mardi 19 juin 2007

Défense et illustration de Paul Bocuse (in English)


Voici un papier que j'ai posté sur Chowhound en réponse aux sarcasmes habituels sur Bocuse.

Of course I am aware of the common wisdom about Paul Bocuse, relayed by most critics: it's a joke, it used to be wonderful thirty years ago. I want first to point out that most of these reviews look to much like one another, and give too little (if any) detail to avoid giving the impression that they are basically spreading the word. In the best case, former readings heavily influence the actual restaurant experience. In the worst, critics are plain repeating what they read (A lexical analysis of some reviews would support this view).

Clearly, the idea of fallen glory has a lot of appeal. Works with Paul Bocuse, started to work with Bernard Loiseau (did not help him to overcome his suicidal trends, obviously), and I hope that the time of Ducasse will come. Smartly, Robuchon retired just before it started (and came back as a new man). I am not saying that bad reviews of Paul Bocuse are insincere, but I always beware of papers whose content I can predict.

Speaking of which, Michelin bashing seems to be as fun a game as Bush bashing. I understand both, and I believe the two share of lack of transparency which is regrettable. That said, I also believe Michelin to be highly reliable (and respected among top chefs). I do believe they have a set of fixed criteria, even though they do not advertise them. In any case, many affirmations about them are unfounded, such as the one that there would be a numerus clausus of three star restaurants.

In my experience, Michelin positive judgements can be trusted and are justified. I would not say that they are early trend spotters to be sure. But why would they be so nice to Bocuse and so mean to other icons like Meneau, Lameloise, Lorain and Jung (all French legends demoted at one point or another)?

I also do not think that Michelin helps much in giving a sense of the specificity of the place, and helping you chose which place to go without having already been there. But then again, that’s why I try to do exactly that.

Coming to the actual point, I reiterate that Bocuse deserves the third star and never disappoints. This is based on seven visits over the last few years.

Is Bocuse outdated? Positively. Is the place annoying with all its circus and imagery of the Master? Fuck yeah. Has he been serving the same stuff for over twenty years? Without a doubt. Has he any surprising recipe, unheard of? No: his cuisine has been one of the most influential worldwide for over thirty years, everybody is familiar with it. Is it light? No.

But it is flawlessly executed, offers good value on wine and food, and dishes that you can actually hardly find in other places. About this last point, just check the online menu . For example, a (truffled, may I add) chicken in a bladder is 160€: this dish serves four, and would hardly be found under 250€ in comparable French restaurants (e.g. Le Bristol, Westermann, Loiseau or Blanc). Old Romanée-Conti can be drunk for under 1000€, and those are wines for which there is not even a market price because there is no market.

Unlike many other renowned restaurants (e.g. Ducasse, Rochat, Savoy, Gagnaire), I never spotted imperfect cooking, seasoning or product at Bocuse, be it for chicken, veal or fish (the most delicate fleshes to cook). Granted, his traditional seasoning is not light – I like it, but it also is a matter of personal taste. I would argue that dissatisfaction of any kind in that sort of restaurant should be voiced, and even loudly (I had several good meals on the house that way ;-).

Again, who else does a perfect, tasty, old-styled but subtle sauce Choron to go with the huge sea bass in puff pastry? Who offers perfect poulet à la crème et aux morilles? Côte de veau bourgeoise ? The list could go on. I am always told that good bistrots do it as well, but never actually found one of these wonderful bistrots. Save L’Ami Louis, which is hardly cheaper than Monsieur Paul.

Those dishes are historic, but they are historic for a reason: they taste pretty damn good (and outdated). They are not that easy to make. There are many restaurants, where I think I could have done what they do: Bocuse is not one of them, and I am a pretty good damn cook. Bocuse has four “Meilleurs ouvriers de France” in his kitchen (the highest distinction for cooks – only nine awarded this year). That is, to my knowledge an unparalleled number.

There is way too much to eat at Bocuse – I confess I don’t mind. Last summer, we had to ask for a break before the army of desserts was served, and we actually went out for a thirty minute walk along the river in order to be able to consider the many fruits, tarts, chocolate cakes, ice-creams, etc. Such are the old French ways, and we are not fit for it anymore.
(Volaille cuite en vessie -- Photo Bun Pun Su)
I ate there in the presence and in the absence of Paul Bocuse, and I did not notice a difference (except that, when Monsieur Paul is here, it shows and he comes to greet every table, make photo-ops, etc.). When asked who cooks when he is away, he says “same ones as when I am here”.

In my opinion, Bocuse deserves the highest rating because no one does what he does better than he, and what he offers is very high level, and very consistent.

No one has to like it of course, like with every top restaurant. Personally, I don’t like Bras and Gagnaire. But I recognise the high level and consistency of their approach. I am also unmoved by l’Astrance, and feel robbed whenever I go to Ducasse or Passard (therefore I don’t go there anymore). I do not, however, question their rating, and I try to give a fair account of their talent.

All this said, and extensively said, if you want to start a thread about undeserved stars, I would start with Ducasse. I find it pretentious and boring. Rochat should not be forgotten either.

2 commentaires:

thomas a dit…

J'ai beaucoup aime mon repas chez bocuse.Mais c'etait au printemps donc, pas de lievre a la carte.
Avez-vous goute le lievre a la royal chez bocuse? Quelle version sert il?
Vue la qualite des plats, peut-on en deduire qu'il sert le meilleur lievre a la royal de france?
merci d'avance.


Aussi cette photo du lievre est magnifique. est elle truque?

Julot-les-pinceaux a dit…

Bonjour Thomas,

Je n'ai pas goûté le lièvre de Bocuse. Je soupçonne qu'il le fait sur commande spéciale plus qu'à la carte, mais il faudrait vérifier. A en juger par la photo, il s'agit manifestement de la version Ali-Bab.

Ceci dit, je n'ai aucun doute sur la haute tenue du lièvre chez Bocuse, et je sais qu'il ne préparerait jamais qu'il ne maîtrise pas parfaitement.

Dans mon expérience, ceci dit, ce serait plutôt Fréchon (au Bristol) et Bertron (Relais Bernard Loiseau) qui font le meilleur lièvre version Ali-Bab (mon préféré). Voyez en partiulier mon post récent sur Bernard Loiseau (Novembre 207).