Obituary: Raymond Thuilier

Raymond Thuilier, chef: born Chambery, Savoie 11 January 1897; died Les Baux- de-Provence 20 June 1993.

RAYMOND THUILIER was the last of the generation of great French chefs who remade French cuisine in this century. They included Edouard Nignon, Alexandre Dumaine, Andre Pic and, above all, Thuilier's friend Fernand Point, the father of the nouvelle cuisine. Thuilier and Point were born in the same year, 1897. Both chefs received the Legion d'Honneur in the early 1950s, when Point gave a dinner where, Thuilier told the American journalist Joseph Wechsberg, he 'served us a whole pheasant, with head and feathers, but the body was made of pate de faisan.'

At that time, said Wechsberg, Thuilier 'was a jovial, mustachioed Frenchman who looked as if he'd just heard some good news about himself'. In fact, it was not until 1954, a year or two later, that Thuilier got the best news of all, that he had won his third Michelin star, for what became one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world, the Oustau de Baumaniere at Les Baux-de-Provence.

Thuilier was born in Chambery, in the Savoie, where his grandparents were innkeepers. His father, who died when Raymond was three, had been a conductor on the railway, and his widow was compensated by being given the buffet de la gare at Privas, in the Ardeche, where the young Raymond watched her cook. In the First World War, Thuilier served as a sapper, but he had the good luck to be demobbed in Provence, where, in one version of the story, the light attracted him so much that he decided to stay. He was a reasonably talented painter; but he also loved and wrote poetry, and he told Wechsberg that 'it was Mistral's poetry that made me come here'.

Though his passions were artistic and culinary, Thuilier did not despise the world of commerce, and he became an insurance salesman. By 1941 he had sold enough insurance policies to think of opening a restaurant, and he bought a ruined farmhouse in the dead village of Les Baux, where the mineral bauxite, used in aluminium, was first found in 1822. In the 13th century, the population of Les Baux had been 3,600; in 1941 only 56 people remained in the hilltop village, built into the moonscape rocks above the bizarrely dramatic Val d'Enfer. With his partner, Mme Moscoloni (and her husband Leon), who came from Lyon, Thuilier restored the farmhouse during the years of occupation, when both labour and materials were in short supply, finally opening in 1946. There were Renaissance tiles on the floor, and the chairs in the vaulted dining-room were covered with Gobelin tapestry. Within two years he had his first Michelin star.

Many people will remember the handsome, dark-haired Mme Moscoloni because she was always 'front of house' at Baumaniere, and because her half share in the business was a source of complication and gossip. The business is now run by Jean-Andre Charial, Thuilier's grandson by his adopted daughter Jeanne; he bought out Mme Moscoloni's interest when she died three years ago.

The grandson, born in 1945, was not brought up to be a cook. Indeed he read economics at the Haute Ecole de Commerce, France's elite business school. In the late 1970s Charial decided to join his grandfather in the kitchen, and was not always given an easy time by the old man. The problem of inheritance loomed large, as there was not only Mme Moscolni, but Charial's two brothers, one a doctor, the other a chemist.

When Charial formally took over the restaurant in 1990, Michelin removed the third star, as they always do when there is a change in management - though as Charial had actually done the cooking for 10 years, you might have thought they would make an exception. Still, the restaurant serves more than 40,000 meals a year; and Baumaniere with its 13 suites and 11 rooms, and the Cabro d'Or down the road with its own dining-room and 22 rooms, are a sizeable holding. In addition, Charial had cloned some aspects of Baumaniere in London, at the Auberge de Provence restaurant in the St James's Court Hotel, where he has been consultant chef for some years.

The Balzacian complexity of the inheritance and Thuilier's relationship with his grandson did not escape comment. However, though it is not generally known, two years ago the problem was resolved when Thuilier finally revealed that Charial's mother Jeanne, whose own mother had died when she was six, was in fact Thuilier's natural daughter.

Raymond Thuilier was the saviour of Les Baux. He restored the town to life, made it a tourist attraction, and was, naturally enough, its mayor. He did it against great odds - indeed, when he decided to undertake this mammoth task, he was cautioned that it was not prudent by his friend, then Commissaire de Tourisme, Georges Pompidou. Thuilier was fascinated by politics; he believed in la gloire of France, and he followed his belief in a strong central government in the running of his own kitchen. He also knew the publicity value of visits by politicians and heads of state to Baumaniere.

As a cook, Raymond Thuilier was firmly of the school of Point: a completely clean kitchen and fine, fresh ingredients every day, from identifiable and dependable sources. Apart from these basic tenets, he had no truck with the nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s and 1980s. A dinner he gave to the Queen in 1972, for example, consisted of a sea bass en croute with a prawn sauce and a simple but noble baron of lamb from Sisteron. I was touched, when looking at the menu, to see that Thuilier and his grandson Jean-Andre, on our last visit to Baumaniere in 1986, gave Jane Grigson and me a dish from the Queen's dinner of petits pois frais du jardin from his own garden - a separate course, simply prepared, and, I now realise, a great honour.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick