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Why I will miss this icon of French cuisine

PUBLISHED: 07:21 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:28 05 February 2018

Much-mourned: Celebrated French Chef Paul Bocuse poses outside his famed Michelin three-star restaurant L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in 2011. Picture: AP/Laurent Cipriani

Much-mourned: Celebrated French Chef Paul Bocuse poses outside his famed Michelin three-star restaurant L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in 2011. Picture: AP/Laurent Cipriani

Archant

Norfolk restaurateur Richard Hughes mourns the passing of French cuisine's greatest name.

I was surprised, disappointed and somewhat saddened by the lack of reaction to the death of French chef Paul Bocuse.

In an age when celebrity mourning is ‘the thing’, his passing last month seemed to fly under the radar, but for chefs of a certain age, his death was akin to the loss of a king.

The term legendary seems to be used on a daily basis, but this 91-year-old chef was a true icon, the greatest culinary legend of the past century, the holder of three Michelin stars for more than 50 years, the most decorated chef in the world and undoubtedly the most famous man in France. Some couldn’t name the president, but they all knew who Paul Bocuse was.

From a family of chefs that dates back to the 1600s, Bocuse was named Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America, California has its own Paul Bocuse Day and he is lauded across the globe with nine restaurants in and around his home city, in America and Japan. He was the Chef.

Despite his fame and success, he never lost sight of who he was and where he came from, passing away in the bed in which he was born above his restaurant in my favourite city in the world, his beloved Lyon.

He believed passionately in training, always encouraging and inspiring, creating disciples far and wide. His food, a reflection of his upbringing, of a city he made his own and of his country, was never compromised.

I made my pilgrimage some six years ago, with a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a table for one at the home of gastronomy.

In attendance, ‘Monsieur Paul’s’ visit to my table was like taking an audience with the Pope.

Though the meeting was brief, consisting of a handshake, ‘bonjour’ and ‘bon appetit’, it’s a moment that will always stay with me and at the very least I can say that I met the man himself.

The restaurant itself is a temple to classic French-inspired gastronomy.

Cutting-edge it’s not and you won’t find anything there that’s ground-breaking or in the realms of molecular gastronomy, but in the grandest of rooms you can feast on the truffle soup, created in 1975 for then President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a poached sole with noodles offered as an homage to Fernand Point, or a dish that practically everyone seemed to be eating, the whole Poulet de Bresse, served with yet more truffles, poached in a pig’s bladder and brought to the table resembling a football.

At the table, the bladder is popped by waiters, the chicken carved and then served with ladles-full of plump morels and cream.

My only regret was - having consumed my own body weight in butter, cream, foie gras and truffles – when it came to dessert, faced with choices such as the famous President’s Chocolate Cake, the rum babas and the mille feuille spread before me, I meekly chose the wild raspberries and vanilla ice-cream for fear of exploding.

The bill was eye-watering, but what price can you put on a taste of history?

In a world that has become obsessed with restaurants, where the Instagram feed is as important as the food and dining out has become a fashion statement as much as a means of enjoyment, I’m not sure we realise how much we owe to this great man.

Paul Bocuse’s heart was firmly in France, but this heart in Norfolk felt his loss as keenly as Lyon.

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