Inconceivable these days, Bernard Pacaud began his apprenticeship with the Lyons culinary legend La Mère Brazier when he only 15 years old. Her demands on the quality of ingredients of all kinds defined Pacaud’s cooking philosophy very early: “Only use the best. The guests end up paying for it”, he says. Pacaud also does not pose for front pages and rarely appears on television. “I’m just interested in doing my job as well as possible,” he says.
But Bernard Pacaud is disillusioned: “Just look at what has become of gastronomy!” Disappointment can be read over his well-groomed face with its three day old beard. “Gastronomy has gone the way of perfumery, champagne and cognac. Beautiful packaging, imaginative shapes. But what is in it? With Cognac, chemistry replaces floral essences, and adding caramel replaces the aromas and natural color that come from barrel storage. And on the dish only the shape counts. The eye does not eat anymore. It just sees extraneous decoration.”
For a moment Bernard Pacaud appears lonely in the middle of his restaurant. Behind him lies the noble Place des Vosges, in the opinion of many the most beautiful square in Paris. Left and right, the dining room brigade inspects every detail again, watchful looks combing the interior in 17th century château style for inaccuracies. Is the distance between tables correct? Is the historical tapestry without wrinkles? Do the spotlights in the front dining salon point the right way? Just now Pacaud himself has just straightened a candle wick. Then he goes into story-telling. First the foams and jellies that are served everywhere today. “I prefer the emotion to the emulsion,” he grumbles, tightening his blue apron. Then comes the memory: His youth, spent with Lyonnais gastronomy when thrushes and snipes were still grilled and the écrevisses pattes rouges (red-footed crayfish) were in the kitchen transformed into delicious gratins and quenelles. “We had so many crayfish that we sold their shells to other restaurants so they could make crayfish butter.” Today, the real, wild pattes rouges are almost extinct. “Back in Lyon, we used only manicured Bresse poultry.” Manicured poultry, if you pardon me, I ask. “The chickens had to be clean, the farmers had to be clean. La Mère Brazier demanded this”.
Bernard Pacaud experienced it himself. He has over 55 years of experience in the top echelons of gastronomy. When Eugénie Brazier (1895-1976), the best chef in Lyon, hired Pacaud, a Breton orphan, she was a living legend who had six stars in the Guide Michelin for her two restaurants.
There’s the story that in 1953 the directors of the Waldorf Astoria in New York had offered her an annual salary of $ 150,000. Eugénie refused. Allegedly, an Indian maharajah is said to have offered her a kitchen with pots of pure gold. Again, Eugénie refused. Only once could she not say no, when a man from the utility company came to the door. The restaurant must now be connected to the mains, he explains. The time of wood and coal stoves is over. And Eugénie Brazier said, “If there is electricity in my house, then it will be home-made.” She then installed a generator in the basement.
Awards & Press
- Michelin 3 Stars