Very few people have heard about the life of Eugénie Brazier, the first person to receive six Michelin stars. Eugénie Brazier was the most famous of the thirty or so cooks who were called “mère” or mother by their customers in and around Lyon in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. This affectionate term was first given in 1759 to Mère Guy who ran a small restaurant on the banks of the Rhône whose specialty was roasted eel.
She was born in deep, agricultural France in Le Tranclière, near Lyon, on June 12, 1895, at the height of the Belle Époque. This is the era when cinema was born with the Lumière brothers. The cabaret epic begins. Her family is extremely poor. Already at the age of five, she is tasked with looking after pigs. At the age of ten, her childhood is marked by the death of her mother, whose affection she will remember, but also her dishes. She lives with her father, who will send her away from home when she is nineteen, as soon as he learns that she is pregnant.
I went to school, by chance, only in winter and when there was no work at home.Eugénie Brazier
Eugénie does not lose heart: she is illiterate and without any educational qualifications. She gets herself hired at a restaurant run by women only. She quickly wins the favor of the clientele with her skills. The success she achieved with her culinary talents encouraged her to open in 1921 a small establishment of her own, known as the “Club des Cent”.
She moved to a larger restaurant on Rue Royale in central Lyon, which is the site of the present-day La Mère Brazier. In 1928 she opened a second restaurant, also called La Mère Brazier at Col de la Luère. Her most popular dishes, including Belle Aurore lobster with brandy, crayfish gratin and artichoke bottoms with foie gras, would win her her first three prestigious Michelin stars in 1933, to be joined by three more in 1939.
She thus became the first woman starred cook. In the Milliat pasteria, her poor dishes were gradually enriched with cream and milk, mushrooms and truffles. This marked the leap to catering, with the help of the famous Mère Fillioux, in the school of poularde demi-deuil, game and artichoke bottoms with foie gras.
Success spread swiftly by word of mouth from customer to customer. Her restaurants were totally occupied by the so-called beautiful world. People like Rita Hayworth, Jacques Prévert, Marlene Dietrich and Charles de Gaulle visited the restaurant. She was in demand at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Ritz in Paris, but she did not move from the vicinity of Lyon, which became the gastronomic capital of the world.
After World War II, his son Gaston ran the establishment on rue Royale, while his mother remained at the Col de la Luère. It was there that Paul Bocuse, from 1946, perfected his apprenticeship and later Bernard Pacaud. In 1951, after the silence of the Michelin during the war, La Mère Brazier regained her three pre-war stars, but lost one in 1960, as she was considering retirement. She then decided to go back to work and, as of 1963, regained the first rank until 1968. The two stars will be kept until March 1974, year of the death of her son.
With the simplicity and authenticity of her dishes, which are few and the same, she became the progenitor of “Nouvelle cuisine.” She is called the greatest cook of all time, a pillar of world gastronomy, as her most famous pupil, Paul Bocuse said.
She died in 1977 but Bocuse (1926-2018) managed to get the teachings of his mentor published in ”La Mère Brazier, the mother of French cooking.” Brazier is remembered for her dedication and unyielding creativity.