With more restaurants per capita than any other French city and the home of Rue du Bœuf (the street with the most Michelin stars in the country), Lyon is France’s undisputed gastronomic capital. And although the city has become synonymous with the name Paul Bocuse (1926-2018) – with five restaurants falling under the late chef’s brand, and even Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse (an indoor food market) bearing his name – its culinary legacy began long before he rose to fame.
Known as “the mother of French cooking”, Eugénie Brazier (or Mère Brazier) never completed primary school and was forced to leave home at 19 after becoming pregnant. Yet, by the time she turned 40, she was running two restaurants and was the most decorated chef in the world. In 1933, she would become the first person to receive six stars in the Michelin Guide, a record that remained unchallenged until Alain Ducasse matched her in 1998. She was also largely responsible for teaching Bocuse his trade.
Brazier was no doubt a tour de force. So, why, then, have her achievements been largely forgotten, while those of chefs like Bocuse have been lauded?
One of her restaurants, the currently two-starred La Mère Brazier, is still running to this day under the guidance of chef Mathieu Viannay. Inside, the 1933 Michelin guide sits proudly in a glass case, while a photo of Brazier in a starched white blouse lines a sliding door. Although Brazier’s legacy is kept alive in the restaurant, few people know about her important contributions to French gastronomy. Viannay believes this is due to the time she was living in.
“Brazier is well-known to anyone who knows the history of French cuisine,” Viannay said. “When I reopened the restaurant in 2008, articles came out in 80 different countries. But Brazier came from a time when chefs weren’t in the media.”