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Tributes Pour In For Le Bouchon Chef Killed In 15-Car Pileup On Eisenhower

By  DNAinfo Staff and Alisa Hauser | April 9, 2016 7:33pm | Updated on April 11, 2016 8:15am

 Notes, flowers and candles in the doorway following Jean-Claude Poilevey's death.
Notes, flowers and candles in the doorway following Jean-Claude Poilevey's death.
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Steve Jensen/BCO (door); DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser (Poilevey)

BUCKTOWN  — Jean-Claude Poilevey, the chef and restaurateur behind beloved Bucktown bistro Le Bouchon and West Loop's La Sardine, was killed in an icy, multi-car pileup on Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway early Saturday.

The 71-year-old famed chef, a resident of Oak Park, was the lone fatality in the crash, according to State Police Sgt. P.J. Manno.

Poilevey opened his first restaurant in Chicago in 1973, and after its closure opened Le Bouchon in 1993 and La Sardine in the West Loop in 1998.

Located at 1958 N. Damen Ave., Le Bouchon's tiny red and dark green 40-seat storefront is often packed with diners and recently underwent facade renovations.

On Sunday, a note in the window informs patrons that both Le Bouchon and La Sardine will be closed for dinner on Sunday and reopen on Monday. A flower basket, candles and notes of sympathy were placed at the entryway.

"We miss our chef. Why do we have to lose you so soon?" one mourner wrote.

The name Le Bouchon translates into "The Cork," Poilevey said in 2013 when Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) sponsored a city council resolution congratulating Poilevey on two decades of "gustatory greatness." 

Le Bouchon was featured on a 2001 episode of WTTW-TV's "Check, Please!" The episode included President Barack Obama, a then Illinois State Senator, as a guest. Obama called the French bistro a "wonderful place to eat" and said that it really felt like walking into a little Paris cafe.

"Check, Please!" also stated in the episode that Poilevey was the first person to bring the French bistro style to Chicago.

A total of 15 cars were involved in five separate crashes that made up the huge pileup on the Eisenhower Expressway at around 12:45 a.m. Saturday.

Three other people were hurt and taken to local hospitals, although their conditions were not considered life-threatening, Manno said.

The roads were icy and wet, and that was "definitely a factor" in the crashes. The entire pileup is being reconstructed by investigators, Manno said.

Initial reports suggest Poilevey had been in a crash, and had gotten out of his car when he was struck and killed.

The Tribune reported he was returning to his home after leaving Le Bouchon for the night.

Two women who were injured were taken to Loretto Hospital and another woman was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, police said.

The crashes were caused by icy roads and weather, police said. The expressway was shut down and traffic diverted until 10:30 a.m.

In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Poilevey's "artistry in the kitchen and entrepreneurial spirit left an indelible mark on Chicago's culinary landscape."

Emanuel said he had eaten at Le Bouchon meany times and he considered himself part of his "legion of fans."

Early Sunday, Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-owner of Downtown's French Pastry School said that he's known Poilevey for 25 years and that a few of the school's graduates work at La Sardine and Le Bouchon.

"He's been an incredible inspiration for all chefs in Chicago and elsewhere and for always being true to French cuisine. He has helped a lot of young chefs in his career. He went through a lot until he opened Le Bouchon," Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer and the pastry school's other owner, Sebastien Canonne, saw Poilevey twice last week, during a 15th anniversary party for "Check, Please!" and a few days later at La Sardine, when they went there for dinner. 

"La Sardine was always one of our hangouts after work when looking for a place to eat, a nice and quiet place to go to and to feel at home. It will be different now," he said.

"We are still in shock... He was coming home from work just like he did every Saturday [when he died]," Pfeiffer said, adding that it's too soon for any plans to be set yet for honoring Poilevey.

Chef Takashi Yagihashi shared fond memories of his former Bucktown neighbor Sunday. Yagihashi’s award-winning namesake restaurant was located steps away from Le Bouchon until it closed at the end of 2014.

The two chefs bonded over the many years as neighbors. “For 7 years he would come to my restaurant at my small bar, he would show up and have a glass of wine and talk about so many different things,” Yagihashi said, adding that Poilevey was “very kind” and with a sense of humor that “would always make me laugh.”

“I opened next store to him, I was so excited. He was doing very well there, I wanted to be like him,” said Yagihashi.

On Sunday, news of Poilevey's death was being absorbed by other restaurant owners near Le Bouchon.

Steven Tsonis, owner AMK Kitchen, credited Poilevy for making the Damen and Armitage intersection a dining destination.

"Le Bouchon was a busy restaurant and in my opinion the pioneer of that evolving Bucktown intersection. They were one of the main reasons why I picked the location for AMK," said Tsonis, who opened his restaurant at 1954 W. Armitage Ave. last year.

"I did not know him too well but he was well loved in the neighborhood. It's a tragedy. Myself and everyone at AMK are wishing his family, staff and loved ones the best," Tsonis said.

Helen Mita, co-owner of Izakya Mita, another new restaurant at 1960 N. Damen Ave., next door to Le Bouchon, said that "like any good neighbor, we borrow stuff from each other" and called Poilevey and his team, "Good people."

Steve Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization, said that the neighborhood group sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jean-Claude. Jensen described Poilevey as "one-of-a-kind."

Le Bouchon's Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey rings in 20 years in Bucktown, in 2013.

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