Nouvelle Cuisine. The phrase needs no translation into any language. French master chef Paul Bocuse (1926-2018), generally acknowledged as being its originator, died last week.
Born into a restaurant-owning family in the Lyon area, his first star dish at age seven was veal kidneys with creamed potatoes. Although World War II interrupted his career, he fought at the front and was decorated.
Bocuse's formative years started with a stint in Paris but, returning to his beloved Lyon, he decided to turn classical French cuisine inside out. Bearing in mind that nothing had changed in restaurant kitchens for centuries, and Escoffier's methods using cream and butter to make sauces masked the flavours of the meat and fish, it was probably about time.
Bocuse's lighter touch achieved a massive following, but precisely because his imitators took matters to ridiculous extremes, he finished up criticising the “minute portions, almost raw vegetables and confusion of exotic tastes”.
Rather surprising, when he had earlier declared his own innovations to have been like a “young girl wearing a see-through blouse compared with a beauty of the 1900s heavily corseted”.
Bocuse's Auberge du Pont de Collonges achieved its first Michelin star in 1961, and the third in 1965. In its heyday his empire embraced 20 restaurants from the USA to Japan.
Internationally recognised as a great chef, he also had a reputation for vanity. His restaurants exhibited life-size Bocuse figures and photographs all over the walls.
Things started to go sour in 1976 when he was quoted as saying that women were good cooks but never good chefs, and when it was revealed that during his 30-year marriage he had shared his wife with two mistresses and many lovers, he famously said “Food and sex have much in common.”
The revelation that he had hidden undeclared funds in a Swiss bank's numbered account did not help his image, but when he died in the same bed in which he had been born, and slept for most of his life, many French hearts went out to him.