All in France

Michel Bras

I'd wanted to go to Michel Bras for a long time. Years, really. But it wasn't exactly easy to get there. When I moved to Paris, things became easier, but not by much. The restaurant is a 10-hour train ride from Paris, followed by an hour taxi. The ride back would be a night train. Aside from all that, reservations were difficult. When I called in March, they were fully booked until May. After weeks of persistence and a bit of luck, there was a last-minute cancellation. I was in. Given the distance to the restaurant, I decided to make a weekend out of it. I'd arrive Saturday afternoon and leave late Sunday night to catch the night train. This would enable me to order the entire menu pace myself to better understand the cooking of Chef Bras. 36-hours of Bras would mean two dinners, a breakfast, and a lunch. I was more than ready.

Paul Bocuse

There are few chefs in France so universally known as Paul Bocuse. It could be because Chef Bocuse, a descendant from a family of chefs dating back to the late 1600s, is 83 years old and still works, though less frequently, in the kitchen. Or the fact that his namesake restaurant in Lyon has had three Michelin stars for over 43 years, making it the restaurant to have the longest period of consecutive years with such an honor. Even the state of California has proclaimed March 10 "Paul Bocuse Day." It's no question that Bocuse has an extensive and titled culinary history. What is interesting, however, is that after all these years most of his menu hasn't changed at all. But fortunately Bocuse continues to reproduce these classics with the same quality and passion that made them popular so many years ago. Before my visit to chez Bocuse, I had associated "classical French" with the ubiquitous inclusion of French mother sauces containing butter, crème, and wine reductions tasting so starchy and old-fashioned that they could not be exciting. At least that's what my experience had been. Even in my limited experience at culinary school, we were taught to use these sauces as a springboard for other more elaborate, more international creations to spark originality. But here with Paul Bocuse, the concepts of Spanish molecular gastronomy, California cuisine, and Japanese fusion are foreign. He sticks to the basics; no games. Bocuse only uses classic sauces because he believes it's the best way to highlight the flavors of meat, fish, and vegetables. He does it because it tastes the best. Period.