Lyon, the second largest city in France, not only boasts a rich history and cultural past, but has also been dubbed “the gastronomic capital of the world” by famed food critic Curnonsky. Besides its UNESCO-worthy town center, stunning views of the Rhône and Saône rivers and intricate Traboules alleyways, Lyon draws thousands of gourmands each year with its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.
So what makes Lyon such a special place for food? A lot of it lies in the geography.
Lyon is located in east-central France, at the northern tip of the Rhône Valley. The cuisine is influenced by the southern French flavours of Provence and the Mediterranean in addition to Alsace and Lorraine from the North. The location also gives Lyon access to produce, ingredients, wines and specialties from all over France, which is showcased in the largest covered market in the country, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse.
This ideal geography, coupled with the fact that Lyon was an important financial center during the Renaissance via silk trade, makes it an incubator for eateries and chefs. In fact, after the French Revolution, a lot of former cooks of rich families in Lyon set out to open their own food halls, serving simple, rustic food with exceptional local ingredients. These women, known as Mères lyonnaises (Mothers of Lyon) impressed business travelers so much that word began to spread about such establishments. And by 1933, Lyon chef Eugénie Brazier became the first female to be awarded three Michelin stars.
Brazier went on to change the culinary scene of Lyon, mentoring Paul Bocuse, who gathered recipes created by the Mères to make the foundation for his own cooking. The rest, as they say, was history.
As the father of modern French cuisine, Bocuse made French gastronomy an international sensation, inspiring chefs and menus across the globe. To this day, chefs and patrons alike see Lyon as the mecca of French food. They visit to take advantage of the abundance of ingredients and inspiration. The result is an exciting community of culinary talent, constantly changing the local dining scene and keeping Lyon true to its international reputation.