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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Paul Bocuse In Palm Springs 1992.

Those were the days.
This is in response to Dor's comment:
I hadn't thought of a back-story to this photo but I suppose there is one.
For those unfamiliar with Paul Bocuse; he is the founder of the new culinary movement dating back to the 1970's. They called it nouvelle cuisine but it was much more than that. Nouvelle Cuisine later became an excuse for flimsy presentations and outrageous abuses.
There was much more to this new approach to cooking, presentation and accent on fresh and first class product. In the long run the positives outweighed the negatives but it took a few painful years to reach that point.
The culinary scene had become stagnant with the same dishes on all the same menus in all the hotels and restaurants in the world. There was very little imagination and very little innovation in the world of cooking. The emphasis was on technique rather than new ideas. Once you knew how to read the repertoire and had all the basic skills then the only thing left to do was to refine those skills so you were better than everyone else.
Paul Bocuse and a couple of other french chefs brought in new concepts as to how food should not only be cooked but also served and thus revolutionized the industry. Their main theme was a lighter fare, great emphasis on fresh product and the local market as well as different presentations. Meats and fish were placed on top of sauces so they could be seen. Vegetables were cooked properly and color became a big part of the presentation. Sauces became lighter in general. Dishes went to the guest already plated so the waiter would only have to serve, thus eliminating any side work like flambéing or carving. Things were greatly simplified and the guest was better served in the long run. A new energy was brought in to the industry and from that energy and innovation we have the celebrity chefs that we have today. Before Bocuse the chef and his staff were never seen outside of the kitchen.
Unfortunately after a few years and despite all the best intentions things got out of hand and the whole thing collapsed under its own weight. Presentations and portions became more and more outlandish and miniscule as less experienced chefs started to get into this new wave. However, the ideas remained and the emphasis on new and exciting products and techniques are still with us. The abuses are gone now for the most part and the end result is that the whole culinary world has been left better off.
Without these innovators there would not be the great interest in food and wine that there is in the USA today. Restaurants all over the world would not be vying with the same enthusiasm to be number one. The days before this it was always the same ones who got the glory: Maxims in Paris for instance. Now the field is much more democratic.
The irony of the whole thing is that the country where things have not changed all that much is France. This country is steeped in tradition and regional and interesting cuisine and I don’t think it will ever change. For my money, it shouldn’t change.
Bocuse is now 82 years old and is still in his restaurant in Lyon. We ate there in the ‘70’s. It was a big event eating in Bocuse’s restaurant in those days and we all dressed appropriately for the occasion. I still have the original bill and menu that we all signed. If I can find it I will post it. The meal cost over a thousand francs which was a lot of money in those days.
In spite of the great movement Bocuse’s own menus stayed very conservative in part because in Lyon you don’t mess with food too much, people know how to eat and they don’t want any gimmicks.
I first met Paul Bocuse in 1974 in Lyon and have worked with him on several occasions since. This was one of those occasions.
He was always very kind to me. I think he thought it was a great novelty to see an Irishman who knew french cuisine and spoke his language. We got along very well and we did a series of events in the hotel in Palm Springs featuring a buffet of specialties from Lyon and ending in a dinner for the press and dignitaries. He was very surprised to see the specialties from Lyon. I was very familiar with the cuisine of the region as I had spent a lot of time there.
After all the festivities were over there was a press conference with him answering questions. I was standing off to the side when one of the journalists asked him what made a good restaurant. He ran down through the décor, the service and then he caught my eye and called me over in front of the press. He told them that the most important thing was a good chef who only bought the highest quality products and knew how to use them. He said that he had been in a lot of hotels and restaurants but that he had been most impressed with the cleanliness and the professionalism he found in mine. Needless to say this was high praise indeed from such an icon of the industry.
Later when I invited Roger Verge, another icon of the time, to do an event in the hotel Verge called Bocuse to see if he should accept.
Bocuse told him not to worry about anything and he should go.

1 comment:

Dor said...

So what's the story behind this picture?