Lulu Peyraud, 1917–2020

Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier on a swing

Assorted memories of an extraordinary woman who enriched the life of food and wine lovers around the world.

Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier in Bandol, who died on 7 October at the age of 102, was an icon of Provençal food and wine lore, beloved by all who met her but arguably much better known in the US than in France although Michel Troisgros remembers her well from his time at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1977. Her réclame in the US was partly because she was effectively adopted by wine importer Kermit Lynch and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Or do I mean the other way round?

Kermit would spend much of the year on her doorstep and the late American food and wine writer Richard Olney, a beacon of gastronomic fastidiousness who is popularly but wrongly credited with introducing Lulu and Alice, lived not far away. Olney's Lulu's Provençal Table brought her to the attention of a much wider group of food and wine lovers than the hundreds, if not thousands, she personally entertained and cooked for. She clearly also deserves to be remembered as a bit of a style icon. I wrote this brief story of the domaine after a visit in 2015.

The San Francisco-based British wine writer Gerald Asher remembers introducing Lulu and Alice when he invited Lulu and her husband Lucien to California, having been close to them in the 1960s and 1970s when he was still based in London. When his sons were small they would spend their summers close to the Peyrauds in a rented flat on the beach at Les Lecques. They eventually toured California tour together. He wrote to me, 'I shall always remember Lulu saying, when I took them for a couple of days to the Sierra, "It's so beautiful here. I don't understand why Americans come to France." '

According to this obituary (G Sciaretta, Wine Spectator), she attributed her long life to 50 swings a day on a swing in the garden. The picture above is on the domaine's website (as is the image below) where we are told today's funeral will be limited under COVID-19 restrictions to the family only. Those who wish to remember her in concrete fashion are asked to make a donation to the Fondation de France or Secours Populaire in her memorable name.

Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier in the pink

Jill Norman, food writer and publisher, writes

I first enjoyed the wines of Bandol in 1970 when I spent some months in nearby Sanary. The appellation includes Bandol, Sanary and several other villages in the surrounding hills. Several years later Richard Olney, the well-known writer on the foods and wines of France, introduced me to his friends, the Peyraud family at Domaine Tempier. We had many convivial meals together, usually on the terrace in front of the house, enjoying Lulu’s excellent cooking and Lucien’s fine wines, with their sons François and Jean-Marie and their wives. I remember on one occasion Lulu told me that she and Lucien had met in Sanary in the 1930s. The family became good friends and for a few years, when our children were young, we rented an apartment at the back of the house for summer holidays.

For many years Lulu was the tireless ambassador for Tempier, travelling around France for several days a week, introducing the wines into the cellars of restaurants. Later she shared this role with her daughter-in-law Paule. At home she was equally indefatigable; up early in the morning to meet the fishing boats and buy the best of their catch, or to the market for fruit and vegetables, she would go home and cook for large parties for lunch or dinner several times a week.

She and Lucien were warm-hearted, generous and hospitable, and when with them you were always aware of their sense of and respect for the earth and its produce.

From Lucien I learned about winemaking and tasting, with Lulu I learned about Provençal food. She cooked only local dishes, and they were her own interpretations with clear, focused flavours. Aïoli, tapenade, octopus daube, bouillabaisse, gigot à la ficelle are among the dishes I learned in her kitchen. One of her favourite herbs was winter savory and on more than one occasion after she had tasted a dish, I was sent to pick more from the bush outside the door. I remember the kitchen clearly with the long fireplace on one side, and the array of pots and pan, many of them antique, and the table along the opposite wall.

Lulu Peyraud in the kitchen of Domaine Tempier, by Katerina Kalogeraki
The late Lulu Peyraud in the kitchen at Domaine Tempier, by Katerina Kalogeraki.

Lulu loved the sea; we went swimming in the calanques known only to locals and when we first knew each other she had a small sailing boat which she took out from time to time.

My last card from Lulu, written in her recognisable hand, is a wonderful photograph taken in the garden in her 101st year. She is wearing a white dress, holding a stick firmly and smiling. Below is a picture of her taken at Richard Olney's memorial gathering.

Lulu Peyraud from a card sent to Jill Norman

Lulu Peyraud was a remarkable woman who inspired and encouraged so many people around the world to appreciate and cook Provençal food, particularly when accompanied by a glass of Tempier wine.

Rosi Hanson, author of Recipes from the French Wine Harvest, writes

I spent only half a day with Lulu but the memory remains vivid. She was internationally acclaimed but kind and approachable if you wanted to talk about recipes.

I particularly remember that Lulu was elegantly dressed in pink, slightly lighter than the domaine’s Bandol rosé she poured us. Although she was a great traveller and so interested in other cuisines, her territory was local dishes, often flavoured with saffron and fennel. She talked about the little corms of saffron crocus that used to be planted between the rows of vines when she was young: ‘in the autumn we picked the flowers and dried the stamens for 15 days’.

She waved aside the idea of rules. ‘I put all the fish into a big cauldron with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, fennel, saffron and water which are boiled fiercely for a short time everyone has a feast of fish in their soup bowl’ was her description of bouillabaisse.

‘There is no typical version’, she said about paella, a dish she made regularly for the harvest workers. ‘You can do what you like in cooking.’ How reassuring it was that one of France’s great cooks sought to demystify, and encourage everyone to use their heads and sense of taste. She told me that her love of cooking came from having to feed her seven children. She was essentially a domestic cook with a strong sense of hospitality.