Georges Briguet, Who Presided Over Le Périgord, Dies at 85

Georges Briguet, the bonhomous owner of Le Périgord, who greeted and seated guests by name nightly at that classic haute cuisine French restaurant in Manhattan for a half-century, died on July 26 in Montauk, N.Y. He was 85.

He was returning home from the beach when he had a heart attack or a stroke, his son Jean-Luc said in confirming the death

In the breathless city where fads and fleeting fame and can be pronounced as imperishable, Mr. Briguet’s spacious 115-seat oasis on East 52nd Street, just south of Sutton Place, was for 53 years, until 2017, an enduring, serene culinary clubhouse for unhurried New Yorkers and out-of-town regulars of a certain age and class. Elegant but not stuffy, the establishment came sheathed in wall fabric surrounding cozy banquettes, where vases of roses punctuated pristine white tablecloths.

“This is not a venue for young fast-trackers,” Bryan Miller wrote in 1989 in a restaurant review in The New York Times, which awarded Le Périgord three stars.

Mr. Briguet (pronounced bri-GAY) and his chefs attributed Le Périgord’s initial fame, or notoriety, to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The couple were immortalized in a tabloid photograph as they emerged from the restaurant in 1964 after scandalously dining in a secluded booth early in their celebrated affair, adding fuel to the gossip fires then raging in Hollywood.

“We wouldn’t have been able to keep going if it hadn’t been for them,” Mr. Briguet was once quoted as saying.

The couple became habitués, as did the Kissingers, Nixons, Trumps and Truman Capote, as well as diplomats from the nearby United Nations missions and generations of families from the surrounding tony East Side neighborhood.

“There’s no one here tonight who I don’t know,” Mr. Briguet told The Times one evening in 2015, “which is what it’s like almost every day.”

In his Times review, Mr. Miller waxed rhapsodic about chef Antoine Bouterin, “a largely unsung master of classical and Provençal cooking,” and wrote that his pistou, a summer vegetable soup, was “as heady as a stroll through a Provençal garden.” (Typical dinners were priced at $48, The Times noted, the equivalent of about $115 today.)

“They don’t make loopy Cary Grant romances anymore, nor do they make luxury French restaurants that are as sincere and uncalculating as this one,” Mr. Miller wrote. “Le Périgord is as lovingly assembled as a hand-stitched quilt and gets more comfortable with age.”

William Grimes of The Times stripped the restaurant of a star in 2000, complaining primarily about the staff, but he remained taken by the place, writing that whatever Le Périgord’s shortcomings, its clientele “can swaddle themselves in a quietly civilized atmosphere, a million miles removed from the tumult of the city outside.”

He added: “There is a part of me that wants Le Périgord to stay in its peculiar time warp. The spectacle is simply too delicious.”

“Le Périgord is as lovingly assembled as a hand-stitched quilt and gets more comfortable with age,” one reviewer wrote. Today the space stands vacant. Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

George Francois Briguet was born on Feb. 22, 1937, in Valais, Switzerland, to Francois and Noellie Briguet, whose families had been vintners in the Alps for seven centuries.

He earned a degree from the Ecole Tamey in the nearby city of Sion and worked at Baur au Lac, a luxury hotel in Zurich, before emigrating to New York in 1960. There he worked at the Marco Polo lounge at the Waldorf Astoria and then as maître d’hôtel at La Grenouille, on East 52nd Street near Fifth Avenue, today the last of the city’s surviving internationally renowned haute cuisine French restaurants of the 1960s era.

In 1961, Mr. Briguet married Marie Therese Couteller, who was French. She, in addition to their son Jean-Luc, survives him, along with two other sons, Christopher and Eric; a daughter, Mireille Le Gall; and seven grandchildren.

Under Mr. Briguet, Le Périgord became a family affair. His wife worked with him there, as did their son Christopher, who was a manager for 30 years. Ms. Le Gall, too, worked at the restaurant, for 10 years, along with Eric, Jean-Luc, who is an architect, and a grandson.

“You have to love what you do,” Mr. Briguet told Crain’s New York Business in 2004. “This is my life.”

Le Périgord, at 405 East 52nd, on a dead-end section of the street just east of First Avenue, was opened in 1962 as La Provence by a German chef. It was soon takenover by Ferdinand Desbans, who was from the Périgord region of France and who had been chef to the grandfather of Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Mr. Briguet and a business partner, Willy Krause, bought the restaurant in 1964, but didn’t stop there. In 1969 they opened Le Périgord Park, a sister restaurant at Park Avenue and East 63rd Street; it closed in 1985. With Jean-Louis Missud, they opened La Reserve at Rockefeller Center in 1983; it closed in 2000.

In 2015, Mr. Briguet pleaded guilty to a federal tax charges and paid the government nearly $170,000 in restitution after admitting that he had hid income in Swiss bank accounts. That same year, an employee sued the restaurant for unpaid wages in a case that was settled for $90,000.

Two years later, Mr. Briguet failed to reach an agreement with the restaurant workers union and closed the restaurant, stowing his 17 tuxedos. By his estimate he had served three million meals there. Today, the space remains vacant.

Back to top button