Thursday 27 June 2019

Obituary: Paul Bocuse

Colossus of French cooking was a larger-than-life character who believed that food and sex had much in common

CELEBRITY CHEF: Paul Bocuse rose to fame in the 1970s as a proponent of nouvelle cuisine. Photo: AP
CELEBRITY CHEF: Paul Bocuse rose to fame in the 1970s as a proponent of nouvelle cuisine. Photo: AP newdesk

Paul Bocuse, who has died aged 91, was the best-known name in French cuisine since Escoffier and a man who did more than anyone else to turn the three-star Michelin chef into a celebrity.

From his home town of Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, near Lyon, Bocuse developed a huge gastronomic industry, of which his own restaurant at the L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges "Paul Bocuse", which boasted an unbroken run of more than 50 years of three Michelin stars, was the pinnacle.

His commercial interests ranged from a restaurant in Florida to a cooking school in Japan, to a line of canned foods and delicatessen products. In addition he operated a chain of brasseries under licence and trained a generation of top European chefs.

While his rivals were still slaving away in hot kitchens, Bocuse was always busy courting the media. He named a famous truffle soup after the former French President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and flew round the world with 500 kilos of ingredients to demonstrate his art in America, Japan and elsewhere.

It was Bocuse who thought up the much-imitated wheeze of taking food writers to the local market, where they would never fail to marvel at the sight of the legendary chef inspecting choice produce before taking it back to the restaurant to transform it into culinary magic - a simple publicity stunt which served to endorse the myth that "real chefs" buy their food in person each morning. In fact, Bocuse never bought his own ingredients and seldom prepared them himself. When a journalist asked him who did the cooking when he was away, he replied icily: "The same people who do it when I am here."

Bocuse was prominently associated with the development of Nouvelle Cuisine, a less calorific alternative to traditional French haute cuisine, which stresses presentation and the importance of fresh ingredients of the highest quality. The term was first used in a newspaper article in 1972 and proved a brilliant publicity vehicle.

But Bocuse's attachment to the new style did not outlive media interest and he later dismissed Nouvelle Cuisine as "not enough on your plate and too much on your bill".

He returned to the more substantial tradition of French regional cuisine, in which genre he became celebrated for such delights as black truffle soup and Bresse chicken cooked in a pig's bladder.

Paul Bocuse was born on February 11, 1926 in Collonges-au-Mont-D'Or where his family had been chefs since 1765 when an ancestor, Michel Bocuse, opened a little auberge in an abandoned flour mill. In 1921 Paul's grandfather Joseph sold the family restaurant and with it the family name. Four years later Paul's father Georges married Irma Roulier whose parents were also restaurateurs in the town. Georges took over their restaurant but could not give it his own name. As a child, Paul became determined to rectify the situation.

During the early years of the war, Bocuse worked as an apprentice at Claude Maret's Restaurant de la Soierie in Lyon, but in 1944, after the Allied invasion, he enlisted in the Free French Army. Shot and badly wounded in Alsace, he recovered to take part in the victory march in Paris in 1945. After the war he continued his apprenticeship at La Mere Brasier at the Col de la Luere, then completed his training under Fernand Point at Vienne.

Returning to Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, Bocuse took over his father's restaurant and transformed it, winning his first Michelin star in 1961, his second in 1962 and his third in 1965. The same year he bought back the family name, rechristening his restaurant L'Auberge de Collonges-au- Mont-D'Or "Paul Bocuse".

In 2005 Bocuse revealed that for most of the 60 years he had been married to his wife, Raymonde, he had had two long-term mistresses (with one of whom he had a son) and a string of fleeting liaisons. The revelations about his multiple love lives appeared in a photo memoir Le feu sacre ("The Sacred Fire"), written by Eve-Marie Zizza-Lalu, the daughter of one of his long-term concubines, Patricia Zizza.

By his own admission, Bocuse's career as a serial adulterer began in earnest in the 1960s when "everyone was sleeping with each other", though he claimed to have been sexually active from the age of 13. On one occasion he recalled an encounter with an American journalist who had interviewed him for her magazine: "I told her: 'The day you put me on your cover I'll take you beneath my covers'. A few weeks later, I made the front and, true enough, kept my promise."

Of his longer-term relationships, in 2005 he admitted in an interview that "it would not be everyone's idea of married life, but everyone gets on", reckoning that, if he were to add up all the time they had been together as couples, "it comes to 145 years".

He admitted, aged 79, that advancing years and a triple heart bypass had slowed him down, although he insisted that the question was not how often a month he could make love, but how many times a day. "Food and sex have much in common," he observed. "We consummate a union; we devour each other's eyes; we hunger for one other."

Though most French people greeted the revelations with a Gallic shrug, they demonstrated that Bocuse had lost none of his talent for captivating the country's media. He was generally considered to have overreached himself in 2003, however when, following the suicide of the three-star chef Bernard Loiseau, he reportedly tried to negotiate a deal for the magazine Paris Match to photograph the top chefs attending Loiseau's funeral in Saulieu, Burgundy.

Bocuse, who died on January 20, is survived by his wife, Raymonde, and by their daughter, and by a son by his long-term mistress Raymone Carlut.

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