Biography: Chef Michel Richard


Chef Michel Richard. Photo by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

Michel Richard was born in Brittany, France, where he first learned to make pastry. Apprenticing under the famed Gaston Lenotre in Paris, he quickly rose to the top position in Lenotre's patisserie. In 1974 he moved to the United States and began his love affair with American cuisine, which has continued for more than 30 years. After opening and running numerous restaurants, he made Washington, DC, the home of his flagship restaurant, Michel Richard Citronelle, and his newest creation, just steps from the National Gallery of Art, Central Michel Richard.

While he is based in DC, Richard is a world-renowned chef with a host of awards and honors to his credit, including several James Beard Awards as well as Exxon Mobile Four Star and AAA Four Diamond awards. He was admitted into the acclaimed Traditions & Qualité, Les Grandes Tables du Monde, in 2002. The same year he received the unprecedented dual honors of "Best Chef of the Year" and "Best Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year" by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. Gourmet Magazine recognized him in its "Top 20 Restaurants in the Country" lists in 2001 and 2006, and he was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who" in American Food and Wine in 1988.

Richard, whose popular cookbooks include Home Cooking with a French Accent (1993) and Happy in the Kitchen (2006), has a new cookbook due out in fall 2010, which will focus primarily on desserts and will feature his original artwork to illustrate the recipes.

An avid art enthusiast, Richard drew inspiration for the Garden Café Français menu from the many masterpieces of French impressionism in From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection. Richard's love of art began at age 10 when a neighbor gave him a book of work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—several examples of which are included in the Dale Collection. "I was excited by the movement of his colors and subjects," he recalls. "As a chef, I love the entertainment, the fun and laughter, and the way Toulouse-Lautrec captures a moment."

The National Gallery of Art is a preferred destination for Richard, with the French impressionists being among the highlights. Not surprisingly, he particularly loves the still lifes depicting food—the fruits, flowers, and wines of the 19th century. From the grace and charm of Edgar Degas' dancers and Paul Cézanne's painterly views of Provence to the bold, bright colors of Paul Gauguin and the strong brush strokes of Vincent van Gogh, many of his favorite painters and paintings are represented in the Chester Dale Collection. He is also inspired by the "creativity and technical imagination" of Salvador Dalí, whose portrait of Chester Dale is included in the exhibition near the 7th Street entrance.

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