Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chez le Chef

VANISHING: March 2009

A reader wrote in to tell me about the impending demise of Chez le Chef, a "quirky and cool" restaurant at 29th and Lexington. "If you haven't been there," he said, "you should check it out before it closes."

Chef Frederic (nee Friedhelm) Piepenburg began Chez le Chef as a pastry shop on York Avenue in 1987, but it all comes to an end in March 2009.

The chef is done with cooking full-time and plans to settle down to writing cookbooks and anecdotes, of which he must have plenty--he was "the Sultan of Brunei's personal pastry chef, the man who kept Coco Channel in sacher tortes and the Saudi Prince in puff pastry," according to the Daily News, and "Director John Huston had Frederic flown to the set of Night of the Iguana in Mexico City to whip up his specialties for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton."

photo: joaoleitao's blog

When you go, you'll find the front door is made of plywood, thanks to a recent accident in which a taxi tried to drive through the entrance. But don't let that dissuade you. The atmosphere alone makes this restaurant worth a trip. A photo of the offending taxi stands on a table inside the door and you'll be greeted by Chef Frederic--a children's book character come to life, complete with a tall toque and extravagant, snow-white whiskers.

On the walls are pictures of him with such luminaries as Ornette Coleman and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

New York wrote of the place, "It's hard to take it all in." True enough. On the second floor, with a view of the Empire State Building, I sat beneath a mural of an owl that bears a striking resemblance to the chef himself. The tables are crowded with little decorated Christmas trees, dried flowers, and plush bears clutching "I Love You" hearts. The place looks like it was decorated by an exuberant child and her Grossmutter, all busy and blushingly girlish.

It's yet another taste of eccentric New York that is vanishing.

You have until the end of winter to try Chez le Chef's brunches accompanied by accordion music, breakfast delivered to you in bed, dinners of coq au vin with a German touch, and pastries once enjoyed by Liz Taylor and Dr. Ruth.


Cat Bauer in Venice Blog said...

Great blog. The same thing is happening in Venice.

Cat Bauer --> former New Yorker

Anonymous said...

Damn. A friend of mine lives around the corner from here...He has been pestering me to go for ages. Guess I still have a little time.

What a character.

Parth said...

Sucks, that the place is going away. It was an interesting place. I stumbled up there a while ago for a cup of coffee. It was an experience. I wrote about it here (

Suburbanization of the city marches on.

Philacav said...

Frankly, I can't imagine that many of the people that have already commented have eaten at Chez Le Chef. I went there twice and on the first visit, enjoyed a meal that was passable at best. I also marvelled at how the bill was inflated by a compulsory 15% tip.

On second visit, my girlfriend pointed out the place was dirty and cluttered. Everything was buried in Herb de Provence or burned.

It doesn't take much searching online to find very unhappy patrons of this place expressing their amazement at bizarre visits to this restaurant.

It was time for Chez Le Chef to close long before 2009.

Pat said...

I walked by Chez le Chef tonight and it looks like it bit the dust. The chef left a note on the door that said he wanted to write a book. They are selling off their fixtures. I had a nice brunch there years (15+) ago with some friends from out of town and once got a lovely buche de noel that was decorated to the hilt to take to a party. I do remember I ordered chocolate and what the chef gave me was mocha but it was still delicious and no one had any problem with it. Sometimes I used to pick up a fresh fruit juice and take it out with me, but that was many years ago. I liked the chef who was a character. Sad, because I had not been in there in years, and just now noticed it recently had terrible reviews on yelp. Of course, things can sometimes change over the years and not always for the better.