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Sep 13, 201811:29 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Gone Too Soon

Chef René Bajeux dies at 61.

I know that my last column was about a death, and I apologize in advance that this is about a passing, as well. This column is about a man I knew and liked very much who happened to be a talented chef, René Bajeux.

Early in my time as a food writer – a food blogger, to be more accurate – I was surprised when I was recognized by a chef or the staff of a restaurant. I started writing for friends and then as an outlet for my interest in food and restaurants, and for the first few years I had no idea who was reading.

One of the first chefs to come out of the kitchen to speak to me was René Bajeux. It was probably late 2001 or early 2002, and I was having lunch at his eponymous Bistrot when he approached my table and introduced himself. He was complimentary about my writing and actually sat and discussed his cooking with me for 10 minutes or so. I was more or less starstruck.

René Bistrot was my favorite restaurant in New Orleans at the time. At least once a week I would take some work there to peruse while I ate lunch. The three-course special he ran was an absolute steal, and it continues to amaze me that as often as I dined there before Katrina forced its closure, I seldom saw the same entrée twice. And while I liked René a great deal, even then, I wouldn’t have returned to the Bistrot if the food wasn’t consistently great.

Chef Bajeux continued to come out of the kitchen to speak with me over the years, and I like to think we became friends. I had tremendous respect for him professionally and great affection for him personally. He was one of the chefs I was most interested in finding after Katrina, and when I saw him for the first time, I was both elated to see him safe and a bit taken aback by how much weight he’d lost. His experience during Katrina was not pleasant. He left town for a while but kept coming back.

I was always happy to hear that he’d taken a new position in town. I was delighted to renew my love of his three-course lunches when he helped open La Cote Brasserie. I attended a media tour of La Provence when he was briefly the executive chef there, and I got to spend a good bit of time with him when he took over the charcuterie program at the Palace Café.

I called chef Gunter Preuss, one of the outstanding chefs with whom chef Bajeux worked for the Dickie Brennan restaurant group. He’d kept in touch with René, and he summed it up well: “It’s a real tragedy …  I lost a friend.” He praised chef Bajeux’s knowledge, and of course mentioned his family.

I also spoke with chef Chuck Subra, who worked with René at La Cote Brasserie, and he confirmed what I suppose I already knew: Chef René was kind and inspiring to everyone he worked with, from the servers to the cooks to the managers of the hotels that housed his restaurant.

René was 61, and that’s far too young to have left us. He also leaves his wife, Penny, and two children. (As I write, I am not aware of any fund set up to assist his family, but if I learn of something, I’ll let you know.) René once told me he loved to teach, and I have no doubt there are a lot of cooks in New Orleans and elsewhere who are better having worked with him. Talking with chefs Subra and Preuss made it clear that René hadn’t graced me with so much attention because I was special -- he made everyone feel that way.

I can’t think of a better thing to say about another human being. I will miss him.

 

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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