A Farewell to Thierry Rautureau's Luc

The Chef in the Hat closed his final restaurant Saturday night. But his influence lives on in so many ways.

By Allecia Vermillion August 30, 2021

This summer, Thierry Rautureau announced he was closing his bistro, Luc, and that downtown dining room Loulay (pictured) would not reopen.

Image: Olivia Brent

On Saturday, August 28, Luc served its final burrata salad and beef bourguignon to a full house. And, once the lights went down, Seattle found itself without a Thierry Rautureau restaurant for the first time since 1987.

Rautureau, the self-styled Chef in the Hat, recorded a farewell video in front of his Madison Park bistro. “You are our heroes,” he said, raising a glass of champagne. “Have a wonderful life and we’ll see you somewhere in the streets of Seattle.”

We probably will. Rautureau still records his Hot Stove Radio show with Tom Douglas. Still has an airport concession, LouLou Market and Bar coming to the B terminal at Sea-Tac. Still—I’d guess—will show up for all manner of events to benefit organizations like Food Lifeline; he seldom misses a chance to schmooze.

But Rautureau has been a tremendously influential chef in this town; Seattle won’t be the same without him presiding over a dining room.

Rautureau’s name doesn’t always register with newer arrivals. He keeps a minimal social media presence, focusing instead on a community he and his wife, Kathy, built IRL over decades. But it’s hard to understate his influence on our restaurant landscape.

After growing up in western France and undertaking that country’s famously militaristic culinary training, Rautureau landed in the Northwest. He purchased Rover’s, a tucked-away restaurant in Madison Park, and made it a fine dining destination, one of the first restaurants to marry classic French technique with local ingredients.

He adopted the whole “Chef in the Hat” persona to challenge the notion that French food equals stuffy food. That hat became a trademark decades before “personal brand” entered our vernacular. The only time I’ve seen him without it is when he posed in the nude for a cheeky Vita-Prep ad campaign in 2003, along with the likes of Marcus Samuelsson and Eric Ripert (actually he was wearing his hat in that photo…just not on his head).

He (and Rover's) won a James Beard Award in 1998. In looking back, the chef does seem particularly prescient, especially for a guy steeped in classic technique. He made his name in special occasion–level dining, then embraced the casual by opening Luc, a bistro named for his father, down the street. In 2013 he bet big on downtown with Loulay, replacing a chain steak house with a French menu, a glamorous dining room, and his trademark smooth hospitality. Loulay has remained closed since the 2020 dining room shutdown; earlier in August, after announcing Luc’s final day of service, the Rautureaus also said Loulay will not reopen.

And despite (or perhaps, because of) his own unforgiving culinary education, Rautureau has been, by so many accounts I’ve heard, a warm if exacting leader in his kitchens.

Rover’s closed in 2013, an impressive 26-year run. In his newsletter announcement about Luc and Loulay (which lasted 11 and eight years, respectively), the chef mentioned that Kathy will continue her flower business, but after 34 years, the couple is “looking forward to watching the next generation take it over and run with it.”

I’m curious to see what comes next; it seems unlikely that a chef this ebullient would truly retire from public life. Rautureau’s been a guest on Top Chef Masters, and a short web reality series called Kitchen Circus. Somebody get this guy a proper TV gig, please.

But until then, think of Rautureau when you encounter great local cheese (he was an early champion) or beautiful French bistro cooking that replaces status symbol lobster with local dungeness. He may not have a restaurant any longer, but he’s still very much here.

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