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‘You loved your city and it loved you’: Lyon bids farewell to culinary ‘pope’ Paul Bocuse

Philippe Desmazes, AFP | Chefs carry the coffin of Paul Bocuse during the funeral ceremony at the Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon on January 26, 2018.

Thousands of people, including relatives, friends and disciples, flocked to Lyon cathedral on Friday, some standing in the rain for hours, to bid a final farewell to the city’s favourite son, Paul Bocuse.

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Paul Bocuse, who died last Saturday aged 91,established a global network of admirers throughout his extended career, providing inspiration to a multitude of chefs for his nouvelle cuisine style.

But despite his global fame, the "pope of French cuisine" always remained accessible to the people of Lyon, who turned out in droves on Friday for his funeral service.

“Monsieur Paul, you loved your city and it loved you,” said Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, a longtime mayor of Lyon, in a moving tribute that captured the mood in France’s capital of gastronomy.

Laurence Fayolle, a local, sheltered under an umbrella outside the Cathedral Saint-Jean while she waited for the service to start. She braved the cold rain “because I am Lyonnaise and I like to cook,” she said. “I knew all his restaurants.”

She didn’t know Bocuse personally, but she used to see him around town because he used to frequent a restaurant in her neighbourhood, and once she shook his hand.

The fact that she wasn’t personally acquainted with Bocuse didn’t diminish her sorrow. She welled up with tears as she described her personal tribute to the man: “I cooked his blanquette de veau to honour him.”

Fayolle, like the rest of Bocuse admirers, was relegated to watching the funeral mass on one of the large screens erected outside the church. The seats inside were reserved for friends, family and chefs, many of whom filed into the sanctuary wearing cooks’ coats with black armbands. An estimated 1,500 chefs came to pay their respects, leaving the pews in the church filled with white-clad, almost angelic, figures.

Laurent André, the Michelin-starred chef at the helm of Café de la Paix in Paris, was one of them. Like many, he got to know Bocuse through the world of gastronomy and used to go fishing on his property. André, too, was consumed by emotion when talking about the hero of French cooking. “A part of ourselves has gone,” he said.

Laurence Schmidt had worked with both Paul Bocuse and his son Jerome in their restaurant at the Disney World Resort’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida. She encountered the grand chef for the first time when she was in her 20s. She didn’t dare approach him, but as he passed, he stopped and greeted her. “He was so friendly, it was unbelievable,” she said. “He was very close to his people.”

Schmidt said the lessons she learned from working for the Bocuse family, professionalism and perfectionism, have served her well throughout her life.

As the service went on, the rain grew steadier and colder, but the crowd around the cathedral continued to swell with undaunted mourners. Many of them would follow the service with perhaps the most fitting possible tribute to ‘Monsieur Paul’: a meal at one of his restaurants.

The night before, Bocuse’s Brasserie le Sud had already been completely booked for both lunch and dinner on Friday, and in the hours after the funeral mass, nearly all the eateries at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, an indoor food market, were packed.

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