Sad news out of France this weekend. The grand master of modern French cuisine, Paul Bocuse has passed away. No specifics were provided, though he was 91 years of age and had suffered from Parkinson’s for several years.
Bocuse was most commonly associated with Nouvelle Cuisine, which stressed fresh ingredients, unusual flavor combinations and a constant reworking of the classics. His most famous dishes were the precursors to today’s idea of food porn – food that seduced not only with its flavor but its presentation as well. This is a man who stuffed sea bass with lobster mousse then wrapped it in pastry that looked like the scales and fins. And then there was that rabbit that looked like a a grown-up’s version of the Easter rabbit. But his most famous dish? Truffle soup V.G.E., named in honor of then French President Giscard d’Estaing. Chicken broth, foie gras and truffles, covered in puff pastry. Mmmmm…..
Bocuse was not the first in his family to build a career in the culinary arts, but tough years saw the sale of the family restaurant, Auberge du Pont de Collonges, in 1921 along with the right to use the Bocuse name. Bocuse himself would return as a chef at the restaurant in 1956, and by 1966, he would buy back the restaurant and family name. His most famous change – the introduction of a large neon sign on the roof of the restaurant that simply said “Paul Bocuse.”
As Nouvelle Cuisine lost favor, Mr. Bocuse began to distance himself from the movement. His major complaint was that the movement had veered away from its founding principles – it was no longer about the food on the plate, but the dollar signs on the bill. Bocuse would continue to push the idea of reinventing traditional dishes and by the 1980’s, his culinary empire would reach across the Atlantic to include restaurants in America.
He was one of three chefs selected by the French government to design the restaurant at the French exhibit at Epcot Center. Les Chefs de France opened in 1982 and quickly became the most sought-after meal in the entire park. The restaurant still exists today, under the name Monsieur Paul in honor of Bocuse. Bocuse’s son Jerome operates the restaurant and the chef, Nicolas Lemoyne, is a graduate of Bocuse’s Auberge. It still follows the Bocuse philosophy of tradition with a twist – escargot with parsley coulis and garlic cream, or a Maine lobster claw wrapped in shredded puff pastry and fried then topped with lime sweet peas, white asparagus, porcini mushrooms and lobster veloute.
Were drooling just thinking about it.
Bocuse was also the father of competition cooking. His promotional event for a Lyons trade fair became the most famous competitive cooking event in the world – the Bocuse d’Or. International teams now compete every two years for the coveted title, and some of today’s most famous chefs have taken part.
Bocuse, of course, uderstood the importance of wine as part of the meal and his belief in natural ingredients extended to the bottle that would go with the food. His wine lists included Sierra du Sud, a heady, deeply flavored Cotes du Rhone that pairs well with the intensely flavored dishes that Bocuse so loved, or a Condrieu La Loye, a big bouquet of flowery notes that compliments many of the seafood dishes.
As you might expect, Bocuse did take a stab at making his own wine. The Bocuse empire included a Cuvée in Bordeaux and a property in Beaujolais. Much to his chagrin, the wines never took off the way his food did. The wines have always done well, and have received good reviews, but never the rave reviews on a level with his food. We had the opportunity to sample a Bocuse bordeaux a while ago. It was good, light on the tannins, more of a fruit forward wine. As red Bordeaux go, it felt light, but paired with a good steak hot off the grill, it was more than equal to the task.
Sadly, we have no Bocuse wines in the collection at the moment, but we’ll open a good French tonight and offer a toast to the King.