LONDON — The French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier, who scaled the heights of gastronomy to preside over a small Swiss restaurant that was named the best in the world in December, has died in what appears to have been a suicide, according to the police. He was 44.
The Swiss police said in a statement that Mr. Violier’s body was found late Sunday at his home in Crissier, Switzerland, near Lausanne.
Mr. Violier, a perfectionist known for his acumen in cooking game, ran the Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville with his wife, Brigitte. It has been awarded three Michelin stars and in December took the number one spot in La Liste, France’s ranking of 1,000 restaurants in 48 countries.
The restaurant’s menu has included dishes such as “pigs trotters from the Jura with black truffles and glazed with Madeira wine,” roast Bresse chicken served with “Blue Winter” leeks and truffles, and a “fantasy of shellfish from the Saint-Brieuc Bay served raw in the shell on a delicate velouté.”
The precise circumstances of Mr. Violier’s death remained unclear, but other top chefs have been pushed to suicide, buffeted by a high-pressure world that demands perfection and where culinary demigods can be demoted with the stroke of a pen.
In 2003, Bernard Loiseau, the chef and owner of the Côte d’Or, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Burgundy, was found dead in his home at 52.
According to the French news media, the chef had been distraught over a slight demotion in the Gault & Millau guide and was worried that he could lose a star in the next edition of the Michelin guide.
Gabriel Waterhouse, a young and innovative British chef, who until recently was at Galvin La Chapelle, which has one Michelin star, said star chefs like Mr. Violier operated in an extremely competitive atmosphere, in which speaking about fears was taboo.
“People are quite macho in the industry, and people don’t feel they can really talk about their problems or the stresses of what is being asked of them,” he said.
“It is considered a sign of weakness if you complain,” he added, “and that is intensified the higher and higher you go.”
Mr. Violier was born in La Rochelle, a coastal city in western France, to a family of winemakers. In 2013, he was named chef of the year by the Gault & Millau guide, one of the world’s most influential arbiters of culinary excellence.
Towering figures of French cuisine paid homage to Mr. Violier, remarking on his self-effacing character, his kindness and a rare artistry that garnered him a legion of followers.
One of France’s most celebrated chefs, the octogenarian Paul Bocuse, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Violier had been a “great chef, great man, a gigantic talent.”
“The planet has been orphaned by the loss of this exceptional chef, Benoît Violier. I am devastated,” another renowned French chef, Marc Veyrat, wrote on Twitter.
The Michelin guide released its list of starred restaurants in France for 2016 on Monday, and although Mr. Violier’s establishment is in Switzerland, he had been planning to attend a ceremony in Paris for the new rankings, according to the Swiss news media. Instead, the proceedings began with a minute of silence for him.
“We are shocked by the death of Benoît Violier, a chef of immense talent,” the Michelin guides said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with his family and his colleagues.”
“I feel a heavy responsibility to be named number one,” he said in an interview with The New York Times published in December. He added that the key to his success was consistency, not flashiness, and he singled out his loyal team, including Louis Villeneuve, his maître d’hôtel who has been in his post for four decades.
“This ranking is a recognition of seriousness, of delivering the same fidelity and level of excellence from the beginning of January to the end of December,” Mr. Violier said. “It’s a great tribute to the team.”
The French Foreign Ministry commissioned La Liste, apparently as a response to the London-based World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The British rankings were criticized by some in France for failing to give French restaurants their rightful due, but other members of the culinary establishment have said they regard the alternative effort as misguided.
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