The Biscayne Times

Mar 19th
King for a Day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack King, BT Contributor   
February 2018

The stars align for an adventure in France

LPix_JackKing_2-18_1ast month one of the finest chefs ever to walk the face of the earth died. Paul Bocuse passed away not far from Lyon, in the French town where he was born, Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, the home of L’Auberge, his renowned three-star Michelin restaurant. He was 91.

And why do I start a column with an obituary of the most famous and possible the best chef of the 20th century? Twenty years ago, my wife and I ate at his world-famous establishment and shared a bottle of wine with him.

It was a day I’ll never forget, not only for meeting Bocuse, but because it was such a serendipitous day all around. And how did it all happen?

It was three days before Christmas 1998, and my wife and I were lying in bed in a small hotel on Paris’s Left Bank. Our plan for the day was to take the train north to Mont Saint-Michel. I’d always wanted to see the island, but somehow it never made the to-do list. And again, it wouldn’t. A winter storm was blasting toward the English Channel and I don’t do well in cold, wet weather. So that trip was out.

Where to go? My wife reminded me that I’d always wanted to go to Paul Bocuse in Lyon, and I reminded her that the restaurant sells out months in advance, and that our chances of getting a reservation were next to zero. She said, call anyway, who knows? So I called, and they said, yes, come at 1:00, all right? Yes, I said, and looked over at my wife. The magic had begun.

Lyon is 400 miles from Paris, and there was no way we’d get there for lunch, unless we could catch the TGV, a high-speed train that hurtles along at 200 miles an hour. It took us just two hours to get from Paris to Lyon.

We arrived in Lyon at 11:30 and had an hour or so to wander around. We walked to the city park, which was packed with all sorts of small shops selling Christmas goods. I had to use the facilities, and someone pointed us to a dive bar across the street. As we walked in, I noticed that it was much more than a dive bar, more like a bar, bookie joint, and whore house -- some guy was even selling Christmas gifts that were already wrapped.

We grabbed a cab to go to the restaurant, which was about eight miles north of Lyon. It’s in a hundred-year-old building with numerous dining rooms, about four tables in each room. The weather had turned nasty and the place was half empty, but then again, it was early for lunch by French standards.

The menu came and we had a choice of a five- or seven-course meal. Being conservative Americans, we chose the five-course meal. As we ordered, I noticed that there were chickens on racks roasting in the fireplace. Every so often a waiter would come over and take one to a table. Fireplace chicken -- that was a first for me.

The wine list came and I chose a couple of bottles that I thought we’d like and that wouldn’t break the bank. To say the least, they were quite good.

After the second course had been served and we were waiting for the third, a giant of a man walked over to our table. He was wearing a white smock. On the left side it said “Paul Bocuse.” On the right side it said “Paul Bocuse.” We must be in the right place.

I invited him to join us and asked him to recommend a wine. He did, and we three consumed it between courses. He rose, we shook hands, and I thanked him for his wonderful hospitality and his wine selection.

I was a bit mesmerized and forgot to take a photo of him. But I did get him to sign the menu, which still hangs in my kitchen.

One last note. When the bill came it was U.S. $700. And the wine was $200 of that. But no matter what it had cost, it was the culinary event of my life. I’d do it all over, but then again, this had been the best one for the past 20 years.

Heading back to the train, we stopped by a Russian bar, trading vodkas with the Ruskies and doing our best to promote glasnost.

Back in Paris, and strolling through the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, we saw a small cabaret that seemingly hadn’t been there during the day. As we walked up, I noticed the woman’s name on the signage -- and knew her from the Grove! She used to sing at the bar in the Coconut Grove Playhouse. We went in and said hello. Serendipity just kept rolling along.

Back to politics next month.


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