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Nouvelle cuisine: what exactly is it?


johung
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Hi all,

Since a lot of you are from France or are experts on dining in France or French cuisine in general, there is a question about nouvelle cuisine that I always find it puzzling. From the literatures I read, nouvelle cuisine is a lighter approach to cooking than classical cuisine, for example, less fat is supposedly used and also steaming, which is deemed healthier, is used as well, and also influences from many non-Western cuisines are also adopted. The dishes are stacked in a more aesthetic manner.

But modern Pacific Rim cuisine, like the ones you see on US West Coast, New Zealand and Australia circa 2008 likewise have many fusion influences, and they are also presented in an artistically pleasing way as well. Is there really a difference between nouvelle cuisine and today's Pacific Rim cuisine?

I heard from many claims that nouvelle cuisine is dead, but its legacy is interwoven into the cuisine today. is there still anyone who is doing nouvelle cuisine?

Thanks,

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This is a wonderful question in the year 2008; compared to 1968. I'm sure I and our members will have many thoughts, historical memories and opinions. I'll be most interested in how folks think we have gone from Vincent La Chapelle, François Marin and Menon through Gault-Millau to Choukroun, Aizpitarte, Barbot and Ledeuil. Thanks johung.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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We never left Nouvelle Cuisine. We're still fully in the middle of it and it has ceased being Nouvelle for quite a while. There has not been any significant change of direction or innovation on that global style of cooking/plating since it appeared in the 1970s. Lightened, reduced sauces, emphasis on the plating, anglaise-boiled vegetables (not steamed) and borrowing from non-European techniques, these are the principles we still live under.

Now there are of course variations and changes of mood over the years, but thay have not changed the situation. Basically we're still in the Nouvelle Cuisine era. I don't even see what leads some to believe we got out of it. If we did, what is the new style and what defines it? It would have to be noticeably different from the features of Nouvelle Cuisine to be of any significance.

Unless someday the trend of cream-and-flour-thickened sauces and communal dishes brought on the table instead of individual plating makes a durable comeback, or someone comes up with something even more different, modern cuisine will still be defined by that style.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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We never left Nouvelle Cuisine. We're still fully in the middle of it and it has ceased being Nouvelle for quite a while. There has not been any significant change of direction or innovation on that global style of cooking/plating since it appeared in the 1970s. Lightened, reduced sauces, emphasis on the plating, anglaise-boiled vegetables (not steamed) and borrowing to non-European techniques, these are the principles we still live under.

Now there are of course variations and changes of mood over the years, but thay have not changed the situation. Basically we're still in the Nouvelle Cuisine era. I don't even see what leads some to believe we got out of it. If we did, what is the new style and what defines it? It would have to be  noticeably different from the features of Nouvelle Cuisine to be of any significance.

Unless someday the trend of cream-and-flour-thickened sauces and communal dishes brought on the table instead of individual plating makes a durable comeback, or someone comes up with something even more different, modern cuisine will still be defined by that style.

See here for a discussion on the evolution of contemporary cuisine including the points that define nouvelle cuisine. While you are correct, that nouvelle cuisine's influence is enduring, it has evolved. At the very least, the vast majority of today's western chefs owe a great deal to nouvelle cuisine.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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See here for a discussion on the evolution of contemporary cuisine including the points that define nouvelle cuisine. While you are correct, that nouvelle cuisine's influence is enduring, it has evolved. At the very least, the vast majority of today's western chefs owe a great deal to nouvelle cuisine.

Oh, I do agree that it has evolved. It would be a shame if it hadn't, about four decades later.

My point is only: are we still in it or no longer in it?

It is merely a point of history, language and looking at things on a large scale: if we had left the Nouvelle Cuisine era at some point, we'd be in another era, with a different name and definition, based on entirely different principles. I do not see those principles, there was no revolution, albeit a soft one, and whatever evolutions and variation were certainly an enrichment but were never important enough to bring on a new era in cuisine. Which is why I wrote that we are still in the Nouvelle Cuisine period.

If I can think of a new and important element, it is the growing popularity of "green" cooking, organic food, emphasis on produce, vegetable gardens, eco-consciousness, etc. — quite a big thing, and one I do welcome with gratitude, but nothing that questions the persistence of Nouvelle Cuisine as an international style.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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See here for a discussion on the evolution of contemporary cuisine including the points that define nouvelle cuisine. While you are correct, that nouvelle cuisine's influence is enduring, it has evolved. At the very least, the vast majority of today's western chefs owe a great deal to nouvelle cuisine.

Oh, I do agree that it has evolved. It would be a shame if it hadn't, about four decades later.

My point is only: are we still in it or no longer in it?

It is merely a point of history, language and looking at things on a large scale: if we had left the Nouvelle Cuisine era at some point, we'd be in another era, with a different name and definition, based on entirely different principles. I do not see those principles, there was no revolution, albeit a soft one, and whatever evolutions and variation were certainly an enrichment but were never important enough to bring on a new era in cuisine. Which is why I wrote that we are still in the Nouvelle Cuisine period.

If I can think of a new and important element, it is the growing popularity of "green" cooking, organic food, emphasis on produce, vegetable gardens, eco-consciousness, etc. — quite a big thing, and one I do welcome with gratitude, but nothing that questions the persistence of Nouvelle Cuisine as an international style.

The way I see it, the only serious alternative style to the group of cuisines that started as nouvelle cooking is molecular/postmodern cooking from Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and Co. The use of deconstruction style of preparation, unusual pairing that defies convention, breaking boundaries for the sake of breaking boundaries all borrow from postmodern intellectual currents, and all fly in the face of seasonal, cooking so that products keep tasting as it is, that are the hallmarks of nouvelle style cooking. Pacific Rim cooking is basically the application of nouvelle cuisine in the Asia-Pacific settings - perhaps the French training is minimized and more Asian influences.

And I would say molecular/postmodern is still too new and recent to say whether it is developing into a popular and enduring style of cooking. For instance, it has yet to make a big scene in NZ and Australia. Most restaurants that offer molecular cuisine has a mix of 20% dishes based on molecular cuisine and 80% Pacific-Rim/nouvelle.

In much of East Asia, even much of the Pacific Rim cuisine is still awaiting to be accepted (because of the thought: "Why do we need to listen Western imitations on Asian traditions? We can just go back to our mother's cooking for the real taste of it! We want Escoffier etc.", and I'm not sure if many non-English speaking Asians are aware who Ferran Adria is yet, let alone knowing what molecular cuisine is doing.

Edited by johung (log)
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The way I see it, the only serious alternative style to the group of cuisines that started as nouvelle cooking is molecular/postmodern cooking from Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and Co.  The use of deconstruction style of preparation, unusual pairing that defies convention, breaking boundaries for the sake of breaking boundaries all borrow from postmodern intellectual currents, and all fly in the face of seasonal, cooking so that products keep tasting as it is, that are the hallmarks of nouvelle style cooking.  Pacific Rim cooking is basically the application of nouvelle cuisine in the Asia-Pacific settings - perhaps the French training is minimized and more Asian influences.

And I would say molecular/postmodern is still too new and recent to say whether it is developing into a popular and enduring style of cooking.  For instance, it has yet to make a big scene in NZ and Australia.  Most restaurants that offer molecular cuisine has a mix of 20% dishes based on molecular cuisine and 80% Pacific-Rim/nouvelle.

In much of East Asia, even much of the Pacific Rim cuisine is still awaiting to be accepted (because of the thought: "Why do we need to listen Western imitations on Asian traditions?  We can just go back to our mother's cooking for the real taste of it!  We want Escoffier etc.", and I'm not sure if many non-English speaking Asians are aware who Ferran Adria is yet, let alone knowing what molecular cuisine is doing.

All very good points.

IMO, molecular/postmodern (which is, truly, a new style) has not taken over nouvelle cuisine in the mainstream and is not likely to do so because of intrinsic, structural reasons. It is a set of (highly interesting) mannerisms but ultimately not a way to feed mankind, while Nouvelle Cuisine imposed itself as a different way of preparing, serving and plating meals, with simple principles that could be and have been widely adopted. Forty years after the 'revolution' we have nouvelle cuisine plating at French provincial supermarket cafeterias and some food bloggers (no names, no URLs, just using examples) posting pictures of terrible-looking dishes on large white plates without forgetting to top them with a couple of crossed chive blades. And I am not mentioning mint leaves on desserts and stacking anything on top of everything. Some postmodern techniques and ingredients will no doubt and already are integrated into mainstream cooking but so far — and, I believe, for some time to come —, the common style of preparing and plating food will remain a direct heritage from Nouvelle Cuisine.

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We recently visited Michel Guerard, who was one of the innovators of Nouvelle Cuisine as diet food in the 70s. Reading a TIME cover story on Guerard and his cuisine minceur, one realizes he got the kind of attention Ferran Adria gets today. I was amazed at how heavy his cuisine seemed to me, given that I'm too young to remember a pre-Nouvelle Cuisine era. He is cooking for people who still crave butter and cream sauces. It was very similar to my experience of watching Star Wars for the first time in 2000. I'd seen all the Star Wars-influenced movies first, so the original looked oddly obsolete and unworthy of the hype.

I think that as well as the locavore/organic/bio movement, one of the biggest changes introduced in post-Nouvelle has been the introduction of industrial stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavor enhancers in haute cuisine. Instant bouillon cubes have been in cheap places for a long time, but some high end places are now using a lot of dubious things and getting good reviews. Molecular cooking has produced some highly accomplished techniques that will not be widely practiced because of their expense and difficulty, but some of these industrial tricks will be very popular in trend-driven places looking for theatrical novelty.

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The way I see it, the only serious alternative style to the group of cuisines that started as nouvelle cooking is molecular/postmodern cooking from Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and Co.  The use of deconstruction style of preparation, unusual pairing that defies convention, breaking boundaries for the sake of breaking boundaries all borrow from postmodern intellectual currents, and all fly in the face of seasonal, cooking  so that products keep tasting as it is, that are the hallmarks of nouvelle style cooking.  Pacific Rim cooking is basically the application of nouvelle cuisine in the Asia-Pacific settings - perhaps the French training is minimized and more Asian influences.

I do not agree that technoemotional cooking all flies in the face of seasonal cooking, though many practitioners might. What is served at el Bulli varies greatly from when it opens in April until it closes at the end of September and greatly depends on seasonal availability of local items. When I was last there, I had an exxquisite dish based upon some special local peas that have a season of two weeks that happened to coincide with the time I was there.

I think that the tenets of nouvelle cuisine as espoused by Gault and Millau still apply. I also think that Pau arenos has captured the essence of what has occurred since then with his Genome of Cooking in the West. The Japanese influence on western cooking cannot be underestimated starting with Nouvelle Cuisine.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Hi all,

Since a lot of you are from France or are experts on dining in France or French cuisine in general, there is a question about nouvelle cuisine that I always find it puzzling.  From the literatures I read, nouvelle cuisine is a lighter approach to cooking than classical cuisine, for example, less fat is supposedly used and also steaming, which is deemed healthier, is used as well, and also influences from many non-Western cuisines are also adopted.  The dishes are stacked in a more aesthetic manner.

But modern Pacific Rim cuisine, like the ones you see on US West Coast, New Zealand and Australia circa 2008 likewise have many fusion influences, and they are also presented in an artistically pleasing way as well.  Is there really a difference between nouvelle cuisine and today's Pacific Rim cuisine? 

I heard from many claims that nouvelle cuisine is dead, but its legacy is interwoven into the cuisine today.  is there still anyone who is doing nouvelle cuisine?

Thanks,

So I started responding and the response ended up being so long that I put it on my blog: http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2008/09/wh...le-cuisine.html

The characterization of Nouvelle cuisine as light is misleading. If you think of Bocuse, Robuchon, Senderens, Guérard, even Loiseau, Winkler, or Passard. All rely heavily on butter and sometimes cream. One hardly leaves these places feeling light, eventhough there are degrees.

The main reason for butter is, that nothing replaces it to capture the flavors. Thanks to butter you can make mono-taste sauces that emphasize the complexity and richness of one ingredients: for instance a thyme or a tarragon butter sauce, served on the side of a fish cooked à l’unilatérale are very typical nouvelle cuisine dishes, still served by Winkler. Today, Passard’s Gratin d’oignon is an example of that mono-ingredient approach, which relies on butter to capture the flavours during the slow cooking and aims at demonstrating that a simple onion can be a grande cuisine dish, and not only some aromatic sidekick in a stock.

Technologies for capturing clear, pure tastes have been refined from the traditional to butter to more surprising infusions, mousses, etc. You could consider that the latest in pure nouvelle cuisine was reached in the early 90s, with Loiseau, Robuchon and Veyrat. And water.

The other day, Pti made a traditional nettle soup – I had no idea that it would have potatoes and leeks in there and cook for fourty minutes. To me, educated by Loiseau, a nettle soup was only water, salt and nettles, the nettles cooked à l’anglaise for a few minutes, stopped in ice, then blended with the water they cooked in. Same deal with the parsley sauce, for instance. And any soup, really.

More than lightness, Nouvelle Cuisine can be characterized by a focus on ingredients and the clarity of their taste. By comparison, traditional cuisine, the Escoffier style, is more about transformation of ingredients, the magic of the act of cooking. Turning stuff that grows in or on the soil into delicious food. It's not that they did not use the best ingredients they have. Cooks always knew that you can't make good food without good ingredients. But in the traditional cuisine, cooking was about the transformation, the recipe, and how to create a taste. Stews, quenelles, are examples of long transformative processes creating pleasant and arguably artificial feelings in mouth. In nouvelle cuisine, it is about emphasising a taste more than about creating one. There is both a more natural and a more artistic approach in a way.

You can taste the pre-nouvelle cuisine approach in places like Michel Rostang or l’Auberge Bressane. A pasta or potato gratin are good example, or crêpes Suzettes. Another comparison I like to use is that the difference between Nouvelle and Ancienne Cuisine is reflected in the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Basically (no offence), in a Vietnamese Bo-Bun you can identify every ingredient clearly. In a Chinese Imperial style chicken, there is fusion of ingredients, and while it is delicious, it is actually hard to tell what exactly it is that you are eating.

There’s the same difference between nouvelle and ancienne cuisine. A classic of nouvelle cuisine, emphasized to the point of caricature, if you ask me, in Michel Bras’ Gargouillou, is the separate cooking of different vegetables. A Senderens approach to Ratatouille, a Loiseau ragout de legumes, as opposed to their traditional counterpart, all rely on separate cooking and last minute assembly.

Of course there has been evolution and progress inside nouvelle cuisine. The first stage was, say, Bocuse, maybe Point, and their food does not taste that distinct to our palates anymore. But if you compare Bocuse to Rostang or to your (OK, my) grandmother’s cooking, you will feel the clarity of taste, the lightening of traditional recipes not in a dietetic but in an aesthetic sense. One dish which I think is a good example of the revolution the Nouvelle Cuisine was is that salade de rougets I had the other day at Gérard Besson. Suddenly, the plate is full of colors and distinct taste, while still being, formally, the traditional salad – a salad in which everything is mixed and soaked and hardly recognizable. As far as the plating is concerned, in Nouvelle Cuisine, it is a logical consequence of the search for control of the gustative experience and the separation and purity of flavors.

By the way, what is the difference between Nouvelle Cuisine and California cuisine? I would argue, none, essentially. Except that they rely, like all good cuisines, on local and therefore different ingredients and traditions. Traditions reinterpreted, even reinvented: from Bocuse’s chicken to Loiseau’s frogs, Nouvelle Cuisine has been exactly that.

In the Robuchon school, there even some sort of conciliation between traditional and nouvelle cuisine: some ingredients are magnified with clear tastes, but melty, fusionned, regressive tastes are also present like in his pumpkin soup or his potato purée. This Robuchon synthesis is very apparent in the contrast of his two signature dishes: the aromatic herb salad and the potato purée. Both were served on the side of a perfect roast lamb, by the way.

When opposing Nouvelle Cuisine to the restaurants that emerged in the 90s, many of them techno-molecular-something, I think that the operating word is cuisine. In French, it is what people do at home as well as the name of the room. It is how the people prepare food. Traditional and nouvelle cuisine are both cuisines – essentially, cooks do the same things we do at home and they do the same things we do. Only they’re professionals. And indeed, while places like Rostang or l’Auberge Bressane, or even Bocuse or Besson, use very similar techniques to what we use at home, the “advanced” nouvelle cuisine is extrelly work-intensive. Robuchon’s purée require hard work for sure, so does Bocuse’s gazpacho or pea soup made from small vegetables pealed one by one. Veyrat invented fat free fries but they take 40 minutes to do instead of 10. And I mentioned earlier using ten different pots to prepare a vegetable stew. You have to have staff and a professional kitchen.

By opposition, what you eat at Adria’s, Blumenthal’s, Amador’s, even at l’Astrance, is not cuisine in the sense that it has not much to do with feeding you, it is not an extension or a modification of how you would cook at home. It just has nothing to do with it. What emerged since Nouvelle Cuisine arguably peaked is not better food but a shift or return of emphasis on other dimensions of the fine dining experience than having the best possible food. Novelty and surprise are major factors, as is the show dimension. Adria offers, it seems, an unparalleled stimulation of the mind and a unique reconsideration of the nature of the culinary experience. Amador is both playful and generous.

Come to think of it, what else could young chefs do to differentiate themselves? The champions of nouvelle cuisine had created a new orthodoxy and of course set their own bar for excellence. How would you make better, more intense and pure food than Robuchon or Pacaud or Senderens when they’re on? You can’t. They’ve just perfected their art the same way an Escoffier probably had before them. You just can’t beat them to their own game. But you can get tired of their game. Some people do.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
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