Honoring Paul Bocuse
Taking a moment to appreciate the culinary genius.
More than 10 years ago, the Culinary Institute of America honored Paul Bocuse with its “Chef of the Century” award. 50 years ago, the French government awarded him the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France) for his extraordinary culinary skills. He helped make his hometown of Lyon a dining capital — with his range of nine restaurants and brasseries, he elevated and promoted French cooking and nouvelle cuisine globally and trained a new generation of renowned chefs before passing away three years ago. Let us take a moment to remember Paul Bocuse.
Before there was Alain Ducasse, there was Bocuse. Before there was Jean-Georges Vongerichten, there was Bocuse. Before there was Boulud, Bloomfield, Blumenthal, and the age of the television celebrity chef, there was Bocuse. Bocuse himself reportedly descended from a family of chefs that stretched back to the 17th Century and began his career at the age of 16. After WWII and entering his 20s, he continued training under some of the leading French chefs at that time before opening his first restaurant in Lyon.
Although the nouvelle cuisine for which he is often celebrated called for using less fat, lighter sauces, and fresh ingredients, Bocuse’s signature dishes could also be complex, rich, and high in calories. They included: duck with foie gras and pistachio; Bresse chicken fricassee with cream and morels; French-style Maine lobster salad; and perhaps his most famous dish, soupe aux truffes VGE (the initials standing for the French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who presented him with the Légion d’honneur in 1975).
Since 1987, the Bocuse d’Or award that bears his name has been regarded as the most prestigious prize for chefs across the world who enter the competition, which is referred to as the “Olympics of Food.” In 1989, Bocuse was named President of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition (in the cooking and restaurant management category). And for over five decades, until his passing, his restaurant L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges (often just called “Paul Bocuse”) annually received three prized Michelin stars, a record for consistency in excellence yet to be replicated.
In addition to the many cookbooks he wrote, perhaps Bocuse’s greatest ongoing achievement, one that continues to pay dividends on his investment of time and resources, is his opening in 1990 of the Institut Paul Bocuse. The Institut now trains over 1,200 students a year in hospitality management, food service, and the culinary arts and offers courses and degrees from the undergraduate through doctoral levels. The global success of Institut Paul Bocuse can be seen in its student body, which represents over 60 nationalities who learn across 10 international campuses. The Institut also supports various educational development projects around the world and currently has a network of many thousands of alumni.
Although neither a professional chef nor graduate of Institut Paul Bocuse, I have always admired Bocuse’s culinary skills and dedication to supporting the next generation of chefs. With these similar interests in mind, I was pleased and privileged recently to be able to work with El Instituto Nacional de Formación Técnico Profesional (INFOTEP) in the Dominican Republicin developing a new competition and awarding diplomas for “Creative Cooking” to outstanding young local chefs in training. As part of this initiative, the first-place winner received a scholarship to continue his study of gastronomy at the Basque Culinary Center in Spain. In addition, second and third place winners won internships at a prestigious hotel in the easternmost resort town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Like Paul Bocuse, I hope that my more modest efforts will enable the next generation of chefs to spread their culinary magic far and wide. Chapeau, Monsieur!
Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.