"Chef Richard Cottance (1957-2007)
For those close to the popular, gifted and rapaciously omnivorous Chef Richard Cottance, his fatal heart attack on Feb. 26 came as a shock, if hardly a surprise. For one who believed he’d be lucky to live to 50 (he just made it), Cottance packed in at least a century in normal human years and damned the consequences.
Beginning his restaurant career in Britain and France, English-born Cottance moved to Boston in the early 1980s, having met his American wife-to-be, Nona, while working as a tour operator. Moving to Indianapolis a few years later, he quickly found employment as a sous-chef under Tony Hanslits at the recently-opened Peter’s. In 1989, Cottance moved to the brand new Westin Hotel, during which time he contracted a rare and usually deadly bacterial infection, which resulted in the untimely, but lifesaving, removal of both legs at the knee.
It was perhaps this intimate brush with death that would fuel his subsequent insatiable appetite for all that life had to offer. His daily diet of food, drink, drugs (legal and otherwise) would become legendary throughout the business.
Undaunted by his amputations, in 1992 Cottance and his wife opened the tiny Panache restaurant just off Main Street in Zionsville. Successful from the outset (consistently five stars in this publication), it attracted gastronomes from all parts, and enjoyed a substantial cult following. Eventually, however, there simply wasn’t the critical mass of customers to keep the place in business. After seven years, Panache was eventually lured to Carmel, where the restaurant endured a patchy year of business before succumbing to financial woes.
By January of this year, his health was questionable, his lack of mobility leading to heart problems, which were not fully recognized until it was too late. Still optimistic, Cottance spoke up to the end of “one more restaurant,” although whether this was for his own encouragement or that of others is hard to judge.
Richard Cottance lived life on his own terms and in his own way. He damned nearly left it that way, too.
Former NUVO cuisine editor Neil Charles works in the wine business in the Chicago area.