Chef Philippe Mouchel remembers mentor Paul Bocuse

"A great teacher". Paul Bocuse with students at William Angliss College in Melbourne, June 2006.
"A great teacher". Paul Bocuse with students at William Angliss College in Melbourne, June 2006.  Photo: Pat Scala

"Mr Bocuse was not only a great chef, he was a great teacher," says Melbourne-based chef Philippe Mouchel of his mentor, Paul Bocuse, who died on Saturday. He was 91.  

Bocuse defined French cuisine for more than 50 years and created an empire of branded restaurants around the globe. He died at Collonges-au-Mont-d'or, the Lyon commune where he was born. Bocuse had suffered from Parkinson's disease.

Paul Bocuse poses outside his famed Michelin three-star restaurant L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in ...
Paul Bocuse poses outside his famed Michelin three-star restaurant L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Collonges-au-Mont-d'or, central France. Photo: Laurent Cipriani

"It is very sad," says Mouchel. "He did so much for everyone and it was very important for him to always be teaching the next generation. I was very privileged to work for him for 25 years at some of world's greatest restaurants in Australia, France and Japan."

Mouchel trained with Bocuse in Lyon at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant. Impressed by the 22-year-old chef's talent, Bocuse asked Mouchel to spearhead a new restaurant in Tokyo in the late 1980s. This eventually lead to Mouchel's placement in Melbourne.

Paul Bocuse Restaurant opened in Melbourne with Mouchel at the helm in 1991. Located in the flashy new Daimaru department store in Melbourne Central. The restaurant was awarded three hats by The Age Good Food Guide in its first year, putting it up with Browns, Flower Drum, Jacques Reymond and Stephanie's.

Farewell Melbourne: Paul Bocuse (left) and chef Philippe Mouchel before Paul Bocuse Restaurant Melbourne closed in 1997.
Farewell Melbourne: Paul Bocuse (left) and chef Philippe Mouchel before Paul Bocuse Restaurant Melbourne closed in 1997. Photo: Serge Thomann

Dishes reviewed at the time included Bocuse's legendary pastry-topped truffle soup, spiced duckling breast teamed with turnips, and "oysters in their own jelly, encased in smoked salmon and surrounded by a light cream broken by grains of caviar."  

Mouchel left to open Langton's Restaurant and Wine Bar on Flinders Lane in 1997 and Paul Bocuse Restaurant closed soon after.

"When we first arrived in Australia, Paul Bocuse Restaurant was a big success very quickly," says Mouchel. "I think the restaurant's downside was probably its location on the fourth level of a department store."

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Mouchel, who now operates Philippe restaurant on Collins Street, says Bocuse taught him the importance of using first-rate local ingredients.

"French cooking is no longer about heavy sauces but using seasonal produce and the best ingredients you can find in your local area," he says.

"In Lyon, for example, we do not use olive oil, we only use butter and cream because the local products are so fantastic. Mr Bocuse was the first to take French cooking back to its roots.

"He was also the first to bring chefs out the kitchen, making sure that after every service he would walk into the dining room and and greet his customers."