Letters From Lyon August 2019

Cher Eat,

I have been wondering a lot lately about how Lyon gained such a recognisable status in gastronomy. Sure, yes there are plenty of restaurants, and it is the home to many chefs with world wide recognition. Not to mention the location, its a hub for top quality products and a selling point for regional farmers and vineyards. My question still remains though, why over Paris is it named the gastronomic capital? What happened here for Lyon to gain such a status? Paris has markets, an abundance of chefs and quite the reputation itself. It’s a big title to hold, and I found out it happened in 1935, when one of the most celebrated writers of gastronomy and famed food critic, Curnonsky, made this bold statement about the humble city. It’s no secret that Paul Bocuse played a huge part in raising the profile of Lyon worldwide, with his brand of French food “Nouvelle Cuisine”. However my question still remains valid as I wonder what drove Crunosky to say this, and where Paul found his inspiration.

After asking around numerous people in the industry here, I kept hearing the same answer.
“Les meres” (the mothers). Icons. The women behind Lyon’s very own Bouchons.
Originally starting with Mère Filloux who, after being dismissed from the household where she worked during the economic crisis in 1929, opened a bistro. She quickly gained a large status throughout the region and passed along her knowledge to the very famous Mère Brazier, who was the teacher to our beloved Paul Bocuse.

Traditional households were changing in the 1920s, and people were losing their jobs inside large family homes, a result of impacts from the war. Household cooks flourished and through the nature of necessity, they began to open restaurants. There were many other mothers that became well known and famed. Les Mères used the traditional food that was already being served in restaurants and elevated these simple dishes by utilizing the local abundance and resources Lyon had access to. They added the finest of truffles to rich consommés, stuffed them in between the skin of the Bresse poultry, and cooked whole birds inside pigs bladders in order to lock in moisture and flavours, protecting the birds from the high heats of the wood fired ovens.

Mère Brazier successfully opened two restaurants, and was the first woman to be awarded three Michelin stars for both these establishments at the same time in 1933! Wow. She became talked about in the culinary world and famed by her well loved dish
“Volaille demi-deuil” (truffled hen). It was at her second restaurant where Paul began his training.

These Lyonnaise mothers were the first to offer refined and generally elaborate cuisine, but at an affordable price. They utilised inferior cuts on the animals, as they were used to not throwing anything away from their previous time spent in family homes. Today, they have been the mentors to many great chefs that now run the culinary scene in Lyon. Eating and cooking has always been a part of the French culture, but these mothers brought expertise to simple home cooking, elevating the dishes and ultimately sculpting Lyon down the path of world recognizable cuisine and securing Lyon the title of gastronomic capital of France.

À la prochaine,


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