Chefs bid farewell to France’s culinary ‘pope’ Paul Bocuse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 9:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 10:48pm

Hundreds of chefs gathered in southeast France on Friday for the funeral of Paul Bocuse, a pioneering gastronome who shook up the food world in the 1960s and 70s and helped usher in the era of celebrity cooks.

“Monsieur Paul”, known for his flair in the kitchen as well as his showmanship and business sense, died last Saturday aged 91 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

“We all feel a bit like orphans, we thought Monsieur Paul was eternal. His work was eternal,” said Philippe Etchebest, one of the chefs from France and elsewhere who wore their kitchen whites in tribute at Lyon’s Saint Jean Cathedral. “Besides being an artisan, he was an innovator who was able to bring all cooks together. We’ve lost a base, a foundation.”

Bocuse, sometimes called the “pope”, was an architect of the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution which swept away rich and heavy sauces in favour of super-fresh ingredients, sleek aesthetics and innovation.

He routinely did his own shopping at the Lyon market, inspecting the produce available and then planning his dishes for the day.

Bocuse’s son Jerome said his father would have preferred a simple ceremony at the small church in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, the village where he ran his most famous restaurant, the three-star l’Auberge.

But “that was not possible” given the huge crowd expected, Jerome Bocuse said.

Two giant screens were installed outside the cathedral for the hundreds of people who braved the rain to attend the ceremony.

“I couldn’t imagine not coming. He deserves everybody’s presence,” Jeanine Chanal, an 82-year-old who lives near the church.

Bocuse’s casket was borne by pallbearers between rows of top chefs from around the world, representing dozens of Michelin stars, the highest award available in the culinary world.

After the ceremony Bocuse will be buried next to his parents at the family’s vault in the cemetery at Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, where Bocuse turned his father’s modest inn into an international destination for foodies.

L’Auberge earned the maximum three Michelin stars in 1965, and never lost them – a singular achievement.

The gathered chefs represented the firmament of French cooking, including Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Anne-Sophie Pic, Marc Veyrat and Yannick Alleno.

Daniel Boulud, based in New York, and the American Thomas Keller attended, as did Hiroyuki Hiramatsu, who heads the Bocuse brasseries in Japan.

“He was always saying ‘simply’, and I think that best sums up his cooking philosophy,” said Kazunori Nakatani, executive chef for the Bocuse brand in Japan, soon before catching a flight for Lyon, where he did several training sessions with the master.

Born into a family of cooks since 1765, Bocuse began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 and came to epitomise a certain type of French epicurean – a lover of fine wine, food and women.

Besides his wife Raymonde, Bocuse long maintained relationships with two mistresses.

“He was one of the greatest figures of French gastronomy, the General Charles de Gaulle of cuisine,” said French food critic Francois Simon in a reference to France’s wartime hero and saviour.