Chefs prepare dishes during lunchtime at the ‘Brasserie Paul Bocuse Le Musee’ in the National Art Centre in Tokyo.
When Japanese cook Kazunori Nakatani talks about his mentor Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef who died last week, he still uses the present tense: “For us he is a great!”
Bocuse is revered in France as the “pope” of the country's treasured cuisine, and gained international recognition in part for his revolutionary “Nouvelle Cuisine” in the 1970s.
But he has a special legacy in Japan, where many local chefs trained at his Institut Paul Bocuse, near Lyon. “He's a legend, not only in the world of French cuisine, but in the entire world of cuisine,” said Nakatani, executive chef of the Paul Bocuse brand in Japan.
“Good produce, well seasoned, good cooking: that is good cuisine,” he added, switching to French to reel off his mentor's golden rules. “These are the words that will stay with me.”
The first opened in 2007, the “Brasserie Paul Bocuse Le Musee,” inside Tokyo's National Arts Centre, where it occupies a dramatic spot atop a massive inverted concrete cone that dominates the museum's glass atrium.
Jun Ueda, 42, has worked at the brasserie since it opened, and can hardly believe its founder is gone. “It's deeply sad,” he said, his starched chef's hat perched atop his head.
“I lost my father at the age of 17 and I can tell you the shock was just as great.”
“He’s the one who inspired me to cook French food,” he added, as a cook nearby sliced expertly though a sitting row of glistening red tomatoes..
“A museum is... a very special place, borderless,” said Yuriko Narusawa, a PR official for Paul Bocuse’s Japanese operations. “That is one of the reasons why we wanted to open our first restaurant here. Because the aim is to spread French cuisine. So this is an ideal place.”
“Monsieur Paul” as he was known, was France’s only chef to keep the Michelin food Bible’s coveted three-star rating for more than four decades. But he disdained overly fussy food, seeking to create only dishes that would tempt diners back “for a second helping.”
“He left us his philosophy, the way he thought about cooking,” said Nakatani, who did several training sessions in Lyon. “He was always saying 'simply', and I think that best sums up his cooking philosophy.” Bocuse, who died at 91, was a larger-than-life character, and infamously maintained a relationship with his wife as well as two lovers.
He also exuded a warmth that extended to every employee at restaurants, his former students say. “He treated everyone like a family member, even staff members, dishwashers,” said Nakatani.
“He is a legend, but he is also a big father.”
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