PARIS — Paul Bocuse, the master chef who defined French cuisine for nearly half a century and put it on tables around the world, a man who raised the profile of top chefs from invisible kitchen artists to international celebrities, has died at 91, French officials announced.
Often referred to as the “pope of French cuisine,” Bocuse was a tireless pioneer, the first chef to blend the art of cooking with savvy business tactics — branding his cuisine and his image to create an empire of restaurants around the globe. His imposing physical stature and his larger-than-life personality matched his bold dreams and his far-flung accomplishments.
Bocuse died Saturday at Collonges-au-Mont-d’or, the place where he was born and had his restaurant, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement. He is survived by his wife Raymonde, their daughter Francoise and a son, Jerome.
“French gastronomy loses a mythical figure … The chefs cry in their kitchens, at the Elysee (presidential palace) and everywhere in France,” Macron said.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb tweeted that “Mister Paul was France. Simplicity and generosity. Excellence and art de vivre.”
Bocuse, who underwent a triple heart bypass in 2005, had also been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Bocuse’s temple to French gastronomy, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, outside the city of Lyon in southeastern France, has held three stars — without interruption — since 1965 in the Michelin guide, the bible of gastronomes.
Bocuse adapted seamlessly to the changing times, making his mark with a first coveted Michelin star in 1958, a second in 1960 and a third in 1965. Since then, his cooking has been defined by superlatives.
As early as 1982, Bocuse opened a restaurant in the France Pavilion in Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, headed by his son Jerome, also a chef. In recent years, Bocuse even dabbled in fast food with two outlets in his home base of Lyon.
In 1989, Bocuse was named Cook of the Century by Gault & Millau, a noted guidebook. In 2011, the Culinary Institute of America named him Chef of the Century, opening a restaurant for students in his name. He maintained a special pride, however, in the blue, white and red stripes on his chef’s collar holding a large medal, attesting to his selection in 1961 as a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France,” a sought-after distinction for chefs and other artisans.
He opened two brasseries in Lyon in 1995 and 1997. He added three other eateries in the city and even a hotel. He planted restaurants in the south of France, in Geneva and hopped across the world to Japan, where eight Bocuse brasseries, cafes and other establishments were opened.
But his pride is transmitting his savoir-faire to a young generation through the Foundation Paul Bocuse, established in Lyon in 2004. His Bocuse d’Or, or gold award — an international competition for young chefs — has grown into a major culinary showcase since 1987.