Jean and Pierre Troisgros at dinner.
Maria is behind her husband Jean. Bernard Loiseau is wearing the highest toque from the left.
Bernard Loiseau in the ‘La table et la route’ magazine, already a media darling.
Bernard Loiseau at the Côte d’Or with Prime Minister Chaban-Delmas
Inside the first dining room
(now the Alexandre Dumaine historic room)
1991, year of the 3 Michelin stars
Celebrating New Year 2000, with friends Jean-Luc Petitrenaud, Christian Constant and Guy Savoy
Legion of Honour awarded at the Elysée Palace by President François Mitterrand.
There is no doubt that Bernard Loiseau has left his mark on the history of French cuisine, a history where every vowel and consonant in the text is marked with the imprint of his talent and perfection. He, a child from Chamalières, in the Puy-de-Dôme, was an apprentice from March 1968 to June 1971. He would then go on to bag 3 stars at the head of ‘his’ Côte d’Or in Burgundy twenty years later.
‘Bernard spends his time under his mother’s skirt tails in the family pork butcher’s shop. “I spent all my time hanging around the shop (…), I grew up amongst the terrines, the sausages and the calf’s heads”, Bernard told me. He would watch his mother boil the preserves in the laundry boiler on the stove, next to the jams. He learns how to make blackcurrant liqueur by squeezing the fruit through a stocking, and to peel the ceps to go with the meat’, Dominique Loiseau recounts in her book Bernard Loiseau, mon mari (Bernard Loiseau, my husband) (published by Michel Lafon).
Bernard Loiseau always remained a very straightforward chef, one with a taste for the good things in life, those simple and flavourful dishes of his childhood. He was never content until he had shared his love for simple ingredients, a job well done, and the meticulous care and attention of an insatiable perfectionist.
Bernard Loiseau started his apprenticeship at the age of 17 at Troisgros restaurant in Roanne. A fortnight after his arrival, he watched in wonder as it was awarded its third Michelin star.
‘Bernard found all that fascinating, and a light went on in his head, it was an illumination’, explains his wife. And it was to be thus, he too would live this same wonderful experience! Chef Guy Savoy, who was apprenticed to Troisgros at the same time as him, remembers his irrepressible desire to win three stars: ‘Bernard was ultra-sensitive, he had a virtually incredible clarity of vision, so much so that we already believed that our desires were in the realms of the possible. He was the only one of us who dreamt of having three stars one day.’ (Bernard Loiseau, mon mari).
With his professional cookery qualification in his pocket by June 1971, he left to do his military service, and when he returned to Clermont-Ferrand, made a lucky chance encounter with a former companion from his apprenticeship days. This friend was working for a restaurant owner in Paris, Claude Verger, who also offered him a job. Bernard Loiseau, the young man from the Ardèche in the Auvergnat, went up to Paris and exchanged his Solex mororbike for the metro. By the age of 22, he was chef at the Barrière de Clichy. This restaurant was the haunt of theatre people and journalists. That’s where he developed his taste for the media. That is also where he started to develop his own style with water deglazing. Women with an eye on their figures became very keen on this lighter kind of cuisine with less cream and butter.
But the chef was a man of character and thus he walked away from this property one year later … He then took charge of the larder at a two star restaurant in Avallon, the Hôtel de la Poste. As he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the ovens, he left it for the post of chef at Le Frantel in Clermont-Ferrand. But Parisian Claude Verger called him back and entrusted him with the post of chef in a restaurant just opened in the Opéra district, La Barrière Poquelin. From 1974, food critics liked what he was doing and thought of him as a ‘future great chef’. The Paris smart set crowded into this tiny bistrot and Bernard Loiseau was to get an early foretaste of the role of the media in the career of a chef.
His mentor Claude Verger had faith in him and sought a restaurant to the measure of his talent. It was to be the Côte d’Or, in Saulieu, a legendary property that had aged somewhat since the departure of its illustrious owner, Alexandre Dumaine, who ran it from 1930 to 1963, followed by François Minot until 1975.
That was when Claude Verger decided to acquire the property and entrust its management to his protégé. Bernard Loiseau was 24 years old, brimming with dreams, and flaunting an ambition as big as his heart. The name of Bernard Loiseau would henceforth become wedded to that of the Côte d’Or; he would be the architect of its fabulous renaissance.
In March 1975, he took over the management of this hotel restaurant. But the staff gave him a run for his money as they were not well disposed to this little chef from Paris who had just revolutionised cooking. Against all the odds, he won his first Michelin star in 1977 and was awarded three toques and 17/20 in the Gault et Millau. It was at that time that his pioneering spirit gave way to professionalism and unflinching rigour.
In the very early 1980s, Bernard Loiseau was already getting known for his refined cuisine, using water to deglaze, which is now a standard technique. He pioneered this trend, and focussed his research on pure, original flavours which he sought to maximise, while at the same time limiting as far as possible his use of fats and sugar.
He was a born leader and delegated to others in order to devote himself to what he was truly passionate about: cuisine and his guests. Bernard Loiseau brought the fire of passion to his kitchens! He was determined to climb the career ladder. From the time of his first star in 1977, he had already set his sights on his second, which he won in 1981. It was then that the Loiseau personality exploded onto the culinary stage. He published a highly-successful book, L'Envolée des saveurs, and appeared frequently in the media.It was a time for projects and then came the award of the third star in March 1991 – a memorable week when son Bastien was also born. He had fulfilled his dream, ‘one day I shall have 3 stars!’, and the New York Times featured him on the front page.
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