“The world of gastronomy is in mourning,” the local newspaper in Lyon, France reported this past weekend.
“Paul Bocuse—Monsieur Paul to his friends, his collaborators, and all those who had the chance to rub shoulders with him—died a few hours ago.”
The Michelin Guide announced his passing on Twitter:
Paul Bocuse (1926-2018).
Le cuisinier du siècle nous a quittés.
Nous nous associons à la douleur de ses proches. pic.twitter.com/54WXbgxiUe
— Le guide MICHELIN (@guideMichelinFR) January 20, 2018
Loss of a culinary giant
This larger than life culinary icon, known throughout the world for popularizing nouvelle cuisine, died on January 20th, 2018, only a few weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.
Chef Paul passed away in the same house in which he was born, where he lived his entire life, and where he created his legendary restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges. The house is located in the French countryside about 20 minutes outside of Lyon.
Known for the quality of its food, impeccable service, and stunning setting, the chef’s flagship restaurant has remarkably maintained three Michelin stars since 1965. This culinary giant has been called the “Chef of the Century” and the “Pope of Gastronomy.” He was surely one of the most prominent ambassadors of French cuisine. A virtual rock-star whose popularity never waned, he was one of the first chefs to come out of the kitchen, mingle with diners, and develop a brand.
The Chef’s meticulous attention to detail (and branding) is evident even in the beautiful tableware used in the restaurant.
In 2014, we visited Lyon to write an article about this food-centric city’s markets and restaurants for the Chicago Tribune. We discovered firsthand how pervasive the chef’s influence has been in his hometown. The most famous market, Les Halles, where Bocuse did his shopping, had been renamed Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. The chef created five successful brasseries around his home city, each specializing in a different type of French cuisine, and left a special legacy: his world-class cooking school that trains young chefs.
The meal of a lifetime
During our visit to Lyon, we were fortunate to snag lunch reservations at the Bocuse flagship restaurant in Collonges. More than a meal, it was an experience and every aspect was incredible—the beauty of the dining room and tableware; the professionalism of the staff; the quality of the ingredients; the taste and creativity of the dishes that built upon classic preparations; and the beauty and artistry of its presentation.
Paul Bocuse’s obituary in the New York Times noted, “His signature dishes not only pleased the palate; they also seduced the eye and piqued the imagination.”
We chose the price-fixed Classic menu and added one extra appetizer that we couldn’t resist (seared foie gras). Some of our photos may help tell the story of what made the meal so special:
When we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite, we were faced with a full desert selection (where you can choose anything and everything you want) called “Delicacies and Temptations.” Indeed, they were:
There were too many to taste but we tried our best!
Our one major misgiving
During our pilgrimage to Collonges, we had made arrangements to meet Monsieur Paul. The one disappointment of the day was finding out he wasn’t well enough to do so. He had been in ill health for some time and remained in his residence that day. After our meal, his Maitre D’ apologized and graciously took us on a tour through the wine cellar and busy kitchen.
In the taxi on our way back to our hotel, we vowed to return—as often happens when travelers have a sensational experience like this one. We discussed doing so each time we planned a subsequent trip to Europe—perhaps, for a milestone birthday or to share the experience with friends or family. Unfortunately, it never happened for one reason or another. The lunch was such a rhapsody that we could not even find the words to fully describe it on this blog until years later when we learned of the Chef’s passing.
We especially wish we had revisited that meal, that experience before this happened. But we, like many others, are comforted knowing that the standards he pioneered at L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges will transcend his death. And we will return. We still have to taste the truffle soup!
IF YOU GO
Paul Bocuse Restaurant, Collonges au Mont d’Or, France
A few tips for dining at Paul Bouse Restaurant:
- Advance reservations are required. They can be made online.
- The restaurant is open at both lunch and dinner. We opted for lunch for two reasons: Such a lengthy meal was easier to “endure” mid-day and the daylight hours allowed us to soak in the greenery and views on the way to Collonges au Mont d’Or.
- Arriving a few minutes before our reservation allowed us time to look around; don’t miss the wonderful murals on the walls beyond the courtyard.
- The meal at Paul Bocuse is expensive but the experience is priceless! There are both fixed price and a la carte menus. Both are available online as well as pricing information.
- The dress code is casual elegant. Jackets are required for men.
- Since you will likely be having wine with your dinner, take a taxi from Lyon rather than driving (even if you’ve rented a car.)
Caution: Watch this video of the restaurant on YouTube at your own risk. Hunger is likely to follow!
On GrubStreet: How Paul Bocuse Became the Most Legendary Chef in France