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'Pope' of French cuisine Paul Bocuse dies aged 91

Bocuse was France’s only chef to keep the Michelin food bible’s coveted three-star rating through more than four decades.

France Obit Bocuse Paul Bocuse poses inside his famed Michelin three-star restaurant L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Collonges-au-Mont-d'or Source: Laurent Cipriani via PA Images

TOP FRENCH CHEF Paul Bocuse has died aged 91 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Dubbed the “pope” of French cuisine, Bocuse helped shake up the food world in the 1970s with the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution and create the idea of the celebrity chef.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the tributes, calling him a “mythic figure who transformed French cuisine. Chefs are crying in their kitchens across France”.

“He was one of the greatest figures of French gastronomy, the General Charles de Gaulle of cuisine,” said French food critic Francois Simon, comparing him to France’s wartime saviour and dominant postwar leader.

A giant in a nation that prides itself as the beating heart of gastronomy, Bocuse was France’s only chef to keep the Michelin food bible’s coveted three-star rating through more than four decades.

The heart of his empire, L’Auberge de Collonges au Mont D’Or, his father’s village inn near Lyon in food-obsessed southeastern France, earned three stars in 1965, and never lost a single one.

Nouvelle Cuisine revolution

With the Gault-Millau guide, Bocuse became a driving force behind the Nouvelle Cuisine in the 1970s, sweeping away the rich and heavy sauces of yesteryear in favour of super-fresh ingredients and sleek aesthetics.

The term was invented by Gault-Millau to describe food Bocuse helped prepare for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.

Slashing cooking times, paring down menus and paying new attention to health, Nouvelle Cuisine was a craze that fizzled out but left a lasting legacy.

Personally, Bocuse perfered to eat more hearty traditional fare. “I love butter, cream and wine,” he said, “not little peas cut into four”.

And he drew the line at some of Nouvelle Cuisine’s excesses, shunning its extreme minimalism.

Even so, the movement’s insistence on the freshest of ingredients and the introduction of technology into the kitchen helped pave the way for the “chemistry set cuisine” which now dominates fine dining.

“It was a real revolution,” said Simon. “They coined a concept that came at exactly the right moment — at a time when gastronomy was a bit dull and heavy and not sexy at all.”

“Bocuse is respected for the fact he kept things in proportion,” said France-based critic Rosa Jackson.

Great showman

His status as the giant of haute cuisine owed as much to his showmanship and pioneering business sense as it did to his culinary genius.

“His cuisine was built around the classic French repertoire,” said Simon.

“But people came for the emotion, for his banter, his personality, his sense of humour.”

In 1965, Bocuse left his kitchen for Japan, the first of many trips to promote French culinary know-how around the world.

“He’s been hugely influential. He trained a lot of chefs, including from Japan,” said Jackson.

From his travels he picked up a flair for marketing, going on to launch an international range of Bocuse branded products and a successful chain of open-plan brasseries, setting up catering schools and competitions.

He also gave his name to the world’s top international cookery competition, the annual “Bocuse d’Or”.

In 2007, more than 80 top chefs flew to France from around the world to celebrate his 81st birthday and his legacy.

© AFP 2018 

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