Gilbert (“Gilles”) Lagourgue
February 1950 ~ December 2017
(Written by Gilles’s older brother, Sauveur, for the church of Hélette, Basque France, for a service on December 30, 2017).
Born Hélette, Bitirinia, Euskal Herria (Basque, France) February 1950 – Died Genoa, Nevada, December 2017.
Bithiniko Gilbert, you who thought to make our old house Bithinia into a bed and breakfast, so that the house would not be abandoned: I reassure you the house has been renovated and inhabited by extraordinary people, and if our house had been this comfortable when we grew up in it, Ama (mother) would never have had a cold.
In 1962 Aita (father) bought near the square the small Idiontzahareta meadow to build the Alegera house. We would have running water, but father had to negotiate with seven owners for permission to connect to the water tower, which belonged to them; in return we had do the repairs and maintain the tank for free. One day Aita said that you should help us work on the tower: sand, molten cement, two ladders, and two ropes. You had so much trouble with them that Aita decided that you could not be a mason: you would be a cook. You wanted to be a teacher like your friend Odette, but that was not your destiny.
At age 14 you became the house apprentice cook in Bayonne at the flowered inn, with Léon Chichar and Pécoitz; then a year later you finished your apprenticeship at Mr. Bouquet. You graduated from the cooking program for Certificat d’Aptitudes Professionelles (CAP); Aita was very proud of you. Aita found you work at the Ascarrat restaurant, and you stayed there until you went into Army service in Germany.
After your military service your journey became enormous. First you worked in Paris at the Plaza, at Georges 5, and at Francis. You were happy in Paris, because you could visit many cousins, who had left the Basque Country to make a living in Paris. After Paris you went to work in England and Canada, but these places were too cold for you, so you moved to Guadeloupe. Then you made the big jump to the United States.
In Los Angeles you met Brigitte, from France, who was also looking for work. To get by, you both did some acting, scrubbed flours, pumped gas, and cleaned house for a German banker. But one evening you prepared pipérade for the banker, who then asked you to make this dish whenever he received guests.
Thanks to the pipérade your life changed; the banker had connections. You were hired in Hollywood at the upscale restaurant L’Orangerie, owned by Jacques Brialy and Gérad and Virginie Ferry, who became your friends. You quickly moved up to the top— you got the “Oscar” for the best restaurant manager of California.
In this restaurant you met a lot of well-known people who became friends: Ronald Reagan; Claude Chirac; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Peter Falk; Elizabeth Taylor; Linda Gray; Elton John; Charles Aznavour and his daughter, Line Renault; Patrick Juvet; Johnny Hallyday; Sylvie Vartan and her son, David; Stephanie of Monaco; and many more.
One day Pampili Aguereko Apeza, prefect of the Basque Country, and Léonie Laukradokoa visited L’Orangerie restaurant to see you. They had heard that a young local person was at the head of a great restaurant, and Los Angeles was talking about it. You were so surprised to see Leonie, who had been our babysitter in our old house, Bithinia!
After a few more years in California, you moved to Nevada, in the mountains at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, and opened La Ferme restaurant. After 5 years there you moved to Genoa, NV, and purchased the old Pink House restaurant to establish the new La Ferme. Many customers came from near and far away to visit your restaurant—including from Los Angeles and Europe; even old school friends came from the home country. This was your life— including the animals in your little farm “zoo” and a twice-a-month trip to see your Los Angeles buddies and shop for jewelry and handcrafted items to sell at your small Gilles’ Menagerie and Boutique, in the old bunkhouse next to the restaurant.
After about 20 successful years in Genoa, you fell ill with cancer and then suffered three strokes within two years; the last was fatal. Before the end, your nieces Manou, Fabienne, and Juhane and I came to see you. I called you every Monday for years; now I feel empty. You fought for 3 years—ill, unable to walk. Recently you told me: “Soon I will leave this world, but I had a very good life.”
At your request: half your ashes will be spread at Lake Tahoe; after a Mass in Carson Valley in May I will take the rest of the ashes to deposit in the family vault, next to Aita and Ama.
Gilbert, you are missed by many. I wish you happiness and peace; help us here on earth—your mission is not over. We remember your magic phrase: “anyway.”