George Germon, who co-created with his wife Johanne Killeen the landmark Providence restaurant Al Forno, died Tuesday, following an illness.
In 1980, The couple launched the first incarnation of their restaurant in a 30-seat location on Steeple Street, where New Rivers is now located. According to a 2000 profile in the Providence Phoenix, "The name Al Forno, Italian for 'from the oven,' referred not just to an inspirational mode but the fact that their sole cooking equipment consisted of two ovens. Ploughing one day's receipts into the next day's provisions, the couple eked out a living on the way to building a devoted following and winning plaudits from the International Herald Tribune as the best casual restaurant in the world."
After starting on Steeple Street, Al Forno later moved to its current location on South Main Street, where it continues to draw crowds.
Germon is credited with the creation of grilled pizza -- one of the signature dishes at Al Forno.
"George Germon was a quiet genius," says a longtime friend, Pot au Feu owner Bob Burke. "He was a person who completely changed cooking not just in Providence, but all across the nation. He took cooking back to roots that people had long since forgotten. And the idea that someone would return to cooking over fire, where it all began, he perfected something that had been done for millions of years."
Germon grew up in White Plains, New York. He got to know Killeen better when he was teaching in Italy for the Rhode Island School of Design, and she had gone there to study photography.
Burke recalls Germon as someone with an amazing eye for design. In one case, Germon created a piece of aluminum gutter and filled it with black concrete, laughing when Burke applauded what he thought was a beautiful piece of stone molding. Burke said Germon mentored many young people at Al Forno and aided others in the restaurant business.
"I will remember George for having changed not only an industry, a business, but for having changed a whole city," Burke said. "If George and Johanne had not brought the attention to their restaurant that they did so many years ago, the culinary world would not have taken note of many, many of the other achievements that were happening here in Providence. They were the spark, and they made Providence the culinary landmark city that it was."
This post has been updated.