Paul Bocuse dies: Top French chef with three Michelin stars dies aged 91

French President Emmanuel Macron said French gastronomy had ‘lost a mythical figure’

Alina Polianskaya
Saturday 20 January 2018 20:19
The celebrated chef popularised the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ movement
The celebrated chef popularised the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ movement

Paul Bocuse, a highly celebrated French chef who helped redefine the country’s cuisine, has died aged 91.

The pioneering chef, who is often referred to as he “pope of French cuisine”, died in the town of Collonges-au-Mont-d’or where he was born and where he ran his main luxury restaurant, which has three Michelin stars.

“Much more than a father and husband, he is a man of heart, a spiritual father, an emblematic figure of world gastronomy and a French flagship who is gone,” said a statement from his wife and children.

“Paul loved life, sharing, transmitting his knowledge and his team. These same values will continue to inspire us forever,” they said.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the tributes to the culinary star, who is credited with helping chefs rise to celebrity status.

“French gastronomy loses a mythical figure ... The chefs cry in their kitchens, at the Elysée [Palace] and everywhere in France,” Mr Macron said.

Interior minister Gerard Collomb tweeted that “Mister Paul was France. Simplicity and generosity. Excellence and art de vivre.”

Born into a family of cooks that dates to the 1700s, Bocuse presided over the kitchen of his world-famous red and green restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, and often greeted guests even in retirement. His renowned dining spot, which features a painting of the master chef himself on a wall, based just outside the Lyon in south-eastern France, has held three Michelin stars continually since 1965.

In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, Bocuse said he slept in the room where he was born, above the dining rooms. “But I changed the sheets,” he added with characteristic wry humour.

Born on 11 February 1926, Bocuse entered his first apprenticeship at 16. He worked at the famed La Mère Brazier in Lyon, then spent eight years with one of his culinary idols, Fernand Point, whose cooking was a precursor to France’s nouvelle cuisine movement, with lighter sauces and lightly cooked fresh vegetables.

His career in the kitchen dates back to the years when stoves were coal-fired and chefs also served as scullery maids.

“There was rigour,” Bocuse told AP. “You had to wake up early and milk the cows, feed the pigs, do the laundry and was a very tough school of hard knocks. Today, the profession has changed enormously. There’s no more coal. You push a button and you have heat."

While his restaurant was traditional serving quintessentially French food, his personal life was somewhat unorthodox and he admitted in a 2005 biography to sharing his life with three women at the same time.

Bocuse, whose signature dishes included truffle soup and fricassée of Bresse chicken, gained many awards and accolades throughout his life. He was named “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in 1961, Cook of the Century by Gault et Millau in 1989 and Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America guidebook in 2011.

During the Second World War he worked in the First Division of the Free French Forces and was wounded and cared for at a US field hospital. He later opened two brasseries in Lyon in 1995 and 1997, as well as restaurants in the south of France, Geneva and Japan, among other places.

He was passionate about passing on his love of cooking to the next generation, and launched a competition and highly coveted award for aspirational chefs – the Bocuse d’Or.

Bocuse underwent a triple heart bypass in 2005 and had also been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by his wife Raymonde, their daughter Francoise and a son, Jerome.

Additional reporting Associated Press

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