Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef who helped champion “nouvelle” cuisine, although he distanced himself from it later in life, died Saturday at the age of 91. Bocuse’s family announced his death in a statement, saying that “Our ‘Captain’” passed away on January 20, at the dawn of his 92nd birthday.
“Much more than a father and a husband, he is a man of heart, a spiritual father, an emblematic figure of world gastronomy, and a tricolore porte. Mr. Paul loved life, sharing, transmission, and his crew. These same values will continue to inspire us forever,” the statement, signed by Mrs Raymonde Bocuse, Mrs Françoise Bocuse-Bernachon, Mr Jérôme Bocuse, read.
Bocuse died in his birthplace, Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, which is also the home of Bocuse’s three-star restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, according to French reports.
The legendary chef built an empire worth more than $60 million. His rise to culinary fame began in the 1960s and 70s, when he was associated with “nouvelle” cuisine, a modernized form of French cooking pioneered by Fernand Point that turned once sauce-heavy dishes toward lighter, more regional-focused fare. As The New York Times points out, “Mr. Bocuse shaped a style of cooking at the restaurant that stressed fresh ingredients, lighter sauces, unusual flavor combinations and relentless innovation that, in his case, rested on a solid mastery of classic technique.”
Later, as the movement lost momentum, referred to it as “mini-portions on maxi-plates” and once called it a “joke.”
“It is not true that Paul Bocuse invented Nouvelle Cuisine. There were a few dishes that were developed lighter, but that is normal in cooking. The term Nouvelle Cuisine as it came to be known was nothing to do with what was on the plate, but what was on the bill,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
Bocuse’s most famous dish was truffle soup V.G.E., which mixed truffles and foie gras in chicken broth, and was baked in a bowl covered in puff pastry. The dish was named for French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
The chef grew his empire beyond France, opening in Switzerland, the U.S., and Japan. He also operated a culinary school and authored several cookbooks, including “Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, “Paul Bocuse in Your Kitchen: An Introduction to Classic French Cooking,” “Bocuse à la Carte,” and “Paul Bocuse: The Complete Recipes.”
Bocuse was also a visionary in self-promotion. “Mr. Bocuse, a tireless self-promoter, was a constant presence in the news media and on television,” The New York Times says.
Bocuse’s exposure inspired countless up-and-coming chefs who saw the potential in the entrepreneurial side of the industry, including Jacques Pépin.
The Culinary Institute of America named Bocuse “Chef of the Century” and released a statement saying, “The Culinary Institute of America salutes the life and legacy of the most important chef in history—Paul Bocuse. We are deeply saddened by his passing, but have been greatly enriched by his friendship and will continue to be inspired by his example. He was the greatest ever. Au revoir M. Paul. Merci Bocuse.”
Bocuse is the founder of the Bocuse d’Or, the international cooking competition he created in 1987 known by many as the Olympics of the culinary world. Team USA made history by wining the event for the first time this past year. His son, Chef Jérôme Bocuse, is the president of the culinary competition. Bocuse developed Les Chefs de France restaurant at Disney World in the 1980s. The restaurant is now run by Jérôme Bocuse and generates about $30 million a year, according to The New York Times.
Bocuse was revered around the world, but especially in his home country, where President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that “chefs are crying in their kitchen at the Élysée and everywhere in France,” on Saturday. There is a mural of Bocuse towering over a city street in Lyon.
Bocuse was born in 1926 near Lyon in a family with seven generations of cooking ties. By 16, Bocuse was apprenticing at a local restaurant. He was assigned to a Vichy government youth camp in World War II. Bocuse joined the 1st Free French Division in 1944 and was wounded in combat in Alsace, receiving the Croix de Guerre for his service.
After the war, Bocuse returned to the kitchen. He resumed his apprenticeship at La Mère Brazier in Le Col de la Luère. After a brief stint at the three-star Lucas Carton in Paris, Bocuse worked for eight years at La Pyramide in Vienne.
In 1956, Bocuse returned to his family restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, and earned a Michelin star two years later.