Passing of a Legend: Paul Bocuse

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The death of Paul Bocuse at the age of 91 set off a worldwide avalanche of tributes, from great chefs to artists and politicians

Star critic François Simon described him as the “General de Gaulle of Gastronomy”, while erstwhile colleague (and, like Bocuse, a recipient of a rare tally of three Michelin stars) Pierre Gagnaire described Bocuse as “the Johnny Hallyday of cuisine”.

French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted below: “Paul Bocuse is no longer with us. Chefs are crying in their kitchens, at the Élysée and all over France. French gastronomy will continue to honour him.”

In a communiqué, the president also gave homage to a man who “from simple lovers of cuisine to the most learned gastronomic masters, in French territories as in the most distant countries, was the embodiment of French cuisine.” He also made mention of the fact that Bocuse fought in the Free French army during World War II at the side of the aforementioned General de Gaulle.

It was in the kitchen, however, that this native of Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or on the outskirts of Lyon found his true calling. According to many contemporaries and those working in the gastronomic industry, it was Bocuse who revolutionised the very concept of the chef as we know it today: “He revolutionised everything,” says Arnaud Lallement, another triple-Michelin-star awardee for his Assiette Champenoise restaurant near Reims. “He brought the chef de cuisine out of the kitchen to the public. Before Monsieur Paul, in the 1950s, the chef was in the basement and it was the service that took all the honours. Monsieur Paul turned the trend on its head: the chef became THE personality of the restaurant.”

He was also one of the founding fathers of what became known as Nouvelle Cuisine in the 1960s and was closely associated with this “big bang” that was to have such a profound effect on gastronomy worldwide, championed in particular by the food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau.

There were also warm personal tributes from those who had known the man who became such a legend. 61-year-old Régis Marcon – another 3-star chef – spoke emotionally about Bocuse: “For me, he was a bit like a father. He gave me the opportunity not only to participate, but to win the Bocuse d’Or and for me that means an awful lot. He expressed generosity and what is important in France – that convivial side; of getting together around a table.”

Here in Ireland, there have outpourings of grief too. Euro-toques Ireland tweeted “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to another of our founding members this year. RIP Paul Bocuse”

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