NEW YORK - Christian "Hitsch" Albin, 61, who fed the world's luminaries for decades as executive chef of the Four Seasons - a restaurant that invented the "power lunch" - died at New York University Medical Center on Saturday, five days after being found to have cancer.
The Swiss-born chef's hearty laughter filled the ritzy Manhattan restaurant's kitchen for 36 years, as the kitchen served guests from Jacqueline Onassis and Elton John to President Clinton, Princess Diana, and Martha Stewart.
"He was our hero, the man we always turned to when we knew we had to achieve the impossible," said a statement released by the 50-year-old restaurant's managing partners, Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder.
The "impossible" at times meant wealthy, demanding guests "who would ask for everything you can possibly imagine!" Mr. Albin joked recently. "Like an English muffin with an egg on top for dinner."
He sent a waiter out to buy muffins, and the special request was served alongside fancier fare such as filet of buffalo with truffle sauce.
Mr. Albin put in 14-hour days at the restaurant off Park Avenue. With him in the kitchen, the Four Seasons won a James Beard Award, equivalent to a culinary Oscar.
The storied dining room has played host to the Dalai Lama, Madonna, and Mary J. Blige, a networking mecca of money, clout, good looks, even global spirituality. The Four Seasons is an international publicity machine and, despite its age, still a place to be seen.
But its chef had not been feeling right lately. Mr. Albin finally went to the doctor last Monday, when he was given his diagnosis.
He lived in Palisades, north of New York City.
Raised in a Swiss village near the town of Flims, he trained in Switzerland before moving to the United States in the early 1970s.
It was a time when New York was expanding the concept of fine dining from standard steak-and-lobster restaurants to food created by "a culinary Rip van Winkle, reawakening what was once too-familiar fare with subtle but surprisingly adventurous new flavors," New York Magazine once said of Mr. Albin.
But fame never interested him. Instead, he enjoyed feeding hungry deliverymen and workers who came his way.
"He was always an old-school chef - a strong, compassionate manager who treated everyone fairly while demanding the best from his cooks," said the statement from Niccolini and von Bidder.