world’s 1,000 best restaurants. Violier was known as an impeccably hard-working chef who thrived on the intensity of maintaining a Michelin-starred kitchen, enforcing relentlessly high standards in every corner. Some said his work was flawless.
“He gave the impression of being perfect,” Swiss chef Fredy Girardet told news outlet 24 Heures (link in French). Girardet described Violier as “brilliant” and “so kind,” echoing the praise from others in the industry who expressed shock and sadness at the news of his death.
Violier had reportedly been anguished over the recent deaths of his father and a mentor, Philippe Rochat, who died at 61.
The industry has lost other famous individuals to suicide, most recently Homaro Cantu, whose career was filled with the high-stress demands frequently experienced by the world’s leading chefs. In 2003, the acclaimed Bernard Loiseau killed himself after a critic’s review suggested his restaurant was in danger of losing a Michelin star.