Posted 17 March 2006 - 09:13 AM
As a French and a pastry and any sort of cake lover I would like to react to this topic that is very interesting.
First of all I would like to make clear what we are talking about.
In France the relation with pastry and other form of cakes is something really deep. People eat viennoisery almost everyday, there are bakeries (and not pastry shop that are something else) everywhere...well it's a part of the way of living. So I see here that you mix many things. Pastry is not the same thing that viennoisery. For example Viennoisery= Croissant, Pain au Chocolat (Chocolate Pan), Pain au Raisin (Grape Pan), Brioche etc....It's totally different from pastry. So hear I will always dissociate both of them.
I see here everybody talk about High class Hotels, Restaurant, High class Cake Chief, Fauchon, Pierre Hermé etc.... But you are talking about a reality that doesn't concern most of French. Nobody goes to such places to eat cakes. Maybe 1% of the population and once or twice a year for a special occasion just to say "I bought it at Fauchon, ". As we say here in Paris, such places are for Tourists, they saw them in some magazines, it's part of French dream etc. But Common French people won't pay twice a price for something they can find cheaper and better next door. If you want a reality of what is French pastry you would rather went to a traditional real artisan baker. On top of that in the places you mentioned cakes are used to be more austere than at casual baker's. It's at first a question of packaging, service, quality of raw materials and image.
The question is not that French pastry is better than Japanese. It's a very different approch of the pastry art because the taste in the 2 countries is really different and the market is not the same.
Usually French found that Japanese pastry is just a question of packaging and have no taste. Raw materials used in Japan are not very good and of course the price too expensive for what it is. About my experience I have the impression that all cakes taste the same, that there is only the shape that changes. In France the packaging is not that important but the taste is. It's nonesense for us to have a cake that is not sweety. Now there is the fashion of diet so they try to make a range of cakes less sweety but a cake should be sweety in the mind of most of people. In Japan I think Japanese don't really like sugar, and I don't understand why but they are overminded about diet so in the pastry market you will often find cakes not really sweety, a bit insipid. So for some French people they can find there is no taste in Japanese cakes.In the other hand, in France it's always the same old classics, so no surprise, but it's more and more difficult to find real traditional cakes and not industrial ones. In other words good Bakers are disappearing. But I think the Japanese style of pastry wouldn't defenitly have success here, and French style pastry couldn't be the reference in Japan because too rich and the taste doesn't suit most of Japanese.
The French pastry defenitly is in progress but only in the market of high class cakes. A lot of young masters are innovating (you should go to the Pastry exhibition once) but the problem is that in France it's very hard for newcomers or youngsters to take a place. It's always the same old Chiefs that will have the big parts and that let less place for the others. So what they do? They go abroad. I think French people don't mind about the innovation because, at first, we see the innovation on the packaging and the shape, and French people don't really mind of the shape. Even if it doesn't look delicious, if we know the product, we will know that in fact it's delicous, no need for the product to look delicious. So we don't really matter if there is changes or not or better to say we don't really notice. We are fine with what we already have. If we want to eat something else we go to special shops, that's all.
Another point, you say there is less butter in Japanese cakes. I disagree about Viennoisery. I hate the taste of butter in cakes, as say Japanese "kimochi warui". I was very shocked in Japan that there was such amount of butter in Viennoisery and Bread. You even can smell the butter without eating anything. When you enter the bakeries, there is this smell of butter everywhere, it's very annoying. I think even if some products concerned are typically French (Baguette, Croissant, Chocolate Pan etc...) that it's just based on French products in term of shape but the taste is based on Northern European Countries style. You'll never figure the taste of butter in Bread and Viennoisery here (only for special traditional cakes where the base of the reciepe is butter, like Cakes from Brittany Area or Croissant au Beurre "Butter Croissant" etc...). But in Northern Countries usually they put a lot of Butter.
"Also, as Suzy rightly pointed out, in Japan they use less sugar and less fat. So there is more taste."
And some people find that Japanese cakes all taste the same even if it's tottaly different cakes, they always put a lot of cream, the lack of sugar turns it to be insipid. It is defenitly a question of taste. I know French in Japan prefer to cook themselves their own cakes. It's cheaper and better. If you want to eat really good cakes in Japan you have to pay a lot. There are some psychological prices French are not willing to pay for such cakes. For us what we find easily everywhere in Japan is at the same level that industrial pastries here. It's very difficult and out of cost to find hand made good pastries. (I talk for common places not for high class places). That can be good but in Japan the qualitity-price ratio is not that good. It's too expensive for what it is.
"My description of French pastry concerns only shop-bought pastry."
We have to make clear the definition of pastry shop. In France most people go to buy their pastries at traditional or industrial artisan bakers' or more and more at supermarkets (industrial pastries). You can't call them pastry shop. For example in Japan there is a lot of pastry shop where they will sell only pastries and not Breads, viennoisery, chocolates, candies etc...Next you can eat pastries at restaurant (usually at the same restaurant that the one you have dinner as a dessert). Then there is only very few what we call "Salon de Thé", Cafe where you eat only pastries. Whereas in Japan it's very common to go to such places after restaurant, in France it's not. In the end you have restaurants specialized in cakes (you eat only cakes), but it's very rare and usually high class restaurants.
"Indeed the desserts and pastries served in good restaurants are quite different and closer to my liking. "
Because what is in restaurant is tottaly different of what French eat everyday. In restaurants and particularly in high class restaurant the food is more austere, less tasty that the popular food. That is why people who don't like too much sugar usually prefer cakes that we can find in restaurants.
"I'm sure there are lots of innovations not only in France, but all over the world, only that we don't hear about them where we are. "
There is innovation in France but it is a conservative country where newcomers and youngsters have difficulties to take their place. So they go abroad. Also about Food even if you innovate, you'd better not change things too much. There is always the Holy basics that have to be respected. A Filet de Veau must look like a Filet de Veau even if the raw materials, the taste, the presentation is not the same.
Anyway innovation is above all a matter of association and presentation. French don't really mind about packaging. So it's not important if things always look the same, what is important is the taste. And there is a lot of innovation in term of taste. So it's not a problem to always eat in appearance the sames things, because it's in appearance only.
"His recent innovations include salmon/chocolate and smoked duck/chocolate. "
Good example. This is typically what you'll never find in casual French Food. Only at high class places where you can find "weird things". Here we say The Food is Like the Haute Couture. This association of expensive products show very well for what kind of people this kind of food is. Most of French won't be attracted by that (the association of sweety things and salt things is still percieved as a crime in spite of the big influence of Asian Food nowadays).
"Could the French pastry chef be an export article?"
Exactly it's easy for them to find jobs abroad even in countries like Japan whereas in France their is high competition.
"As for pâtisserie in pastry shops, on the other hand, it is becoming increasingly less good than it used to be, and good pâtisseries have become rare."
True, it's more and more difficult to find a good traditional bakery nowadays. There is more and more industrial ones or the impact of supermarkets. Last time I asked to my baker (I live in a small town 10 min from Paris, as bigger as 1 ward of Paris) "how will you do when your husband will retire"? (Here traditional bakeries are held by the wife who sells the products and the husband that make them at night). At this bakery you can find the best Grape Pan on earth (Grape Pan is loosing quality nowadays). She told me "that will be the end". They are here from ages but there is no young people neither apprentice to take the shop and follow the savoir faire (know-how). Youngsters are not attracted by the job because it's very hard and not well paid.
David Lebowitz wrote
"but there is a tendancy to rest on those laurels and not feel the need to improve or adapt."
Exactly and this is typically a French matter. They still think that because it's French it will be ok but there are serious competitors that are rising everywhere in the world. Nowadays it's stupid to think we will always have success or always be the number one. But I have hope in new generations.
"And most of the time, French cooks don't look outside their culture for inspiration..."
"They're just not a 'fusion' culture."
I totally disagree. You should precise what you call French Food. France is a multi ethnic country. For ages now the Food is changing (maybe not in term of shape but defenitly in term of associations, taste and new reciepes) and taking inspiration from many part of the world (African countries, Islands, now their is a big Asian Freak). French food is more spicy than before, less salty, less fatty, more sweety etc.... all that is due to the mix with other cultures. Also the influence are taken from close countries usually, Mediterranean Countries like Italy, Spain, Greece etc.... But France took inspiration from those countries since centuries ago so it's not that easy to determine what was taken from those countries. Now targets are more Arabian countries, Asia and Islands (Creole Countries).
As said Ptipois "David, ours is a fusion culture, just like any other. You're right in the fact that many French have forgotten this in the latter part of the 20th century. But the French way of operating fusion is not by adding together, juxtaposing and sometimes mixing: it is done by absorbing, by making a heterogeneous element "completely French". Which makes the fusion not apparent, but it still is fusion."
"This is only my opinion but I personally solve the problem by avoiding trendy and expensive pâtisseries, and sticking to the remaining modest neighborhood artisans."
Hahaha this is exactly what everybody should do. As I said earlier only tourists or a very low part of natives go to Pierre Herme stuff. Also to have a good idea of what French food is I am affraid restaurants can't help you. People here don't go at restaurants so often, they only go for occasion. People are used to cook themselves and if you want to eat real French food that French people eat everyday you should go to natives' and not to restaurants. For example high class restaurants are high class because of the quality, the concept, the packaging, the innovation etc....but not necessarily because it's good. If you want to eat something good, no need to go to such places. As in any country where there is a big food culture, it's better at home.....and cheaper. The slamon with chocolate yes it's high class food, they will choose the best salmon the best chocolate, make the best association, calculate very well the quantity of salmon and the quantity of chocolate. Of Course the presentation will be like in a dream.....but is it good in term of taste?
"This is not in contradiction with what I wrote. I made it clear that "good pâtisseries, in France, are not in Paris". That means provincial towns,"
No, there is still good bakeries in Paris area. In inner Paris I don't know, but there is 3 in my town. It's less than before but I think we can be happy for such a small city.
"I'm referring to true pâtissiers-chocolatiers, the ones that don't sell any bread."
There is not since ages. Now it's so rare thant we can say it's part of special shops. So if youare talking about those kind of shop, I am affraid it doesn't show well the reality that we can find in everyday life.
"In those early years of the 21st century, we francos seem to be somewhat imprisoned in our beautiful culture, not quite finding either a way out (for renewal) or a way back (for going back to sources)"
I disagree, now there is a real passion for foreign style, for example Japan as we are talking about Japan. There are a lot of lost and forgotten products that are coming back especially in vegetables. Old meal that nobody ate anymore. The succes of old fashion stuff like Soup etc...French are defenitly coming back to their Grandma Food.
"i dont if this can become a source but i've watch japanese movies about praising a tea branded Benoit"
Is it the drama Densha Otoko? Well another example of the things natives don't buy. Most of People don't know what is Benoit Tea here.
Well I am sorry if I wrote again what was already post, actually I discovered the posts later. In the end I would like to point out that Japanese are better at japanese style stuff mixed with Foreign stuff and should develop more this area. Like An donuts, Kasutera, Even Traditional Okashi. They have a know how that they are the only ones to know.