One of the greatest figures of French gastronomy
Paul Bocuse, one of the greatest French chefs of all time, died yesterday aged 91 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Dubbed the “pope” of French cuisine, Bocuse helped shake up the food world in the 1970s with the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution and create the idea of the celebrity chef. French President Emmanuel Macron led the tributes, calling him a “mythic figure who transformed French cuisine. Chefs are crying in their kitchens across France.”
“He was one of the greatest figures of French gastronomy, the General Charles de Gaulle of cuisine,” said French food critic Francois Simon, comparing him to France’s wartime savior and dominant postwar leader. A giant in a nation that prides itself as the beating heart of gastronomy, Bocuse was France’s only chef to keep the Michelin food bible’s coveted three-star rating through more than four decades.
The heart of his empire, L’Auberge de Collonges au Mont D’Or, his father’s village inn near Lyon in food-obsessed southeastern France, earned three stars in 1965, and never lost a single one. “Monsieur Paul,” as he was known, was named “chef of the century” by Michelin’s rival guide, the Gault-Millau in 1989, and again by The Culinary Institute of America in 2011.” A great upholder of tradition as well as an innovator, several of his trademark dishes at the Auberge remained unchanged for decades including the black truffle soup he created for French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1975, who named him a commander of the Legion of Honor.
Lover of food
Born into a family of cooks since 1765, Bocuse began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 and came to epitomize a certain type of French epicurean-a lover of fine wine, food and women. He slept in the same room where he was born, and managed to maintain a relationship with his wife Raymonde and at least two lovers. “I love women and we live too long these days to spend one’s entire life with just one,” Bocuse told the Daily Telegraph in 2005.
Polygamy was part of his huge appetite for life, he insisted. Married to Raymonde since 1946, he also shared his life with Raymone — with whom he had a son-and Patricia, who looked after his image for the last 40 years. With the Gault-Millau guide, Bocuse became a driving force behind the Nouvelle Cuisine in the 1970s, sweeping away the rich and heavy sauces of yesteryear in favor of super-fresh ingredients and sleek aesthetics.
The term was invented by Gault-Millau to describe food Bocuse helped prepare for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969. Slashing cooking times, paring down menus and paying new attention to health, Nouvelle Cuisine was a craze that fizzled out but left a lasting legacy. Personally, Bocuse preferred to eat more hearty traditional fare. “I love butter, cream and wine,” he said, “not little peas cut into four.”
And he drew the line at some of Nouvelle Cuisine’s excesses, shunning its extreme minimalism. Even so, the movement’s insistence on the freshest of ingredients and the introduction of technology into the kitchen helped pave the way for the “chemistry set cuisine” which now dominates fine dining. “It was a real revolution,” said Simon. “They coined a concept that came at exactly the right moment-at a time when gastronomy was a bit dull and heavy and not sexy at all.” “Bocuse is respected for the fact he kept things in proportion,” said France-based critic Rosa Jackson.
“Good cooking for me is when you lift up the lid and it smells delicious, and you reach for a second helping,” Bocuse wrote a few years before his illness struck. His status as the giant of haute cuisine owed as much to his showmanship and pioneering business sense as it did to his culinary genius.
“His cuisine was built around the classic French repertoire,” said Simon. “But people came for the emotion, for his banter, his personality, his sense of humor.” “He wasn’t a pain in the arse-unlike some who reckon they are great chefs. And he always played the part, greeting people with a smile. “And he taught his colleagues how to get people talking about you,” paving the way for today’s celebrity chefs, Simon said. “Chefs had a completely ridiculous image back then,” he said. “The cook was seen as a simpleton slaving away backstage in a greasy kitchen, who would emerge at midnight smelling of fish.”
In 1965, Bocuse left his kitchen for Japan, the first of many trips to promote French culinary know-how around the world. “He’s been hugely influential. He trained a lot of chefs, including from Japan,” said Jackson. From his travels he picked up a flair for marketing, going on to launch an international range of Bocuse branded products and a successful chain of open-plan brasseries, setting up catering schools and competitions. He also gave his name to the world’s top international cookery competition, the annual “Bocuse d’Or”. In 2007, more than 80 top chefs flew to France from around the world to celebrate his 81st birthday and his legacy. – AFP