The French chef Paul Bocuse has died at 91. He revolutionized his country’s cuisine and started a global restaurant empire.
Paul Bocuse, the most celebrated French chef of the postwar era and a leading figure in the pathbreaking culinary movement known as nouvelle cuisine, has died, the French interior minister said on Saturday. Mr. Bocuse was 91 year old.
He emerged as the first among a brilliant band of chefs who developed a modernized version of classic French cooking in the late 1960s and early ’70s, cheered on by Henri Gault and Christian Millau, the publishers of the influential Gault-Millau Guide. Following the lead of Fernand Point, the spiritual father of nouvelle cuisine and a mentor to many of its pioneers, Mr. Bocuse shaped a style of cooking at the Auberge du Pont de Collonges, his three-star restaurant near Lyon, that stressed fresh ingredients, lighter sauces, unusual flavor combinations and relentless innovation that, in his case, rested on a solid mastery of classic technique.
His signature dishes not only pleased the palate; they also seduced the eye and piqued the imagination. He stuffed sea bass with lobster mousse and encased it in pastry scales and fins. He poached a truffled Bresse chicken inside a pig’s bladder.
His most famous dish was truffle soup V.G.E, a heady mixture of truffles and foie gras in chicken broth, baked in a single-serving bowl covered in puff pastry. First served at a dinner at the Élysée Palace in 1975, the soup was named for the French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who had just awarded Mr. Bocuse the French Legion of Honor.
Paul Bocuse, a tireless self-promoter, was a constant presence in the news media and on television. “You’ve got to beat the drum in life,” he told People magazine in 1976. “God is already famous, but that doesn’t stop the preacher from ringing the church bells every morning.”
He parlayed celebrity into a restaurant empire that extended beyond France to embrace the United States and Japan, and in so doing he became a role model for the chef-entrepreneurs of the present day, like Jacques Pépin.
“Certainly he did more than any other chef in the world that I can think of to bring the chefs in the dining room and to make the profession respectable and to make us who we are now,” Mr. Pépin said in 2011, when Mr. Bocuse was named “chef of the century” by the Culinary Institute of America. “Now the chefs are stars and it’s because of Paul Bocuse. We are indebted to him for them.”
Paul Bocuse was born on Feb. 11, 1926, in Collonges-au-Mont-d’O, where his forbears had been cooking and serving food for seven generations. At the age of eight he made his first serious dish, veal kidneys with puréed potatoes, and as a teenager he began an apprenticeship at a local restaurant. The training was interrupted by World War II, however, when he was assigned to a Vichy government youth camp and put to work in its canteen and slaughterhouse. In 1944 he joined the 1st Free French Division and was wounded in combat in Alsace. He received the Croix de Guerre.
After the war he resumed his apprenticeship at the restaurant, La Mère Brazier in Le Col de la Luère, outside Lyon. Like its twin in Lyon, it was owned by the legendary Eugénie Brazier and had achieved three Michelin stars by serving impeccable renditions of regional classics.
After a brief stint at the three-star Lucas Carton in Paris, where he worked alongside the brothers Pierre and Jean Troisgros, Mr. Paul Bocuse spent eight years under Point at La Pyramide in Vienne, near Lyon. “Back then a lot of restaurants were doing the same kind of old-fashioned Escoffier-style cooking, with lots of sauces hiding the ingredients, and the same dishes night after night,” Mr. Bocuse told The New York Times in 2007. “Point was a perfectionist who gave value and credibility to the finest ingredients.”
In 1956, Mr. Bocuse returned to the family restaurant, the Auberge du Pont de Collonges, which earned its first Michelin star two years later. Despite the paper tablecloths and stainless-steel cutlery, a second star was awarded in 1960.
In 1966, a year after the restaurant earned its third star, Mr. Bocuse bought back the old family restaurant that his grandfather, in straitened circumstances, had sold in 1921 along with the rights to the Bocuse name. He renamed the building, which once belonged to an order of monks, the Abbaye de Collonges and converted it into a banquet hall. He also hoisted a four-foot neon “Paul Bocuse” sign atop his restaurant.
The groundswell for nouvelle cuisine transformed Mr. Bocuse into the international face of French cooking. He appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 1972. In 1975, resplendent in chef whites and toque, he looked out from the cover of Newsweek under the banner headline, “Food: The New Wave.” An apprenticeship at his restaurant became a rite of passage for ambitious chefs, including Jean Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud.
In time, as a backlash against nouvelle cuisine developed, Mr. Bocuse put some distance between himself and the movement. He referred snidely to “mini-portions on maxi-plates” and at one point dismissed the movement as “a joke.”
“It is not true that Paul Bocuse invented Nouvelle Cuisine,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2011. “There were a few dishes that were developed lighter, but that is normal in cooking. The term Nouvelle Cuisine as it came to be known was nothing to do with what was on the plate, but what was on the bill.”
Information and Images are shared from an article by William Grimes, published in The New York Times on January 20, 2018. Images Credit: Jeff Pachoud / AFP Agence France Presse — Getty Images.