Remembering Thierry Rautureau - Modernist Cuisine

Remembering Thierry Rautureau

MCOctober 31, 2023

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend Chef Thierry Rautureau. Here are a few words from our founder Nathan Myhrvold:

Thierry was a friend and a mentor. He taught me many important things about being a chef. I loved going to Rover’s. I went there frequently as a customer and also worked there as a stagier in the kitchen prior to going to culinary school in France. I worked there one night a week when I could get there from Microsoft. The school that I wanted to go to required real work experience in a French kitchen for their advanced professional course, and Thierry taught me very well.

At one point in the course, we had to bone a duck to make a very classic French dish, which was something I did a lot a Rover’s so I started working away. The chef instructor, who was very intimidating, came up behind me to observe my work and finally said: “You there. Where did you learn to do this? You know a duck like a Frenchman.” And I only know a duck like a Frenchman because of Thierry.

Thierry was a fantastic mentor. Traditional French chefs are famous for being loud and angry if you screw up. Thierry didn’t run that kind of kitchen. His kitchen was calm and generally quiet, even when he was disappointed if something didn’t work out right. There was no screaming. He had great stories of a famous three-star French chef whom he’d worked for earlier in his career. This chef would jump up on top of the stove, while it was on, and kick the pots and pans off when he was upset. There was none of that from Thierry. He’d experienced it in his apprenticeship, and he wasn’t going to pass that along.

Thierry liked to say that Rover’s was Northwest cuisine with a French accent—I always teased him that it was more like modern French cuisine, with Northwest ingredients. He did a tremendous job and he really broadened what fine dining in Seattle meant. Prior to Thierry coming, fine dining here probably meant eating at a steakhouse with a menu that hadn’t changed in 30 years. He brought a command of techniques that was worthy of any kitchen in France which he married with the incredible ingredients and the general sensibility people have about food in the Northwest. It was a tremendous combination.

We once got into a discussion about a conversation he had with a chef from France who was making fun of American food. Thierry got upset and he said, “Look, all of my ingredients here are better than the ingredients that I had in France for the dishes I actually cook.” He hugely defended this area. At one point I joked, “Well there are two things you’d have if you were in France—we don’t have Michelin stars here and the clientele to support it.”

This was early in his career at Rover’s. The local restaurant landscape is different now, but initially, Seattle was the sort of city where people would only go to a fine dining restaurant once or twice a year to celebrate a special occasion. It wasn’t something that you would do repeatedly. Thierry would tell me early on that he had more regulars from New York than from Seattle. The New Yorkers would be people who are attorneys or investment bankers or consultants working for Microsoft or Amazon or some other local company. And every time they would come to town they’d eat a meal at Rover’s as opposed to people he would only see twice a year.

Over time that changed. I think that’s really important because without having a clientele there’s a limit to what you can do as a chef. Thierry was the guy who really loved the quality of what he did. He was financially successful, but if he had been after the maximum profit margin, he wouldn’t have used as much fog gras, caviar, spot prawns, and other expensive ingredients that he used. He wanted to have the best and be generous with what he actually served.

Apprenticing at Rover’s started a long culinary journey that culminated in me writing the Modernist Cuisine cookbooks. After the first book came out, my team and I started doing dinners with long tasting menus for chefs and food writers who would come to our lab from around the country and the world. It was a tremendous honor when we got to cook for Thierry. He liked our food, which probably meant much more to me than many of the other food critics or folks who passed through; it was one of the proudest moments of my culinary career.

Thierry played a very important role in my life. I didn’t become a line cook and I didn’t open my own restaurant either. I was so into food and cooking that people would say, “Well, why don’t you have your own restaurant?” Partly, I’d seen how hard Thierry worked. I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to make a culinary contribution, but it was material in me then to start Modernist Cuisine. It really changed my life and the impact that I would have in the world.