PARIS (AFP) - Paul Bocuse, hailed as one of the greatest French chefs of all time, has died aged 91, the country's interior minister said on Saturday (Jan 20).
Bocuse helped shake up the food world in the 1970s with the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution and created the idea of the celebrity chef.
"Monsieur Paul was France. The pope of gourmets has left us," tweeted Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, announcing the chef's death after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
"He was one of the greatest figures of French gastronomy, the General Charles de Gaulle of cuisine," said French food critic Francois Simon, comparing him to France's wartime saviour and dominant postwar leader.
A giant in a nation that prides itself as the beating heart of gastronomy, Bocuse was France's only chef to keep the Michelin food bible's coveted three-star rating through more than four decades.
The heart of his empire, L'Auberge de Collonges au Mont D'Or, his father's village inn near Lyon in food-obsessed south-eastern France, earned three stars in 1965, and never lost a single one.
Lover of food, wine and women
"Monsieur Paul", as he was known, was named "chef of the century" by Michelin's rival guide, the Gault-Millau in 1989, and again by The Culinary Institute of America in 2011.
Born in 1926 to a family of cooks since 1765, Bocuse began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 and came to epitomise a certain type of French epicurean - a lover of fine wine, food and women.
A great upholder of tradition as well as an innovator, several of his trademark dishes at the Auberge remained unchanged for decades, such as the bass in a pastry crust or the black truffle soup he created for French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1975, who named him a commander in the Legion of Honour.
He slept in the same room where he was born, and managed to maintain a relationship with his wife Raymonde and at least two lovers. "I love women and we live too long these days to spend one's entire life with just one," Bocuse told the Daily Telegraph in 2005.
Together with the Gault-Millau guide, Bocuse became a driving force behind the Nouvelle Cuisine, sweeping away the rich and heavy sauces of yesteryear in favour of super-fresh ingredients and sleek aesthetics.
Bocuse reportedly claimed the term was invented by Gault-Millau to describe food he helped prepare for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.
Slashing cooking times, paring down menus and paying new attention to health, Nouvelle Cuisine was a craze that fizzled out but left a lasting legacy.
"It was a real revolution," said Simon.
"They coined a concept that came at exactly the right moment - at a time when gastronomy was a bit dull and heavy, with thick sauces, not sexy at all."
In 2007, more than 80 top chefs flew to France from around the world to celebrate his 81st birthday and his legacy.