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John Whiting

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Posts posted by John Whiting

  1. What a depressing thread! America and Britain, lacking a firmly based indiginous cuisine, have succumbed to the temptation of instant nourishment; but even the European countries with a long tradition are gradually yielding to the time pressures that take over when both partners go out to work.

    Good food can be produced in a very short time--remember Edouard de Pomiane's _Cooking in Ten Minutes_, from the 1930's?--but the skills are not the same as those absorbed in the kitchen from a full-time housewife; and so France, followed by Italy, are gradually learning to shop rather than to cook. As frozen and cook-chill quality marginally improves, it becomes sadly evident that the mortal enemy of the best is not the worst but the almost-as-good.

    John Whiting

  2. Steven, you take me back to my unforgotten childhood. Provincetown is worth experiencing, and Ewa Nogiec's iamprovincetown website is a good introduction. Touristland is a narrow strip along the harbor--if you walk inland past Bradford Street, you will have the pine forests and the sand dunes to yourself. Ptown is a perfect example of the tendancy of ants to congregate.

  3. To be perfectly honest, I must admit that when I still lived in the U.S. forty-plus years ago, I loved ice in almost any non-alcoholic drink and often sucked on an ice cube, even in ambient heat that was only moderate. These days, I almost never make use of the ice cubes in our fridge-freezer that are there for the taking. Is it an age thing? Or have I simply rejected Cubism?

  4. Now on the topic of wine dilution. In France, it is now considered acceptable to put ice cubes in your rosé wine, even in white or red wine, in times of heatwave or in the South in Summertime.

    Since wine is a common everyday food in France, people feel free to do with it whatever they like. If it's a hot day, they may cut their wine with water so as to quench their thirst without consuming so much alcohol. Peasants traditionally finish off their soup by pouring in a generous splash of red wine and drinking "Chabrot" out of the bowl. On a cold winter's day, I'd be happy with a mug of half strong red wine such as an old-style Madiran and half rich bouillon.
  5. Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

    A nearly universal misconception. They [we] drink draught ale cellar temperature, which is in the low middle fifties fahrenheit.

    Mass-produced [as opposed to artisanal] American beer, on the other hand, should be drunk as cold as possible, short of freezing it into a popsicle, so as not to be able to taste it. :raz:

    EDIT: My apologies to those who have already made this correction; I hadn't finished reading the thread.

    I've gradually come to the conclusion that we Americans are less prepared than the rest of the world to accept our environment as it comes. Our buildings are too cold in summer, too hot in winter; that's partly why, with five percent of the earth's population, we exhaust close to a quarter of its resources.

    Every slight environmental discomfort is over-corrected, whether it be the temperature of our bodies (both internal and external), the mode and speed of our travel, the effort of adjusting our TVs, or the inconvenience of preparing our own food, let alone walking to the market to buy it.

    In the unequal battle with boredom, sensations are boosted to their maximum: drinks must be bitingly cold, chilis searingly hot, music deafeningly loud. I came to Europe for the gentle life--with a bit of searching, it's still available. :biggrin:

  6. Since Cahors and vicinity are being considered, do not forget Najac, one of the finest old villages in southern France. Their best hotel, Oustal del Barry, is closed during the winter, but my good friends Hugh and Meg have got their splendid B&B going and will be taking year-round bookings. It's La Maison du Notaire: for photos and contact details, scroll to the bottom of the page.

  7. OK, forget Daguin, but don't forget the Research and Markets report. I'm interested in the long view. Sure, the up-market bistros are doing just fine at the moment, particularly in Paris, but it's the spreading morass of bubbling food factories that we'll drown in when the bubble bursts. (I don't know any financial experts who don't admit privately that it's only a matter of time.) I'm most concerned with what is our collective gastronomical bottom line.

  8. Ptpois, your clear description and analysis of the seminal importance of the café goes beyond any terminological disagreement we might have. What you make clear is their integral involvement in local life, so that when that life itself fragments and disperses, the cafés inexorably go the same way.

    In an interview in 1999, André Daguin lamented that “Every year, three thousand restaurants in France go bankrupt, usually to be replaced by fast-food joints.” It would be interesting to know just what word had been translated as restaurants. But as to their overall replacement by fast-fooderies, there can be no question. A detailed report from Research and Markets documents it:

    The French fast food market has experienced rapid growth in the 1999-2003 period. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the period of 9.8% the market was worth $5.09 billion in 2003, an increase of 45.3% since 1999. This growth is considerably stronger than the European market itself…. In 2008 the French fast food market is forecast to have a value of $7.8 billion, an increase of 53.5% since 2003. The compound annual growth rate of the market in the period 2003-2008 is predicted to be 8.9%.

    The narrowly defined artisanal bistro may be doing well in relation to its own market, but it would be interesting to know what percentage of the total dining-out market they represent. For comparison, organic food sales in Britain have gone up by about half, but this is only a niche market expanding from about 3% to 4½% of total food sales. It is totally reliant on national prosperity; an economic recession, which is by no means unlikely, could virtually wipe it out overnight.

    I suspect that the careless use of “bistro” to include a lot of borderline cafés is, by narrowing the definition, giving us a misleadingly optimistic picture. Instead of protecting the territory we are increasingly defending the Alamo. I hope that the food and ammunition hold out.

  9. As for the "bistrots" or restaurants that serve the really unmentionable Metro foods, I don't think they're the kind we're interested in here anyway.

    I'm told that their number is growing. To write them off as not worthy of consideration bears an ironic resemblance to a TV program I'm watching at the moment about the Battle of the Somme. More thousands dead? Keep attacking!
  10. Marius is an absolute must, recently cited by more than one authority as one of the very best in Holland. Kees worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and is still closely tied to Alice Waters and the Sheres. He's been through the Michelin mill and has settled into the sort of place he really wants.
  11. Now a bistrot is a simple, medium-priced or low-priced urban restaurant serving a certain type of food...

    Urban? That narrows the field of discussion considerably. From what I'm told, it's the village and rural bistros that are particularly suffering. As for purchasing from Metro, it may be a "different topic", but it is integrally related to the survival of bistros as more than merely a label.
  12. French bistros may be thriving, but not necessarily their kitchens. As Dominique Magada Cahill documented at length in the [London] Daily Telegraph, much of the food is arriving in lorries at the back door:

    The days when the plat du jour in the local bistro was entirely prepared and cooked by the chef using products from the market may be gone.

    Instead, the majority of restaurant owners now shop in Metro, the Frankfurt-listed German distribution company which, in the past 15 years, has established an impressive presence in France. Metro sells everything from fresh meat, fish and vegetables to ready-made sauces, pre-cut onions, buckets of fruit salad and even vacuum-packed ready meals made especially for restaurants and catering companies under the Metro Filière label.

    "It's quite frightening to see what restaurants can buy in Metro," says a young French chef, who recently opened his own restaurant in Alsace after working in top restaurants. "You can buy practically everything - the frozen boiled egg in a tube I find particularly off-putting. They can't even boil an egg any more. A meal in a village bistro today is very often ready-made. The products are the same all over the country; we're losing local specificity."

    Of course, many chefs still care for their cuisine and the ingredients they use. But they tend to be the ambitious ones who covet culinary guides' distinctions, rather than local bistro owners.

  13. There will be new ones opening, but more and more up-market, until cuisine du terroir can be afforded only by the rich.

    Are you saying that only wealthy people will find what they desire in the newest of places?

    I'm suggesting that this will be an increasing tendency.
    So, would you believe that it is still worthwhile to attempt to open a bistro in France?

    I think that it will, as usual, depend on location and motivation. Paris, for instance, still keeps John T. working flat out! :biggrin: But the small towns that once maintained a Hotel de la Gare, complete with zinc and slot machine, will be lucky if there's a Big Mac within driving distance. In fact, they'll be lucky if the Gare is still functioning.
  14. For the past ten years I've been seeing statements by experts that 5000 French bistros a year were closing. Of course the number of what we would call bistros is going down. It's part of a world wide trend, but it happens more slowly in countries that still value such institutions. Foodies on the go will still be able to find the sort of places they want, though with a bit more research, but it's hard on locals when their favorite places disappear. There will be new ones opening, but more and more up-market, until cuisine du terroir can be afforded only by the rich.

  15. It's interesting that you mention only the wines. They were in fact used by Claiborne to bump up the cost--just like the modern Petri multi-thousand-quid splurge by a couple of stockbrokers. I don't have time to search out the exact quote (it's in the Claiborne obit I wrote for the Guardian), but the chef was unhappy with the menu--he said that it was enough to feed a much larger company.

    EDIT: It consisted, in fact, of thirty dishes and eight wines.

    Denis, of Chez Denis where all this took place, had tactfully tried to tell [them] that there would be enough food for ten; that “it was not required that all foods be sampled.”
    That, of course, was in the long-ago days before the sampling menu.
  16. Without getting into class warfare, it's understandable that those who can't afford today's astronomically expensive restaurants will not be any more interested in them than they are in, say, the road test on the latest Rolls. One change that I've noticed within my own lifetime is that the cost spread between the bistro and the Michelin three-star has widened at the same accellerating rate as the income gap within most countries' populations. Middle class people not on expense account used to dine regularly at the top end--how often will even the most dedicated foodie spend a week's salary on a single meal? But there are thousands for whom the cost is as nothing. Today, Craig Claiborne's notorious $4,000 Paris banquet would barely rate a mention at the bottom of a society column.

    As for Starbucks and local coffee shops, there was a well-documented article in the Washington Post a few years back naming places where Starbucks had deliberately moved into well-served areas and undercut the locals until they were driven out of business, whereupon their prices went back to normal. Same old story, including the plummeting of standards; I used to drink Starbucks' wonderful coffee in Seattle before Howard Schultz finally talked them into selling out. (He told his story, fulsomely, in Readers Digest, August 1998.)

  17. People keep referring to the unstable monopod tables. We found ours very stable indeed: they won't rock, even if the floor is slightly uneven, and with no legs at the table corners, the chairs are very easy to get into and out of. Actually tipping one over would require a degree of drunkenness I haven't yet been able to manage. :biggrin:

  18. This trend, although probably inevitable, and certainly understandable, makes me sad.

    It makes me disinclined to pay "signed original" prices for a carbon copy--however fancy the packaging.
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