Ex-JFK chef Rene Verdon dies at age 86

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Rene Verdon, the White House chef for President John F. Kennedy and unofficial ambassador for French cuisine in the United States, has died at the age of 86, his wife said.

Verdon died of leukemia Wednesday at his home in San Francisco, his wife Yvette told the New York Times in Sunday's edition.

Under the direction of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the Frenchman revolutionized the White House menu which until then was uninspired and outsourced to caterers.

Verdon, a stubborn defender of fresh and seasonal foods, grew vegetables on the White House roof and planted herbs in the gardens of the presidential residence.

His first official White House meal was a lunch given April 5, 1961, in honor of visiting British prime minister Harold Macmillan, the Times reported.

Verdon served trout in Chablis and sauce Vincent, beef filet au jus and artichoke bottoms Beaucaire. Dessert was meringue shell filled with raspberries and chocolate.

Verdon resigned in 1965, fed up with the bland culinary choices of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan who preferred frozen vegetables.

He moved to San Francisco and opened Le Trianon, which during the 1970s and 80s was among the best restaurants in California.

Verdon was born in 1924 in Pouzauges, a village in western France where his family owned a bakery.

He worked at restaurants in Paris and at the seaside Hotel Normandy in Deauville. He moved to the United States in 1958.

Roger Fessaguet, the chef at La Caravelle in New York, recommended Verdon to Mrs Kennedy, who hired him temporarily to handle dinners at the White House in the early days of the Kennedy presidency. He was later hired as the full time chef.

© 2011 AFP

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