Jacqueline Rodier, who died in November at Johns Hopkins Hospital after surgery for liver disease, won’t soon be forgotten. “She was stunning, she was French, she was impeccably dressed, she was commanding, and she just disarmed people,” says Jeff Buben, owner of Vidalia and Bistro Bis. “She had an incredible charm and allure.”
Rodier once was the grande dame of Washington dining. She was hostess at L’Auberge Chez François when it was on DC’s Connecticut Avenue. In 1966, she opened her own place, Jacqueline’s, on Pennsylvania Avenue before moving to M Street, in the space that now belongs to Vidalia.
Rodier was elegant, with high cheekbones and a grand, almost imperious manner that let you know you were in the presence of someone formidable. She was a pioneer, too—a single mother who ran one of the city’s most successful restaurants.
“There was nobody like her in the city, or in the country,” says Buben, who worked as an interim sous chef at Jacqueline’s. “You had Alice Waters, okay. But I don’t know of any other woman who did what Jacqueline did—a French woman who broke from that whole French parochial idea of who runs a restaurant. And she was doing it 20 years before it became hip.”
Even in her seventies, Rodier’s charms weren’t diminished.
“The last time I saw her, she was here in the restaurant,” recalls Robert Wiedmaier, chef and proprietor of Marcel’s. “George Clooney and I were sitting with her, drinking and smoking cigars. Jacqueline loved cigars. And she loved Cognac. I turned to her and said, ‘If this were 30 years ago, you’d be mine.’ And Clooney says, ‘No, Robert, she’d be mine.’ And writes it down on a napkin: to Jacqueline, you would be mine, not Robert’s.”