Paul Bocuse, globe-trotting master of French cuisine, dies at 91

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PARIS (AP) — Paul Bocuse, the master chef who defined French cuisine for more than half a century and put it on tables around the world, a man who raised the profile of top chefs from invisible kitchen artists to international celebrities, has died at 91, French officials announced.

Often referred to as the "pope of French cuisine," Bocuse was a tireless pioneer, the first chef to blend the art of cooking with savvy business tactics — branding his cuisine and his image to create an empire of restaurants around the globe. His imposing physical stature and his larger-than-life personality matched his bold dreams and his far-flung accomplishments.

Bocuse died Saturday at Collonges-au-Mont-d'or, the place where he was born and had his restaurant, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.

"French gastronomy loses a mythical figure ... The chefs cry in their kitchens, at the Elysee (presidential palace) and everywhere in France," Macron said.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb tweeted that "Mister Paul was France. Simplicity and generosity. Excellence and art de vivre."

Bocuse, who underwent a triple heart bypass in 2005, had also been suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Bocuse's temple to French gastronomy, L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, outside the city of Lyon in southeastern France, has held three stars — without interruption — since 1965 in the Michelin guide, the bible of gastronomes.

In 1982, Bocuse opened a restaurant in the France Pavilion in Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, headed by his son Jerome, also a chef. In recent years, Bocuse even dabbled in fast food with two outlets in his home base of Lyon.

"He has been a leader. He took the cook out of the kitchen," said celebrity French chef Alain Ducasse, speaking at a 2013 gathering to honor Bocuse. More than 100 chefs from around the world traveled to Lyon for the occasion — one of a string of such honors bestowed on Bocuse in recent years.

"Monsieur Paul," as he was known, was placed right in the center of 2013 cover of the newsweekly Le Point that exemplified "The French Genius." Shown in his trademark pose — arms folded over his crisp white apron, a tall chef's hat, or "toque," atop his head — he was winged by Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur and Coco Chanel, among other French luminaries.

While excelling in the business of cooking, Bocuse never flagged in his devotion to his first love, creating a top class, quintessentially French meal. He eschewed the fads and experiments that captivated many other top chefs.

"In cooking, there are those who are rap and those who are concerto," he told the French newsmagazine L'Express before his 2005 biography, adding that he tended toward the concerto.

Born on Feb. 11, 1926, Bocuse entered his first apprenticeship at 16. He worked at the famed La Mere Brazier in Lyon, then spent eight years with one of his culinary idols, Fernand Point, whose cooking was a precursor to France's nouvelle cuisine movement, with lighter sauces and lightly cooked fresh vegetables.

In 1989, Bocuse was named Cook of the Century by Gault & Millau, a noted guidebook. In 2011, the Culinary Institute of America named him Chef of the Century, opening a restaurant for students in his name. He maintained a special pride, however, in the blue, white and red stripes on his chef's collar holding a large medal, attesting to his selection in 1961 as a "Meilleur Ouvrier de France," a sought-after distinction for chefs and other artisans.