François Dionot, founder of a renowned culinary school, died at 78

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François Dionot, a French-born chef who elevated the culinary scene in Washington and beyond as founder of L’Académie de Cuisine, a local cooking school that became a renowned training ground for professional chefs and foodies amateurs, died September 16 at his home in Gainesville, Virginia. He was 78 years old.

The cause was liver disease, said his daughter, Clarice Gutman.

Mr. Dionot opened L’Académie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Md., in 1976, catering primarily to home cooks, with an inaugural lesson on making shrimp dumplings, Niçoise salad and a tart. berries.

French cuisine, popularized in previous years by Julia Child, proved an attractive business opportunity, and Mr. Dionot gradually attracted increasing numbers of students with his approachable approach and expert technique.

Over the years, his amateur students included lawyers, nuclear engineers and surgeons. One student told the Washington Post that she and her husband attended classes “the way some people go to the symphony or the opera.”

Over time, Mr. Dionot expanded his operations with an accredited professional cooking program in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which has become one of the top courses of its type in the United States. Among his instructors was White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier.

Alumni included Carla Hall of TV’s “The Chew” and “Top Chef,” as well as celebrity Washington chefs Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple & Pearls, Nicholas Stefanelli of Masseria and Katsuya Fukushima of Daikaya. Other graduates continued their careers at 1789, the Willard Hotel and the Kinkead Brewery.

In total, tens of thousands of students passed through the Cooking Academy before it closed in 2017 – a victim, The Post reported at the time, of low enrollment and deteriorating finances.

The Cuisine Academy was widely considered to have contributed to the blossoming of Washington’s culinary landscape, helping to transform the capital from a gastronomic backwater into a destination for more sophisticated culinary experiences.

Whether a student is training to become a professional chef or a more cultured home cook, Mr. Dionot emphasized the “four Ps”: purchasing, preparation, presentation and palate. He trained his students to purchase the appropriate ingredients, slice and saute them with expert skill, and deliver the dishes to the table in a manner as pleasing to the eye as it was to the tongue. It required precision even when it came to fixing the aprons.

In all his years teaching French cooking, Mr. Dionot said he has never repeated a menu. During his last regular class, he supervised students in the preparation of sautéed scallops with Belgian endives, roast chicken with potato gratin and the traditional Christmas dessert called bue de Noël.

“They were divine,” food writer Carole Sugarman wrote in the Montgomery County publication MoCo360.

François Marie Jacques Dionot was born in Reims, in northeastern France, on January 23, 1945. His father was an engineer. His mother, a secretary, and his grandmother were both excellent cooks.

“I loved watching [them] in the kitchen,” Mr. Dionot told the Post. “But that was their domain. Men were not allowed.

Mr. Dionot lived briefly with his family in Algeria during the former French colony’s war for independence. He studied in Germany before moving to Switzerland at age 18 to pursue culinary training at what was then the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne.

In 1968, Mr. Dionot moved to the United States, working in restaurants and hotels in New York and New Jersey before opening L’Académie de Cuisine with a partner. He lived for many years in North Potomac, Maryland, and moved to Gainesville last year.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, the former Patrice Waldron of Gainesville; three children, Christophe Dionot of Silver Spring, Maryland, Clarice Gutman of Clifton, Virginia, and Laurent Dionot of Mount Laurel, NJ; three brothers; and six grandchildren.

Despite all the rigor of his classes, Mr. Dionot taught his students that they would know that they had truly become cooks when they no longer felt obliged to constantly refer to a recipe.

“Read the recipe two or three times to understand it,” he advised them. “Then put it in a drawer and cook.” That’s cooking.

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