Lyon has more than enough reasons to brag. The city is the silk capital of France and the birthplace of cinema. The entire old quarter, Le Vieux Lyon, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, perhaps most importantly, Lyon is the gastronomic hub of France and one of the best places to eat on the planet.
The people of Lyon have long been foodies. The Meres Lyonnaise (aka Mothers of Lyon) put Lyon on the map in the late 1900s when a group of female cooks working for Lyon’s wealthy families started opening their own eateries. The dishes were simple but elegant and rich in local ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, freshwater fish and chicken. They cultivated Lyon’s reputation for gorgeous charcuterie, bone marrow consommé and quenelles made with pike fish. The small restaurants would come to be known as bouchons, the heart of Lyon’s culinary scene even today. (Daniel et Denise, where Chef Joseph Viola cooks up amazing dishes, is one of my favorites.)
The Meres Lyonnaise were more than just good home cooks. One of the most famous meres, Eugénie Brazier, was the first woman to be awarded three Michelin stars. She even trained the legendary Lyon Chef Paul Bocuse, who began his cooking career in her kitchen.
Bocuse is an outstanding chef, so on my recent trip to Lyon, I made a plan to eat at Bocuse (officially called L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges), his three-Michelin star restaurant just outside of Lyon. I even talked it up to a couple in the hotel lobby who was looking for a place to eat. I was in Lyon to film my latest show Around the World in 80 Plates and, as often happens on a set, filming went super late. I missed dinner.
I ran into the couple again in the lobby the next morning. They had gone to Bocuse—and had an unforgettable meal. Bocuse himself had posed for pictures with them and signed their menus. That was supposed to be my dinner!
Lyon’s cuisine is extremely varied. But if there is one ingredient that encompasses the food, you could argue it’s the onion. You can smell cooking onions coming from the kitchens in Le Vieux Lyon at lunchtime. It’s intoxicating. Experience it for yourself with this recipe for Onion Tarts with Tomme de Savoie Cheese.