On Wednesday, the French restaurateur Paul Bocuse was named “Chef of the Century” by the Culinary Institute of America. I learned of this news from a friend, Richard Brody, who tweeted me an oblique note. Shortly before midnight, my iPod displayed his message to me, “Paul Bocuse's big cookbook is as much fun to read as a novel; even when the technique is beyond me, the ideas stick.”
The next day, when I asked him about the tweet, he shared the news of Bocuse’s award. Now, the interesting thing about hearing this from Richard, is that to my knowledge, he doesn’t cook at all.* So I asked him (an unabashed Francophile; see his amazing biography "Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard”) to explain his fascination. His eyes lit up and he launched into a great discussion about what he he has learned from the book. He talked about passages that explained the need to bleed out a rabbit, and how he once burned his hand on a frying pan (so, I was wrong about him not ever cooking), making something from the book—Bocuse, apparently, is quite captivating.
My first introduction to Bocuse was about a year ago, when I was working on the manuscript for “Man with a Pan.” Jim Harrison’s essay was full of references that sent me running to the Internet. On Bocuse, he said, “There is simply no substitute for wild game with the pen raised variety. If you want to make Bocuse’s Salmis de Becasse (an improbably elaborate recipe), you have to take up woodcock hunting. I love ruffed grouse and Mearns quail, but neither can be raised in captivity so you better train a bird dog and head to the field and forest with a shotgun.”
I’m not headed to a forest with a gun and a dog anytime soon, but I do wish I could have a Bocuse meal. Recently all I’ve been eating are leftovers. I’ve been staying at work late, and I haven’t cooked a proper meal since the weekend. I eat okay, and so do the kids. We have salmon, broccoli, roast chicken and the like, but it can get boring.
I’d like to tuck into a rich multi-course French meal. In an interview the night Bocuse received his award, the great chef revealed the following. “On his favorite ingredients: ‘Butter, cream and wine,' Bocuse said without hesitation. 'It’s very light,' he added with a knowing smile.” It will be some time before I get to France; in the meantime, maybe I can borrow Richard’s book.
*Late word from Richard is that he does cook, for fun! More on this later, if time permits.
(Becasse, or woodcock, image courtesy of this site)