Chef to French presidents hangs up his apron

Bernard Vaussion (R), retiring head chef at the Elysee Palace, and his successor Guillaume Gomez (L), pose in the kitchens at the Elysee Palace in Paris, October 31, 2013.

PARIS - Jacques Chirac liked calf's head and Nicolas Sarkozy abstained from cheese, while the present French President Francois Hollande is an unfussy eater partial to most things.

Bernard Vaussion has built up a comprehensive picture of the culinary tastes of six presidents during his 40 years in the Elysee Palace kitchen.

But ever discreet, the Elysee head chef who retires later on Thursday says their specific preferences are best not discussed in too much detail.

"One avoids disclosing the dishes that are particularly appreciated.

Otherwise they find themselves eating the same dish everywhere they go," he said.

"This was the case for Mr Chirac with calf's head. I made it for him two or three times because he was given it everywhere," he said.

Others Mr Vaussion has catered for during his four decades at the French president's official residence include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, US President George W. Bush, the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

Mr Vaussion, who has just turned 60, started as an assistant chef in 1974 following a three-year stint as a sous-chef at the British Embassy in Paris.

"I remember the apprehension of cooking for world leaders and our head of state," he said in an interview at his office at the Elysee. "There is always a lot of pressure.... In a restaurant, if there is an error, the customer doesn't come back. Here it is me who would be asked to leave," he added.

Asked about changes over the years, Mr Vaussion highlighted the effects of the current climate of economic austerity. "We buy differently. Some luxury products have disappeared like truffles (and) crayfish," he said.

Mr Vaussion will be succeeded as the head of the round-the-clock 20-strong Elysee team by his deputy, Guillaume Gomez, 35.