You Can Stay in the Charming French Chateau Named after the Legendary Chef in Ratatouille
Growing up, my last name was a mystery. "Peay," a blended Black family name that didn't really fit the heritage of my parents, their grandparents, and so on, has its origins in France, which is partly why I've always wanted to travel there. Then there's the fact that my aunt's and my favorite Disney film is Ratatouille. I'd be lying if I said that the movie's romantic night sky scenes haven't made my family and I fall further in love with the gleaming idea of France. With my auntie Ebony marrying a French man, and my three-year-old cousin, Jackson, growing ever more fluent in the French language, I decided to visit France this winter.
Besides staying in Paris, I knew I wanted to experience Burgundy wine country, known for its expert sommeliers, round chardonnays, and dry pinot noirs. I stayed at the historic inn and restaurant, Le Relais Bernard Loiseau. This charming French chateau is hidden in the commune of Saulieu, located in the center of the country, so travelers driving between Paris and Nice can make a nice pitstop.
An overnight stay or two at the Relais Bernard Loiseau will allow you to fully absorb Saulieu's modest stone townhouses and esteemed culinary origins. During my stay, I discovered the rich history behind the bed-and-breakfast that inspired a generation of chefs and transformed French gastronomy. Much of France's culinary heritage lies within the brilliance of a single man, an immeasurable figure who was raised three hours south of Saulieu in Chamalières — the late chef Bernard Loiseau. His storied career, which spans multiple decades, have made his toque arguably the most esteemed (and famous) in French culinary history. He's inspired characters across pop culture, including chef Auguste Gusteau in Disney's Ratatouille.
Before Loiseau took over the Hotel de la Côte‐d'Or, Alexandre Dumaine was the culinary maestro who introduced fine gastronomy, la grande cuisine, and many lavish patrons to Saulieu, France, in the early to mid-1900s. The likes of Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dalí, Picasso, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rita Hayworth would often visit the Guide Michelin's three starred-restaurant to taste Dumaine's cooking. Bernard Loiseau arrived at the hotel in his early twenties to work in Dumaine's esteemed kitchen, where his culinary fame only grew.
After Dumaine retired in 1963, Bernard Loiseau was appointed as the head chef to the La Côte d'Or restaurant in 1975 and became its owner in 1982. This is when Loiseau began to build a true name for himself, earning the restaurant's third Michelin star in 1991 and continuing to reinvent the way Europeans viewed French gastronomy. Melding modern and traditional culinary techniques, Loiseau only used the purest, finest ingredients to execute French dishes.
Loiseau went on to thrive in the culinary world as a large, smiling personality that would become the face of French cuisine. He was, and still is, known countrywide for his knockout cuisses de grenouille (frog legs). In France, he became a celebrity that would build an entire empire with multiple high-ranked hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants, frozen products, and even television showcases.
Everyone close to Bernard Loiseau knew him as an utter perfectionist. With the Michelin Guide's rankings dictating the success of many restaurants worldwide, he felt enormous pressure to maintain his public reputation. In 2003, Loiseau took his own life after rumors broke that he was about to lose his third Michelin star, which would deem his restaurant not "worth a special journey." These were the terms that constituted the quality of a Michelin-decorated restaurateur. Losing a Michelin star highly impacts customer traffic and overall prestige and business. Loiseau's death devastated France and led to the examination of whether Michelin stars were an ethical rating system.
"It's an evolution, not a revolution," Bérangère Loiseau told me, sitting in the Relais Bernard Loiseau library room, with a roaring fireplace flickering behind. She is the 33-year-old daughter of the famous chef and the vice president of the Bernard Loiseau group, which represents all of her father's existing establishments. Bérangère is joined by her sister, Blanche, and her mother, Dominique, in running the culinary fortunes Bernard left behind.
Blanche is one of the leading chefs at Le Relais Bernard Loiseau's on-site bistro, and Dominique is the businesswoman who took over the family dynasty the night after her husband died. Bérangère says her mother felt a sort of responsibility to take care of her family and carry on his legacy and Bernard's entire kitchen followed her, with the exception of a couple of staff members. Petrick Bertron, the head chef at the La Côte d'Or restaurant, will be celebrating his 40th anniversary there this year.
At Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, the love that Loiseau shared with his immediate and kitchen family endures. You'll still find his celebrated recipes — from blue lobster medallions to pan-fried foie gras. The restaurant's expert sommelier, Christophe Gines, easily communicates the magic of French food and wine pairings. Just like the small but wise shoulder ghost of Chef Gusteau that followed Remy around Paris, chef Bernard's passion for the grit and rigor of French cuisine will live on.
With an elaborate, high-tech spa and mesmerizing garden that allows you to live out your storybook dreams, Le Relais Bernard Loiseau is just that: a fairytale scene captured in real-time, where each guest can enjoy the best of French culinary history. The next generation of the Loiseau family are conduits of Bernard's passion for food and community, keeping alive the family name. Even though the cultural genesis of my own French surname may be lost, it reminds me of the pride I hold for "Peay." I'll relish this next time I watch Ratatouille.