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D.C. chef Michel Richard dies at 68

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Chef and restaurateur Michel Richard, long a culinary icon in Washington, D.C., died Saturday following a stroke he suffered Tuesday, according to published reports. He was 68.

Known for his culinary creativity and bawdy wit, Richard was born in Pabu in the French region of Brittany and moved to the Champagne region at age 14 to train as a pastry chef. Three years later he moved to Paris and worked at the pastry shop Gaston Lenôtre.

He relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 to open a Lenôtre shop there and went on to open his own eponymous pastry shop, then Citrus restaurant. He opened Citronelle in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., in 1993 and made that city his home for the rest of his life, although over the course of his career he also had restaurants and pastry shops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Citronelle closed in July 2012, but his other Washington restaurant, Central Michel Richard, which opened in 2007 and won the James Beard Foundation Award for best new restaurant in the country, remains open.

Richard himself won the Beard Award for the country’s Outstanding Chef in 2007.

He was widely praised for his creativity, combining Americans’ love for texture — particularly crunchiness — with French technique and his own sense of whimsy.

Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema praised Richard in a remembrance published Saturday.

“Richard dazzled patrons over the years with creations that fused beauty and good taste,” Sietsema wrote. “The tricks in his seemingly bottomless bag included ‘pasta’ coaxed from onion and ‘caviar’ created with Israeli couscous and squid ink. December brought tiny snowmen shaped from balls of meringue and filled with vanilla ice cream, and ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ yielded a fetching tray of everything you expected — save for the fact the ‘toast’ was poundcake and the ‘egg’ was a dot of pureed papaya in shimmering almond custard.

“The common bond: Pure deliciousness.”

New York-based chef David Burke, who like Richard is known for his creativity, said in a Facebook post Saturday that Richard was a “[g]reat inspiration among the few truly original and creative masters. When you can look at the cover of a magazine and recognize someone’s dishes without his name next to it he has created a ‘style.’ That he had and big heart and [was] funny!”

Apart from restaurant Central Michel Richard, Pommes Palais, Richard’s bakery in New York City, also remains open.

Contact Bret Thorn: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary


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