Fritz Blank, owner and executive chef of the legendary Deux Cheminées restaurant in Center City, died Tuesday, Sept. 9, in Thailand. Records and reports indicated he was in his early to mid-70s.
Mr. Blank, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died in Bang Saray, said Lynne Farrington, rare-book curator at the University of Pennsylvania, to which Mr. Blank donated thousands of cookbooks and other culinary-related material.
Born and raised in South Jersey, Mr. Blank had a science career that started in agriculture and led to his becoming chief microbiologist at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
Then, in 1979, he decided to open a French restaurant.
Deux Cheminées debuted on South Camac Street, but that location was destroyed by a fire in 1987. The restaurant reopened on Locust Street in two adjoining townhouses designed by Frank Furness.
Then-Inquirer columnist Rick Nichols wrote of "Chef Fritz" in 2007 that "his polymathic interests, culinary memory, and spirit of intellectual adventure are irresistible: One moment he deconstructs the duck-liver paté we're tasting. . . . The next, he holds forth on the distinctions between workaday caraway seed and charnuska, its black Russian cousin, typically used in flavoring Armenian string cheese."
He was born Frederick Carl Blank Jr., according to a recently published book, Chef Fritz and His City: My Education in the Master's Kitchen by Samuel Young.
He grew up in Pennsauken, where he once worked as a soda jerk at the Crescent Pharmacy.
Mr. Blank was self-taught in French cooking, said Patricia Arcaro, a longtime close friend.
Growing up, he learned the ways of the kitchen from his German grandmother, Arcaro said.
"His grandmother is the one who gave him the cooking gene," Arcaro said. "He talked about her all the time."
Mr. Blank earned degrees in dairy husbandry, dairy science, medical technology, and clinical microbiology. He was a contributor to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in England and the International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy in Italy.
Mr. Blank closed Deux Cheminées in 2007 and retired to Thailand. The building in which Chef Fritz once added Johnnie Walker Red to his crab soup Marguerite and served vinegar-raspberry-sauced calf's liver is now the home of Vedge, a vegan restaurant.
He donated his massive collection of cookbooks and other material to the University of Pennsylvania in 2002 and 2007, Farrington said.
"He was wonderful. We're all going to miss him," Farrington said, "but his legacy lives on in the collections - and that's wonderful."
Farrington said Mr. Blank's remains would be cremated. Arrangements for a memorial service in Philadelphia were pending.