Encyclopedia Womannica

Tastemakers: Eugenie Brazier

Episode Summary

Eugenie Brazier (1895-1977), aka "La Mere Brazier," was the mother of modern French cooking and first person to earn a total of six Michelin stars.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today we’re talking about a woman who  was the first to achieve one of the most prestigious honors in the history of cooking: The Michelin Star.

Michelin stars were created at the turn of the 20th century to mark the world’s best food, with three stars marking the highest level of excellence, indicating “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.” Today’s tastemaker wasn’t only the first woman to earn three michelin stars -- she was the first person of any gender to receive six in total! Let’s talk about Eugénie Brazier, also known as la mère Brazier.

Eugénie Brazier was born on June 12, 1895, on a farm near Lyon, France. She spent her childhood working, tending to animals and financially struggling. Still, she often later recalled that the food her mother cooked was some of the best she ever had.

Eugenie didn’t attend much school, but she was intellectually sharp from an early age. Her mother passed away when she was only 10. When she was 19, just as World War I was beginning, she had a child out of wedlock, named Gaston.

Eugenie went on to work as a nanny for a bakery-owning family in the city. Because she loved working in the kitchen, she became the family cook. That work wasn’t enough to support her son, so she picked up another job in the kitchen of a fine dining establishment. There, she learned to cook famous fine dining staples..

Seven years after she first moved to Lyon, she opened a grocery store that would become La Mère Brazier, her first restaurant. Both the decor and her cooking style were simple and elegant. Her first dishes were crayfish with mayonnaise and pigeon with peas. Both dishes centered on the power of fresh ingredients. Her signature dish became a chicken with black truffle slices placed beneath the skin and poached in bouillon. 

 From the beginning, Eugenie was a friendly, down-to-earth chef. She often left the kitchen to greet guests, who started to come to the restaurant in greater numbers.

Over the course of the next decade, La Mere Brazier became one of the hottest restaurants in the city. It attracted French Presidents, Prime Ministers, and celebrities. Twelve years after she opened this first restaurant, it earned three Michelin stars.

But Eugenie wasn’t done! In 1928, she opened a second restaurant in a hunting camp at Col de la Luère. Though there was no electricity or running water, she established the same menu as her Lyon-based restaurant. Soon, her second restaurant also earned three Michelin stars. That solidified Eugenie as the first person in the world to hold six stars at once. No one would  do the same for 65 years.

In 1972, Eugenie retired. She then started working on a cookbook, which was also filled with personal stories. Unfortunately before finishing it, she passed away in 1977, at age 81. 

Eugenie’s story started to fade in the years following her death, partially due to her achievements being overshadowed by male chefs in the industry. This included her former apprentice, Paul Bocuse, who would become one of the most famous French chefs of all time. In 1998, Eugenie’s 65-year honor of being the only person to have six Michelin stars ended, as Alain Ducasse earned the same distinction. At the time, the New York Times incorrectly reported the event as the first time anyone had earned six stars.

Though Eugenie’s book lay dormant for decades, her family took the responsibility of finishing it and published it in 2009, under the title Les secrets de la Mère Brazier. It included a forward written by Bocuse honoring  his mentor. He called her, “a tough and modest woman who knew instinctively how to select the best of us, in the same way she picked the best produce.”

Join us tomorrow for the story of another incredible tastemaker.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!