Paul Bocuse

Culinary Legend

The passing of esteemed French culinary master Paul Bocuse has left a palpable void in the world of haute cuisine.

Born in February 1926 in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, Bocuse is a student of Eug√©nie Brazier and one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine movement. Bocuse came from a family of chefs, a line stretching back as far as seven generations.

Nouvelle cuisine, as opposed to cuisine classique, emphasizes fresh ingredients and eschews the heavy sauces often found in traditional French preparations. His restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1958 in spite of its low-budget decor and stainless steel cutlery. The restaurant’s excellence was again recognized in 1960 with the award of another Michelin star. In 1966 he earned his third Michelin star and bought back the family restaurant that his grandfather had sold in 1921 due to the family’s dire financial circumstances at the time. Not bad for a chef known for forgoing traditional methods in favor of something new called nouvelle cuisine.

In fact, Bocuse attributes the term to Henri Gault who fashioned the phrase nouvelle cuisine to describe the food prepared for the maiden flight of the Concorde.

Bocuse’s legacy not only lives on in his contributions to the development of French cuisine, but also in his many students, one of which includes the first chef of a German restaurant to receive 3 Michelin stars, Austrian EckartWitzigmann. The New York Times calls Paul Bocuse one of the most significant French chefs of the postwar era, and his legacy attests to this hallowed status.

He and other young chefs working in France in the 1960s found support for their new approach to French cuisine from none other than Henri Gault and Christian Millau, the eponymous publishers of the hugely influential Gault-Millau Guide.

Trained by a master of French cuisine, Bocuse’s emphasis on fresh ingredients with light sauces and novel combinations and tastes was born out of the chef’s thorough understanding of classical techniques. For example, Bocuse has stuffed sea bass with lobster mousse and adorned it with pastry scales. He has also poached a truffledBresse chicken inside of a pig’s bladder, according to the New York Times.

He grew to such prominence that an apprenticeship with him was a must-have for any emerging star on the French cooking scene. Even though he is often associated with nouvelle cuisine, later in life Bocuse was quick to place some distance between himself and the concept, seeing it as having gone beyond food and focusing more on aesthetic and minimalism or what he called ‚Äúmini dishes on maxi plates.‚ÄĚ And even though nouvelle cuisine had its day in the sun, Bocuse‚Äôs star did not fade with its wane in popularity.

In fact, a string of partnerships with Disney and other French chefs kept him in the limelight and at the top of his game. Organizers of the Eurexpo – a cooking trade fair in Lyon – approached him for ideas to promote the event and his suggestion of a cooking contest led to that selfsame contest that bears his name.

The Bocuse d’Or (the Concoursmondial de la cuisine, World Cooking Contest) was founded in 1987 and named for Chef Bocuse. Since its founding it has gone on to become one of the world‚Äôs premier cooking competitions and takes place annually in Bocuse‚Äôs home of Lyon, France.

The competition is considered by many to be second only to the International Exhibition of Culinary Art which takes place every four years much like the Olympics.

Bocuse himself has received numerous awards, among them France‚Äôs supreme civilian honor of the medal of Commandeur de la L√©giond’honneur.

One of his most famous dishes is named after former French president Val√©ry Giscard d’Estaing with the name Soupe V.G.E. bearing his initials. According to the New York Times, the soup is a mixture of chicken broth, truffles, and foiegras covered in puff pastry and served in single serving bowl. The soup was served at √Člys√©e Palace in 1975 and named after the president to commemorate Bocuse‚Äôs reception of the L√©giond’honneur award.

Bocuse‚Äôs main restaurant in Lyon, l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, is a high-end luxury restaurant that has remained in service for decades and is one of only 27 restaurants in France to receive a 3 star Michelin rating in 2017. He also owned a number of brasseries in Lyon, called Le Nord, l’Est, Le Sud and l’Ouest respectively. Named for the cardinal directions, each restaurant featured a different geographic region of France and its specialities.

Due to his many contributions to French cuisine, Bocuse was considered its unofficial ambassador. The master chef received the title MeilleurOuvrier de France in 1961. An apprentice of Ferdinand Point who was himself a master of classical French cooking, Bocuse dedicated his first book to the late chef.

This ambassadorship is more than just a name. Bocuse’s entrepreneurial spirit has inspired such French greats as Jacques Pepin. When he suggested expanding the boundaries of French cuisine outside of France, Bocuse was considered a revolutionary presence. When he dedicated his life to exporting this sentiment, people knew he was a revolutionary in spirit.

In 2004 the pioneering chef established the Institut Paul Bocuse Worldwide Alliance which brought together students from 14 countries for a cooking course in Lyon, France as recently as 2014.

Author of four cooking books, the latest in 2011, Paul Bocuse has left the cooking world with a priceless written record of the dishes and techniques he employed during his career. His biography ‚ÄúPaul Bocuse: The Sacred Fire‚ÄĚ was published in 2005 and caused quite a stir when it revealed heretofore unknown details about the chef‚Äôs personal life.

After a struggle with Parkinson‚Äôs disease, Paul Bocuse died at age 91 on 20 January 2018 in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or in the same room in his restaurant L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges that he was born in back in 1926. His contributions to the culinary world will live on not only in his books, restaurants, and competition, but also in his pioneering spirit.

By Anne Miller

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