One man above all came to embody the notion of what it is to be a French chef—so I went to his restaurantby Wendell Steavenson / April 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Paul Bocuse died in January at the age of 91 above his family’s restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, outside Lyon, in the same room in which he had been born.
“I am lost when I leave,” he once said, “when I spend a night in another bed, to find my bearings, I have to fall asleep with the river Saône situated on my left.” Because Bocuse; the chef who held three Michelin stars for more than 50 years and was for decades the embodiment of French cuisine: tradition and terroir.
As a teenager, Bocuse was wounded fighting for the Free French against the Germans in 1944. After the war he began his training under Eugénie Brazier, the first female chef to achieve three Michelin stars. Brazier grew up poor on a farm in Bresse. In her book La Mère Brazier: The Mother of Modern French Cooking, she recalls a soup that her mother brought to her while she was tending pigs in the field—leeks and vegetables cooked in milk and water, enriched with eggs and poured over stale bread for substance—saying she had “never eaten better.” From Brazier, Bocuse learned la cuisine familiale; the simple brilliance of fresh ingredients carefully rendered.
After his stint with Brazier, Bocuse spent eight years at La Pyramide in Vienne, under the legendary chef Fernand Point. In Point, Bocuse had the example of a celebrated chef and the rigour of perfection. Point was enormously fat—“regard the chef,” he said, “if he is thin I will probably dine poorly.” Point also held that you had not mastered a dish until you had cooked it 100 times.