Gopnik then offers the views of the deconstructionist critic Eugenio Donato (1937-1983) on this subject. Though Donato’s published works seem to have focused exclusively on literary criticism, he spoke extensively to Gopnik, who says that Donato’s
"…dating, perhaps, to Alexandre Dumas père’s famous Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, that the cooking of Câreme and Escoffier had evolved from a set of provincial folk techniques. At the heart of French food lay the pot-au-feu, the bouillon pot that every peasant wife was supposed to keep on her hearth, and into which, according to legend, she threw whatever she had, to stew for the day’s meal. French classic cooking was French provincial cooking gone to town."
Donato claims that this 'colonisation' started as late as 1855, the year the Médoc wines were classified into the famous five growths in which they remain today, "the form of metropolitan rationalization being extended to the provincial earth, in the guise of the reflection of an order locked in the earth itself."
"happiest hours were spent in Paris, eating and thinking and talking. His favorite subject was French food, and his favorite theory was that 'French cooking' was foreign to France, not something that had percolated up from the old pot-au-feu but something that had been invented by fanatics at the top, as a series of powerful 'metaphors' -- ideas about France and Frenchness – that had then moved downward to organize the menus and, retrospectively, colonize the past."
"Not everyone can have a tante Célestine", runs the advert for the cookery school attached to the famous Moulin de Mougins, "but now you can learn the very same tricks and techniques that she taught Roger Vergé." According to Donato (via Gopnik), the idea of tante Célestine's country cooking leading to the haute cuisine practiced by Vergé is a fraud, though perhaps not an intentional one. It is similar to the view that the Victorians 'invented' many of the traditions surrounding the British royal family.
Would French cuisine be any less enjoyable if we believed that it is a constructed art, with the "back story" of peasant origins and terroir as an ex post construct?
On eGullet, also see the "Peasant Origins" thread -- here.