The world’s top chefs, restaurateurs and food critics have been paying tribute to Benoit Violier, who was found dead at his home in Switzerland.
The 44-year-old’s Swiss restaurant came top of the French La Liste ranking of the world’s 1,000 best eateries.
La Liste expressed its sadness at the death of this “exceptional chef”, who ran the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier, near Lausanne.
Swiss police said the French-born chef appeared to have shot himself.
His death followed the loss last year of both his father and the man he regarded as a second father, chef and mentor Philippe Rochat, who died from a cycling injury in July.
But the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Paris says the apparent suicide has also re-opened a debate about the pressures of cooking at this level, with some blaming the death in 2003 of top chef Bernard Loiseau on his fear of losing a Michelin star.
After his restaurant gained the ultimate accolade in November, Mr Violier told the New York Times that he felt a “heavy responsibility to be named number one”.
His death came just hours before the launch of Michelin’s French listings, which began with a minute’s silence as a mark of respect.
Among those lauded at the event was Christian Le Squer, whose restaurant at Paris hotel the George V gained a star, but the chef said he was in no mood to celebrate.
“The whole gastronomic world is in tears because we lost a great colleague and friend,” he said.
The ‘Federer of cooking’
Swiss chef Fredy Girardet, who also received three Michelin stars, told the Swiss news source 24 Heures that he was “dumbfounded” by news of Mr Violier’s death.
“He was a brilliant man,” he said. “Such talent, and an amazing capacity for work. He was so kind, with so many qualities. He gave the impression of being perfect.”
Another Swiss chef, Edgard Bovier from the restaurant La Table d’Edgard in Lausanne, described Mr Violier as the “Federer of cooking”.
“He was a star who everyone who ate at his restaurant felt they knew, so approachable and warm was he,” Mr Bovier told 24 Heures (in French).
The Michelin Guide said its thoughts were with Mr Violier’s family and colleagues.
“Benoit Violier was a brilliant chef, he trained a large number of young chefs and we are thinking of his family, his team and the whole world of gastronomy today, we’re all sad, all in mourning,” said Michael Ellis, international director at Michelin Guide.
‘Fantastic, flawless cuisine’
Food writer Andy Hayler told BBC World News that Mr Violier “really was that good”.
“The two meals I had there when he was cooking were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve been to every three-star Michelin restaurant in the world so I have a basis for comparison,” he said.
He said Mr Violier served “fantastic, flawless classical cuisine”.
Benoit Violier’s signature dishes
Dishes at L’Hotel de Ville included French classics such as pigs trotters with black truffle, and sea urchin in champagne sauce.
Having worked at the restaurant since 1996, Mr Violier took it over along with his wife Brigitte in 2012, later obtaining Swiss nationality.
A keen hunter, he was also known for his game cooking and produced a weighty book on game meat last year.
The restaurant’s menus ranged from a quick lunch menu at 195 Swiss francs ($191; £134) to a “discovery” set menu priced at 380 Swiss francs.
According to a biography on his website, Mr Violier grew up in a family of seven children in the town of Saintes, in western France.
His passion for gastronomy was inspired by his mother from a young age, while he learned about wine, cognac and hunting from his father.
He moved to Paris in 1991, training with top French chefs including Joel Robuchon and Benoit Guichard.
He said his time there taught him “rigour, discipline and the art of the beautiful gesture”.
In an indication of the standards he held himself to, he said: “Nothing is ever definitive, everything must be repeated every day.”
Accepting the La Liste award, given by France’s foreign ministry as an alternative to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants prize, Mr Violier said it was an “exceptional” honour that would “only motivate our team more”.