PARIS (AP) — Chef Benoit Violier, whose 3-star restaurant in western Switzerland with its game specialties recently topped a list of the world's best, has been found dead of a likely self-inflicted gunshot, police said Monday. He was 44.
Police said in a statement that Violier was found dead in his home late Sunday afternoon in the municipality of Crissier, near Lausanne, home of his prestigious Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville.
An investigation has been opened to determine the exact circumstances of the death, but police are "99 percent certain" the cause of death is suicide with a firearm, police commissioner Jean-Christophe Sauterel said by phone from Lausanne. He said police and prosecutors would give no other details.
The Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville, one of the three 3-star establishments in Switzerland, serves dishes such as saddle of Pyrenean young lamb, crispy Landes duck foie gras and a so-called "back from winter hunting" dish depending on daily deliveries. The French-born Violier was granted Swiss citizenship two years ago.
Last year, the eatery was ranked first on a French government-sponsored list of the world's top 1,000 restaurants. Another renowned and influential guide of best restaurants, GaultMillau Suisse, had declared Violier the best chef of 2013, citing his "new and staggering" cuisine and granting him an exceptional 19/20, the same score as his famous predecessor and mentor in the Hotel de Ville, Philippe Rochat, who died last year.
Violier died a few hours before the much-feared Michelin Guide released its 2016 edition for France. The awards ceremony on Paris' chic Place Vendome began with a minute of silence for him. The Swiss edition comes out in October.
Violier, who was born in the western French city of Saintes, near Cognac, was only 20 when he started to train in the finest cuisine with world-famous chefs such as Joel Robuchon, the Lenotre and Fauchon luxury catering houses, with the famous Hotel Ritz and restaurant La Tour d'Argent in Paris. He arrived at Crissier's Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville in 1996, two years before it got its third Michelin star, the most coveted award in the culinary world.
Violier took over the establishment in 2012 with his wife Brigitte and managed to keep the top position in the famous red guide. He won world appreciation for finely and deliciously conveying his passion for hunting into the art of cooking game. He was the author of two reference cooking books.
His brutal death at the height of his fame recalls that celebrated French 3-star chef Bernard Loiseau, owner of the restaurant La Côte d'Or in the Burgundy region, who was found dead beside a hunting rifle in 2003. Loiseau's death followed the downgrading of his establishment by the Gault-Millau guide and rumors he could also lose one of his three stars in the Michelin guide.
The now-renamed Bernard-Loiseau Relais in Saulieu, owned by his widow Dominique Loiseau and chef Patrick Bertron, finally lost its third star on Monday when the 2016 Michelin guide was released.
Some chefs have complained of living under the pressure and judgment of these guides that call the shots in the closed circle of the world's best tables.
In a statement, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said France "is losing with Benoit Violier an eminent ambassador of 'a la francaise' taste and know-how" and an "iconic chef."
Greg Keller contributed to this report.