Lady Chef Stampede: Eugénie Brazier!

I’m holding a Lady Chef Stampede! For the rest of the year, and maybe beyond, I’ll be posting about the dozens of women who changed the history of food. Whether they’re chefs, restauranteurs, or writers, these are the women on whose shoulders we’re all standing.

Alain Ducasse is such a famous chef! What a groundbreaker! So many Michelin stars! Yeah, yeah, yeah - we all know that, right? Part of his celebrity is that he had six Michelin stars for his restaurants and some folks have tried to make it seem like he was the first to do this, but that just ain't so. Way back in 1933 another chef was actually the first chef in the history of the world to hold six Michelin stars, and her name was Eugénie Brazier.

Brazier's famous La Mere Brazier

Born in 1895, orphaned at the age of 10, Eugénie Brazier grew up as a domestic worker on a farm. At 19, she headed for the heart of cuisine in France, Lyons, the center of the movement to elevate middle class cooking to the level of high cuisine. In Lyons, she again worked as a domestic, but soon wound up working in the kitchen of Mere Fillioux, a celebrated chef. The soul of the Lyons food scene was "les mères lyonnaises" (The Mothers of Lyons) who were transforming what had previously been regarded as simple food into the heart and soul of French gourmet cooking. Mere Fillioux and Eugénie Brazier were both rumored to be headstrong and fully equipped with well-developed senses of self. Legend has it that as the student grew in stature and talent, her clashes with her teacher were earth-shatteringly operatic.

In 1921, Eugénie Brazier took her skimpy savings and bought a grocery store at 12 Rue Royale that she turned into La Mere Brazier, her first restaurant. She was only 26 years old. She later opened a second restaurant, Le Col de la Luere. La Mere Brazier was instantly popular, despite the fact that it served the same menu as her second restaurant and the menus never changed. The Los Angeles Times described it as follows:

"Each meal began with a plate of local sausage. The fish course was quenelles de brochet, then came her famous poularde en demi-deuil (chicken in half-mourning) and, after, fonds d'artichauts au foie gras (artichoke hearts with foie gras), which was usually served with a young Beaujolais."

Praised by everyone, from the Prime Minister to food writer Elizabeth David, it was inevitable that Michelin recognition would follow. What no one anticipated was that in 1933 Michelin would give Brazier's restaurants three stars - each.

She went on to write a cookbook, and trained some of France's best chefs, like Paul Bocuse who apprenticed at Le Col de la Luere. In 1968, Michelin took away one star from Le Col de la Luere and a few years later, Brazier retired. Her restaurants continue to this day, run by her granddaughter, Jacotte, who still offers her grandmother's famous menu.

Read more about Eugénie Brazier, and check out  some great photos.