Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 5.41.33 PM“I like butter, cream and wine,” and not “peas cut in four,” wrote Paul Bocuse, the French “pope of gastronomy,” who died Saturday, just shy of his 92st birthday.

The father of Nouvelle Cuisine, Bocuse influenced how most of us eat today. Despite his penchant for butter, cream and wine, he gave dishes a lighter twist that is now taken for granted. Lighter doesn’t need to mean bland; he also said that good cuisine isn’t about fancy products but about seasonings, which should be added using one’s fingertips: “Touch is fundamental.”

The story about the birth of Nouvelle Cuisine (New Cooking) is that Henri Gault et Christian Millau, of the restaurant guide that carries their name, had dined–very well–at lunch at his restaurant and it was so good they came back for dinner, asking for something light. Bocuse served them a salad of green beans, cooked but still crunchy, with shallots and olive oil, followed by lightly cooked rock mullet. Gault and Millau were smitten, and declared Bocuse’s style of cooking “Nouvelle Cuisine.”

While the world’s press has given honors to Bocuse’s obituary, the French are, understandably, even more detailed. Here are some nuggets you might appreciate:

Nouvelle Cuisine was one thing, molecular cuisine was too far. Asked in this excellent interview from 2007 what modern thing he refused, he said, “Nitrogen. I don’t see the point. All this foreign food where you have to explain what’s in the dish to the point of indicating in which order it should be eaten: it’s not my thing.” SLAM! Which is kind of too bad, because I’ve talked to Ferran Adrià and he is completely charming.

He added that he liked to cook by instinct, smelling when the meat is done rather than using a thermometer.

Bocuse learned to cook from his father, who taught him to make veal kidneys when he was nine. After serving in the French army during World War II (where he got the tattoo of the coq gaulois on his shoulder, something he liked to show off), he took on several apprenticeships before returning to his family’s inn, l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, in a suburb of Lyon. It was owned by his maternal grandfather, and where he was born Feb. 11, 1926.

He got his first Michelin star in 1958, his second in 1962 and his third in 1965, which he always maintained. He eventually renamed the restaurant “Paul Bocuse.”

He was a showman who appeared on television as early as 1976. In 1987, he created the “Olympics of Gastronomy,” the Bocuse d’Or, an international cooking competition that was televised from the start. He was one of the first French chefs to expand overseas: to Japan in 1979 and Disneyworld in Orlando in 1982, followed by many more.

He was out as a trigamist–that’s bigamy plus one. He met his wife, Raymonde, before the war when she was 16; they married in 1946 and had a daughter. Raymonde runs the original restaurant. He added another partner, Raymone, who bore him a son in 1969; the son, Jérôme, has headed the family empire since last year. All I can say about the names is: ?!?!?!? How did he keep that straight? Or maybe it simplified life.

In 1971, he brought in companion No. 3, Patricia, who had a daughter with him. Patricia runs Paul Bocuse Products and handles his image.

It is not clear how he juggled all the restaurants, not to mention women. Although his companions (? partners? lovers?) had serious business roles with him, he had a reputation as a male chauvinist, with a raft of appalling quotes.

One of his signature dishes is Soupe V.G.E. Bocuse made it in 1975 for President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing–VGE–for the dinner celebrating Bocuse’s award of the Legion of Honor; how about that–win an award and you have to cook the dinner! You could call it a chicken pot pie, BUT….

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 5.40.44 PMIt’s a chicken and beef soup, with foie gras and black truffles replacing potatoes, covered with puff pastry. I found a number of recipes for it:

This one uses 60 grams of truffles, whereas this one uses 80 grams. That’s a difference of €14 euros just for the truffles. This one also uses 80 grams, but I doubt Bocuse used bouillon cubes. You can watch the master himself make his Soupe V.G.E. here.

It is extremely rare that I use any photos but those I took myself. However, I don’t have any of Bocuse; these are from the press packet on his corporate Web site.

Parting words from the master chef: “Classic or modern, there’s only one cuisine: the good one.”


15 thoughts on “Butter, Cream and Wine

  1. I hadn’t realised he’d died, although the last time I saw him on telly he was looking his age. I always found his persona rather smug and condescending, and found the way he was pandered to and sucked up to by interviewers distinctly repulsive. However, there is no question of his influence (for the good) on French food today.

    Speaking of molecular, Henri This is due to give a lecture in Tours shortly. I probably should go, but I probably won’t make the effort.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. With three michelin stars for over 50 years, anyone would be smug!! 🙂 But seriously, he was a very clever man, with food and with business, and I’m sure he encouraged a great many of today’s starred chefs and restaurateurs. A few years ago, I watched a documentary about Paul Bocuse, for which he and his three “wives” were extensively interviewed. They all came off pretty well – hard-working and dedicated. He’ll be missed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HOW DID HE HAVE TIME TO ROMANCE THOSE WOMEN!!!!!!!?I guess he had MANY LITTLE CHEFS chopping and sautéing!
    FACSINATING Stuff you wrote here………MERCI!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your in depth coverage of a great innovator. His name did not register with me, but who hasn’t heard of nouvelle cuisine? I’m pleased to know of this ‘bigger than life’ man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He started when being a chef was not something to be proud of, and he made it into a métier for superstars. But then again, he is far better known in France than in the U.S.


  5. I agree that he was a man of his time, not necessarily ours. I have a first edition (because I am that old!) of his cookbook that includes the courses for his famous presidential dinner. I always thought he was an important link from the old to more modern French cuisine. We love Lyon, and you can’t swing a cat (as my southern father would have said) without running into something Bocuse.

    He said in an interview that we now live too long for “just one woman” and I think he proved that. I think it is fitting that the US finally won the Bocuse d’Or for the first time last year…or maybe that was what sent him over the edge?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think 92 years is what set him over the edge.
      He is yet another example of someone whose personal life raises eyebrows at the least but whose professional accomplishments are vast.


  6. Thanks to pay tribute to this great Chef who has been the first to make the know-how of the cooks known all around the world.I woud like to add to your great post a small thing about the tattoo of the Coq gaulois on his shoulder : it was made in 1944 by a U.S. soldier ( in opposition to the Nazis who tattooed Eagles ) when P. Bocuse was receiving treatment for bullet wound ( he was 18 ). Also about his private life I can tell you that all his wifes ( a spouse and two partners ) was living under the same roof in Collonges-au mont d’ or!!! Unbelievable!

    Liked by 1 person

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