Paul Bocuse 1926-2018
The Frenchman who made chefs celebrities
Paul Bocuse’s gastronomic creativity was matched only by his gift for whipping up publicity. The celebrated French chef was a driving force behind the nouvelle cuisine movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which championed lighter, seasonal dishes over the heavy-handed extravagances of classic grande cuisine. He scandalized traditionalists with his self-promotion, festooning his restaurants with portraits of himself and slapping his name on everything from a high-profile cooking competition, the Bocuse d’Or, to Paul Bocuse–branded jam. When he became the first chef to be awarded France’s Legion of Honor medal in 1975, Bocuse donned his spotless chef’s jacket and towering toque hat for the ceremony instead of a suit, and used the occasion to debut a black truffle soup in a pastry shell. “You’ve got to beat the drum in life,” he said in 1976. “God is already famous, but that doesn’t stop the priest from ringing the church bells every morning.”
Bocuse was born in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyon, “to a family of innkeepers and cooks dating to 1765,” said The Washington Post. During World War II, he was put to work in the slaughterhouse of a youth camp run by the Vichy regime before being conscripted into the Free French Forces. Wounded by German machine-gun fire, Bocuse received lifesaving treatment at a U.S. Army hospital. “He showed his appreciation by flying an American flag outside his restaurant for decades.” After the war, Bocuse apprenticed under Fernand Point, “the originator of ‘la nouvelle cuisine,’” said The Times (U.K.). He set about transforming his family’s modest inn— L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges—into a “luxury showplace of the new cooking,” winning three Michelin stars by 1965.
“The groundswell for nouvelle cuisine transformed Bocuse into the international face of French cooking,” said The New York Times. He parlayed his fame into an international restaurant empire, including one eatery in Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, with an apprenticeship at his flagship restaurant becoming a “rite of passage for ambitious chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud.” After food, Bocuse’s greatest passion was women: In his 2005 biography, he boasted of carrying on two lifelong affairs and numerous flings during his 70-year marriage. “Food and sex have much in common,” he said. “We consummate a union, we devour each other’s eyes, we hunger for one another.” ■