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PARIS (Reuters) - French pastry chef Gaston Lenotre, whose hugely successful catering business made him a household name in his country, died on Thursday at the age of 88 after a long illness, his company said.
Lenotre is widely credited with rejuvenating the world of patisserie by reducing the use of sugar and flour in favor of light mousses and creams with bold new fruit flavors.
"He succeeded, with his talent and his creativity, his rigor and his high standards, in raising patisserie to the rank of an art," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement.
Paul Bocuse, one of France's most respected chefs, said the Lenotre signature on a chocolate cake was as prestigious as the Christian Dior name on a dress.
Born in Normandy in 1920, Lenotre developed a passion for baking early in life. He opened his first pastry shop in his native region in 1947 before moving to Paris 10 years later.
In 1964, he expanded into catering for receptions, a business that later flourished into an international chain of chic pastry and catering outlets. The brand is now present in 12 countries including the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Lenotre opened a school for pastry chefs in 1971 in the town of Plaisir just west of Paris, which still operates today. Fittingly, the name of the town means "pleasure" in French.
He celebrated news events with new cakes, like the chocolate "Concorde" which he created when Air France flew its supersonic jet for the first time, and the "Schuss" which celebrated French skiier Jean-Claude Killy's Olympic success in 1968.
Lenotre won catering contracts at some of the most high-profile events hosted in France, including the 1998 Football World Cup at which he provided meals for 800,000 fans.
He opened restaurants in glamorous locations like the Elysee Pavilion on the Champs Elysees avenue in the heart of Paris.
For his 80th birthday in 2000, an army of trainee chefs paid homage to Lenotre by creating a 10-meter (33-foot) high cake in the Trocadero gardens close to the Eiffel Tower.