COLLONGES-au-MONT d'OR, France — Seven men in white toques and long aprons bend to their tasks, one scooping hunks of butter into a saucepan simmering on a huge stove, another flicking grains of the ground French red pepper piment d'Espelette from a spoon onto a pyramid of crayfish, a third sprinkles parsley with his fingers.
"Seventeen minutes," one cries out. "A little pepper," says another. "Did you taste the brioche?" asks "Monsieur Paul."
It is minutes before the lunch hour in the heart of the temple of French gastronomy, the kitchen of Paul Bocuse. The final touches of another three-star meal are executed with military precision.
Bocuse, whose Auberge du Pont de Collonges just outside Lyon has maintained its three stars in the Michelin Guide for 46 years, credits a deceptively simple recipe for that success — good produce fresh from the garden, a superb kitchen staff and happy diners.
"It's the client who runs the house," says Bocuse, a man credited with transforming the role of chef from invisible artist to celebrity. Yet "Monsieur Paul," as he is known, praises everyone but himself for his accomplishments. And he bows to Lady Luck.
This week, the credit is returned when he is proclaimed Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America during a reception in New York.