Tributes to the “father of gastronomy” Paul Bocuse have been paid across the industry following the announcement of his death at the age of 91.
The founder of the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition is credited with revolutionising French cuisine and inspiring generations of young chefs.
Michel Roux, chef-patron of the Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire, said: “His legacy will be there forever” and compared his first encounter with Bocuse 46 years ago in Lyon as like “meeting God”.
“He took me to the market at five in the morning – just the two of us. It was lovely to see him able to choose the best ingredient without even sniffing or touching. He was already a master at work.”
Roux said said the competition bearing Bocuse’s name “unified the profession”, just as he intended. “He wanted our profession to be a big family around the world. No passport, not French, Italian nor American – [just] chef.”
Roux urged young chefs to read about Bocuse to learn from his example, calling for a day to be chosen when chefs around the world remove their hats and spend a minute in silence as a mark of respect to the culinary revolutionary.
“I will always remember him as the man who took me under his wing to the market,” he added.
Anton Mosimann, owner of Mosimann’s Club, London, spoke to The Caterer from Switzerland, where he was judging the competition to select the Swiss entrant to the 2019 Bocuse d’Or.
He said: “I first met Paul Bocuse in 1973 when I worked at his restaurant in Lyon during a three-month stage. He was a real gentleman who dedicated a lot of time to training young people, even though by then he was very busy travelling the world as an international chef.
“When I went on to work at the Dorchester hotel in London as executive chef, I had the pleasure to host Paul as one of 18 chefs who were named the best in the world. He stayed as a guest at the hotel and he loved to order kippers for breakfast. Wherever he was in the world, he loved to eat the local produce, cooked simply.
“We went on to become close friends and I believe we have lost the greatest ambassador of French cuisine to the rest of the world. He was totally dedicated to his craft, educated, creative and always ready to provide advice. Most important, he was someone who never wavered from his beliefs. I will miss him enormously.”
Chef Simon Hulstone, who represented the UK at four Bocuse d’Or competitions, told The Caterer: “Paul Bocuse wasn’t just an icon to me, he was an icon to chefs over six decades.
“When I had the chance to cook in Lyon in 1995, Paul Bocuse visited my station and I had the briefest of chats, but it was an honour to cook for him 15 years later at the Bocuse d’Or. His presence was beyond any chef in this world past or present. There’s not a chef living that has had the influence and stature that Paul Bocuse had.”
Nick Vadis, culinary director for Compass Group UK, held the post of team manager for Team UK at the Bocuse d’Or for many years and said the competition, affectionately known as the ‘world cup of cooking’, would be the great chef’s legacy.
“Paul was a man who epitomised what a great chef should be,” said Vadis. “His legacy is the Bocuse d’Or. If you look at how that competition has grown, the Bocuse d’Or is revered in Europe. You can’t turn a street in Lyon without seeing his name, and when you mention the competition anywhere in Europe, they will know about it. To create something of that magnitude with a global reach, I don’t think anyone else has ever done it.
“Lots of chefs will follow his lead and his legacy will live on. I’m sure there will be a lot of time to reflect back on his life in Turin, in Piedmont, Italy [where the 2018 European selection will be held] and Lyon [for the international finals 2019].”
Ritz executive chef John Williams recalled visiting Bocuse in Lyon 35 years ago and being overwhelmed by the experience.
“You know, they often call him the pope of French cuisine. That day, he blessed me,” he said. “He kept patting me on the head and the shoulder and looked at me really kindly, he said to me ‘don’t worry, cuisine is a marathon not a sprint.’ I’ll always remember those words.
“There are very few people that could stand along Escoffier and this man really believed in expanding the knowledge of French cuisine around the world. He was the greatest ambassador there could be to do that.
“He set up the Bocuse d’Or, which is the best competition in the world, beyond doubt. It’s the physical best and that’s what he does, he brings the best together from around the world.
“I saw him so many times and everyone stopped him when he was trying to go somewhere. He was the most hospitable person and would speak to everyone, I don’t know how he had the patience! It was only a few years ago he was doing that, he was a mammoth man.”
Raymond Blanc, chef-patron at Belmond Le Manoir and Brasserie Blanc, tweeted: “I have just learned that a good friend, a leader, a great man, a world renowned chef known as “l’empereur”, has died today. He exported French cuisine across the world, a man loved and respected by all of us. Monsieur Paul, you will be very much missed.”
Andreas Antona, chair of the Bocuse d’Or UK Academy, described Bocuse as “the global chef of the modern era – a trailblazer that others can only follow. His impact on French and international gastronomy is undeniable.”
Vincent Menager, executive chef at ME London, told The Caterer: “I met him a few times when I was working at the Sofitel in New York. He first came to the city to promote the launch of the Michelin Guide. He was staying at the hotel where I was executive chef. Every time he came, we would catch up and have coffee together and talk about the kitchen. The whole experience was incredible, having a chef of his calibre coming in to your restaurant and taking the time to meet with me was amazing. His openness and willingness to speak to people was just amazing.
“His legacy is amazing, he opened the kitchen to the world and made people inquisitive about what happens behind the restaurant’s walls. He put the chefs forward in his business and showcased them in the Bocuse d’Or competition.”
Derek Brown, former director of the Michelin Red Guides, said: “Bocuse was a great man and a great revolutionary of cooking in the post-war years. He inspired hundreds of excellent chefs.
“It won’t be easy for anybody to keep that standard up for so long. It’s a great achievement to have achieved that standard of cooking for so long, with a great deal of competition growing up around him. But he did it, and his teams did
it, for many years.
“It’s remarkable. I wonder if we’ll ever see it again. There are many extremely talented chefs, many trained by Paul Bocuse. But whether any will rise to that same position, I don’t know.”
Adam Smith, executive chef at Coworth Park and former Bocuse d’Or contestant, said he considered himself “very lucky” that he was able to meet Bocuse.
He said: “In 10-15 years’ time there will be people talking about him. The Bocuse d’Or will be part of that. It will be a while before we get somebody else who has those accolades for that amount of time and who will trailblaze the industry like he did.”
Claire Dorland-Clauzel, director of external relations at Michelin, described Bocuse as an “iconic figure” in French cuisine, who worked throughout his life to promote French gastronomy and the profession of cookery, “which he revolutionised”.
Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides, said Bocuse’s cooking experience “went beyond technical perfection – it created an unforgettable emotion”.
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