French culinary master Paul Bocuse named chef of the century

March 30, 2011 

French Chef Paul Bocuse stands outside of his famed Michelin three-star restaurant, Auberge du Pont de Collonges, in Collonges-au-Mont-d'or, France. Bocuse will be proclaimed Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Seven men in white toques and long aprons bend to their tasks, one scooping hunks of butter into a saucepan simmering on a stove, another flicking grains of the ground French red pepper piment d'Espelette from a spoon onto a pyramid of crayfish, a third sprinkles parsley with his fingers.

"Seventeen minutes," one cries out. "A little pepper," says another. "Did you taste the brioche?" asks "Monsieur Paul."

It is minutes before the lunch hour in the heart of the temple of French gastronomy, the kitchen of Paul Bocuse. The final touches of another three-star meal are executed with military precision.

Bocuse, whose Auberge du Pont de Collonges outside Lyon, France, has maintained its three stars in the Michelin Guide for 46 years, credits a deceptively simple recipe for that success -- good produce fresh from the garden, a superb kitchen staff and happy diners.

"It's the client who runs the house," says Bocuse, a man credited with transforming the role of chef from invisible artist to celebrity. Yet "Monsieur Paul," as he is known, praises everyone but himself for his accomplishments.

This week, the credit is returned when he is proclaimed Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America at a reception in New York.

Bocuse doesn't sit on his laurels. The icon of French cuisine is 85 and retired, but he still keeps an eye on the kitchen and every day eats a dish to be served.

His soupe au truffles noires, crowned with a pastry shell, is a splendor to the eyes. The black truffle soup was created in 1975 for then-President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. But, "Me, I like a simple cuisine," Bocuse says. "What I prefer is perhaps a good spit-roasted chicken from Bresse," the town whose fowl are considered the best in France.

Food sociologist Claude Fischler says that, beyond the culinary delights turned out by Bocuse, his real distinction was turning the chef, once all but a scullery worker never credited for his culinary achievements, first into a boss, then a star.

Bocuse comes to life once he dons his cylindrical chef's hat -- what he calls his "disguise" -- a humble figure who suddenly fills the shoes of his larger-than-life image.

The master chef concocts his classic culinary fare with help from a nearly 5-acre garden out back and another elsewhere in town.

"The cuisine of today is complicated," he said. "Firstly, it's complicated to have good suppliers. I think that finding the best, the best butcher, the best fish monger, the best vegetable vendor, that's important."

To transmit the profession to the young -- one of his greatest joys, he says -- Bocuse created the Paul Bocuse Foundation in 2004 to pass on his savoir-faire, and holds a yearly contest, the Bocuse d'Or, for fledgling chefs around the world.

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