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Four Seasons Head Chef, Christian Albin, Dies at 61

June 14, 2009, by AP's Christian Albin: The executive chef of the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan who succeeded the renowned Seppi Renggli in 1990, died on Saturday at a Manhattan hospital. He was 61 and lived in Rockland County, N.Y.

The cause was cancer, and he had received a diagnosis only last week, according to a statement from the owners of the restaurant, Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder.

Just a month ago, with Mr. Niccolini and Mr. von Bidder the center of attention at the 50th anniversary celebration of the restaurant, Mr. Albin was out of the spotlight but very much in charge of the meal. That day, he had also prepared a lunch for a high-profile customer, the Dalai Lama.

Mr. Albin, unlike many well-known chefs today, never sought fame, Mr. von Bidder and Mr. Niccolini said in the statement. “Publicity was never his goal,” the statement said. “He was always an old-school chef who preferred to be the rock — rather than the rock star — upon which the Four Seasons Restaurant relied.”

The restaurant’s rating, however, which had previously been three stars in The New York Times, was lowered to two stars in a review two years ago by Frank Bruni, now the paper’s restaurant critic. Mr. Bruni wrote that the kitchen, under the stewardship of Mr. Albin, “may well have drifted,” but he praised the roasted duck, the rack of lamb and the “stubborn magic” of the place.

Ruth Reichl, a former restaurant critic for The Times, who had given the restaurant three stars, wrote in her 1995 review that she had eaten a “perfect” lunch of iced Olympia oysters, peppered buffalo steak, a dense lemon tart and a bracing espresso. Yet, she concluded, “the truth is that food is not the point here.”

In fact, while the restaurant became synonymous with the power lunch, Mr. Albin received little attention even when the focus was on the Four Seasons’ dishes and not its clients. In 2000, New York magazine offered a note of praise, saying that Mr. Albin had “emerged as a culinary Rip van Winkle, reawakening what was once too-familiar fare with subtle but surprisingly adventurous new flavors and often marvelous pairings.”

Mr. Albin was born on Sept. 21, 1947, in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland.

After training in Europe, he came to New York to help open the Swiss Pavilion. He served as chef de cuisine at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, and cooked at Tavern on the Green, before joining the Four Seasons in 1973. He became executive chef in 1990, creating local, seasonal dishes before it became fashionable.

He is survived by his wife, Johanna; a daughter, Stephanie; a son, Christopher; two granddaughters; and six siblings in Switzerland and Germany. 
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