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Chef Poilevey was ‘a pillar of the French community’ in Chicago

Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey at his Bistro Le Bouchon, at 1958 N. Damen, in 1999. | Sun-Times file photo

As plans were being made to commemorate renowned French chef Jean-Claude Poilevey — who died over the weekend in a multi-car accident on the Eisenhower Expressway — he was praised not only as a culinary titan, but as a unifier of the French expat community in Chicago.

“He was a quite a pillar of the French community,” said Jean-Christophe Paris, who serves as deputy to Vincent Floreani, the Consul General of France in Chicago. “We are losing someone very important for us.”

Floreani was on vacation Sunday but has spoken with Poilevey’s wife to express condolences, Paris said.

Le Bouchon, Poilevey’s restaurant in Bucktown, “is one of the places where the French community gets together,” Paris said, noting that about 2,500 French citizens live in Chicago, and an additional 2,500 in the suburbs.

Poilevey, a chef and restaurateur at the forefront of French cuisine in Chicago beginning in the ’70s, was killed in a 15-vehicle crash on the Eisenhower Expressway. He was 71 years old.

Poilevey, of Oak Park, was outside his car about 12:40 a.m. Saturday when he was struck by another vehicle in the crash, according to Illinois State Police. He was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he died.

The chain-reaction crash likely was caused by black ice on the Eisenhower’s outbound lanes near Central Avenue, police said.

Poilevey also owned La Sardine restaurant near Randolph and Halsted.

He entered the Chicago-area dining scene after being recruited from France to helm the kitchen of the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He opened La Fontaine in 1973 on Clark Street.

A message on Le Bouchon's door Sunday said the restaurant will reopen on Monday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A message on Le Bouchon’s door Sunday said the restaurant will reopen on Monday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Several other condolence notes also were posted on the door, including one that read: “I am sorry that your boss passed away and there is no boss just like your boss.”

Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Another note read: “We love you Chef. We will always have you in our prayers and hearts.” | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times