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Bernard Cretier, French chef whose suburban restaurant drew diners from miles around, dead at 74

While at Maxim’s de Paris, one of his patrons stood out. Artist Salvador Dali would drop by with his pet ocelot.

Chef Bernard Cretier shows off a Vidalia onion & bacon tart at his Lakemoor restaurant, Le Vichyssois, in 1998.
Chef Bernard Cretier shows off a Vidalia onion & bacon tart at his Lakemoor restaurant, Le Vichyssois, in 1998.
Sun-Times file

Bernard Cretier was part of a wave of French chefs who arrived in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s, slicing and dicing the city’s meat-and-potatoes identity from the stockyards into a culinary destination.

For 38 years, Mr. Cretier operated Le Vichyssois restaurant in far northwest suburban Lakemoor, drawing diners from downtown Chicago and Wisconsin who’d feast on his pâtés, pumpkin soup, Dover sole, salmon en croûte and tarte au chocolat.

His demi-glace was gastronomic gold, imparting meaty umami to any dish. Made with veal bones, carrots, celery, wine and seasonings, it took more than 25 hours to simmer and reduce.

Mr. Cretier died unexpectedly on July 21, according to his daughter Jennifer Kuisle. The Barrington resident was 74.

He’s being remembered as a “trailblazing chef who changed the landscape of the Chicago dining scene and won over our palettes with his inimitable demi-glace,” said Leigh Uhlir, an associate Dean at Kendall College of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management.

Young Bernard grew up in the French town of Vichy, where his parents Paul and Yvette owned a seed and gardening store.

He left home at 15 to apprentice in some of the finest kitchens of France. “His dream was always opening his own restaurant,” said his daughter.

He trained with acclaimed chefs including Jean and Pierre Troisgros. And he worked with Paul Bocuse near Lyons, often called the food capital of France.

Mr. Cretier also was a personal chef to General Pierre Billotte, a Resistance hero who helped lead French liberators into Paris in 1944.

While at Maxim’s de Paris, one of Mr. Cretier’s patrons stood out. Artist Salvador Dali would drop by with his pet ocelot, his daughter said.

In the early 1970s, Maxim’s sent him to the U.S. to head its kitchen in Chicago.

“Until his arrival and the arrival of other French chefs from France, most of the French restaurants [in Chicago] — there were about seven or 10 of them — they were phony French,” said Alain Maes, a native of Nîmes, France and culinary historian who writes the blog French Virtual Cafe. “They had French names but not a single chef from France, and they were doing all kinds of [inauthentic] food.”

In Chicago he met Priscilla, his wife of 48 years.

In 1976 the couple opened Le Vichyssois, which translates into “a man from Vichy,” his daughter said. His wife welcomed people to the front of the house, took coats and served as a sommelier.

In the mid–1980s, he was featured on the PBS show “Great Chefs of Chicago.”

One of his proudest moments at Le Vichyssois came when Bocuse arrived to dine at his former apprentice’s restaurant.

Mr. Cretier was known for his restaurant’s “warm welcome, being a wonderful chef, having it be consistent,” his daughter said. “The food was pretty amazing. People enjoyed themselves, which was the most important part.”

After the Cretiers decided to retire in 2014, he continued to sell his Natural Classics demi-glace.

He always preferred simple food.

“When I am in France,” he once told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I go for grilled pig’s feet.” And he had a weakness for dark chocolate Dove bars.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Cretier is survived by his brothers Jean and Francois Cretier and two grandchildren. Services have been held.