Paul Bocuse and celebrations
"Work as if you are going to live until you're 100 and live as if you're going to die tomorrow." Paul Bocuse
This is not how most people think of Paul Bocuse. Mostly we think of him as in the photo below. Proudly and confidently, maybe even arrogantly, standing outside his eponymous restaurant in Collonges - a village on the river just outside Lyon.
We went there many years ago now to celebrate my 50th birthday. For this is the kind of place that people go to celebrate such events. It's expensive. It was so expensive for us at the time that we framed the menu (yes they gave us an actual menu) and the bill. Here are photos - terrible photos because I was too lazy to take them off the wall and so they are distorted and have reflections from our various windows. But anyway I just wanted to show how memorable that occasion was.
And here is a little thing I learnt from this - at the top of the bill under the date it says 'Saint Sylvère' - and yes after a bit of searching I found that June 20 (my birthday) is the name day for Saint Sylvère. So I should probably have been called Sylvia or Sylvie not Rosemary! And it might have been my middle name if I had been born in France. But how interesting that the saint of the day should have been on the menu. Perhaps it shows, just how traditionally French Paul Bocuse was.
Why am I writing about Paul Bocuse? Well I'm back to Gabriel Gaté and Le Tour, and one day that I missed, on which he reminisced about Paul Bocuse. I think he worked for him for a while - as it seems have many, many, many great chefs of the world. He died last year at the age of 91, having suffered from Parkinson's Disease for some time.
He was a very traditional man in many, many ways.
"His kitchen was run with mesmerizing precision and the efficiency of the operation was military-like. There was an ordered way of doing things and no deviation was tolerated. Coppers hung gleaming and proud over the huge stove as they have done in every kitchen I have ran since then." Kevin Thornton
Traditional is a good and a bad thing. Like rules and regulations. Apparently he was a stickler for those. But he has often been credited with bringing French haute cuisine to the world. With reinvigorating traditional French cooking techniques.
"In recent years many have considered the Auberge du Pont de Collonges as a not-to-be-missed stop, in order to understand the history of French haute cuisine in just one meal. On the other hand, it has been criticised because of its immovable menu and the fact it ignores contemporary ideas." Gabrielle Zanatta - Identità Golose
He certainly ignored Cuisine Nouvelle, although theoretically a supporter, and he poured scorn on Cuisine Minceur. And there have been none of those chemical experiments or foraging for wild food. Certainly our meal there was grand. And so, so memorable. Even my husband who is not really into experiences recounts little episodes from that very memorable evening even now. The sommelier, who not only opened our half bottle of Meursault with great aplomb, but who tasted it as well! The young couple on the next table who were just as overawed as us. The way Bocuse swept through the room at the end of the meal with his entourage. David tried to attract his attention - he was going to tell him that we had dined at his Melbourne offshoot - but the great man just swept on by. A bit like a king - or the Pope as this rather lovely picture acclaims.
And lots of other moments of that meal were so memorable too. Alas we took no pictures - hence perhaps framing the menu. There is one of me in the dark outside but you cannot see the restaurant, and one very blurry one of the restaurant itself. Nothing worth keeping. We were much too overwhelmed to dare to take pictures whilst we were dining. These days we would all be snapping away and posting on Instagram and Facebook. But it lives on in our memories.
Incidentally, of the articles that I read about him, most said that he was the first to bring the chef out of the kitchen to meet his customers, and they all implied that the spent time talking to his diners - not so in our case. It wasn't just us though - he swept through the whole establishment. For he was perhaps the first celebrity chef.
"He transformed the chef into a celebrity diners wanted to see ... his contributions, which allowed chefs to leave the shadows of the kitchen and become entrepreneurs with marketing power, will forever matter." Anne E. McBride - James Beard Foundation
His restaurant had three Michelin stars for 52 years. I don't know if it still does. I believe his son now runs his empire, and Bocuse himself came from generations of chefs. Tradition again. But the downside of tradition is that he had some very retrograde ideas - about women for example, which is ironic, because his own mentor was a woman - Eugénie Brazier - herself a Michelin starred chef.
"Bocuse saw women as guardians of traditional cuisine, cooking best with rusticity and simplicity rather than with creativity and sophistication. His most notable remarks about women focused on their role as dispensaries of pleasure and their physicality, not their brainpower and skills." Anne E. McBride - James Beard Foundation
He had three women in his life - sometimes simultaneously it seems. And he never trained women - or people of colour either. So - very, very conservative.
But the other reason I am talking about Paul Bocuse is because today is the third birthday of this blog. Yesterday was Bastille Day. We have recently had a spate of birthdays, and next month has more. Every day is a celebration of something, whether personal or national, communal or private. And to celebrate these things we sometimes go to places like Paul Bocuse's temple of gastronomy. We try to do something memorable to pay homage to an equally memorable event. My fiftieth birthday - it was the actual birthday - will forever stay with me. Not all the others, even though I have dined in other memorable places. And if pushed I can dredge up the memories of some, but not the year.
And celebrations like Bastille Day are a two-edged sword it seems to me. Nationalism and Religion are the twin evils of the world really, and so I do not think they should be celebrated. Fusion, communion, a coming together is the thing. So I was very pleased and heartened to see that Angela Merkel - from one of France's traditional enemies, was there in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day with Emmanuel Macron - and other European leaders too. Not like Trump and his military displays. Britain, interestingly does not have such a day. After all it has sort of always been Britain. Would you make a national day about the great defeat of William the Conqueror's invasion? For really that is the last time that Britain really changed. When it became at least half French. Well I guess there was Cromwell's Republic, but it didn't last so no celebrations there. I suppose the closest thing to a national day like Bastille Day, May Day and the Fourth of July, is St. George's Day/Shakespeare's Birthday. But there is no public holiday. No fireworks. No fly overs or parades of tanks and military hardware, no traditional dish to be consumed. Besides there are many more worthwhile things to celebrate - and perhaps we should do so by visiting somewhere like Paul Bocuse's palace and creating more wonderful memories. Food as celebration. Which is why it is sort of appropriate that Gabriel Gaté should be celebrating French food as Le Tour winds its way through the spectacular countryside of France.
"Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France." Paul Bocuse