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Nouvelle Cuisine


rconnelly
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My editor and are are having an email discussion regardign the term nouvelle cuisine.

We are getting ready for our annual "Best of" issue and nouvelle cuisine is one of the titles. I've argued for years that we chould change it to anything but NC because there is no such thing anymore.

He says that people seem to know what it means by the choices they make so why change it.

Can anyone help me with some great reasons why we should dump the term and use something else?

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When I read your title, the first answer that popped into my mind was 'old people.' Of course, my uneducated bias is that the term was already passe when I spent summers traveling around Switzerland and France in the late 70's and certainly by the early 80's when I lived there.

There may be remote enclaves of the country not familiar with the term, but they probably aren't buying your magazine or following your "Best Of" anyway.

Nouvelle is now 'moyen-age', but I don't have a substitute for you as I am not sure what type of cuisine you trying to describe.

-sabine

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When I read your title, the first answer that popped into my mind was 'old people.'  Of course, my uneducated bias is that the term was already passe when I spent summers traveling around Switzerland and France in the late 70's and certainly by the early 80's when I lived there. 

There may be remote enclaves of the country not familiar with the term, but they probably aren't buying your magazine or following your "Best Of" anyway. 

Nouvelle is now 'moyen-age', but I don't have a substitute for you as I am not sure what type of cuisine you trying to describe.

-sabine

thanks!

I like the 70's and 80's mention, my boss called it a term that went out of fashion in the 90's!

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As someone who lived through those times and now with the benefit of hindsight, it was a term that was used to move people beyond the mindset that if a recipe or technique wasn't contained in classics such as Larousse Gastronomique or Escoffier, it wasn't cuisine.

Once the mindset was broken, there was no need for the term.

When it appears now it has the same effect as a book containing the word "modern" in the title. Normally accompanied by pictures of people in corduroy jackets with too long sideboards, it is something that creates mirth and derision.

Nouvelle cuisine is an historical term covering the output of a group of food pioneers who laid the foundation for much of today's cuisine. To use it as a current cooking term is not only incorrect but risks ridiculing an admirable group of people who broke the rules and moved us all forward.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Most of the things that made the cusine "nouvelle" are pretty standard in high-end restaurants today -- new techniques, lighter sauces, brighter composition, seasonal and neo-traditional ingredients. But I doubt there any true "nouvelle cuisine" restaurants left in the U.S. of note, and certainly not enough in any one place to devote a category in a "best of" issue. We used to have two in DC, I used to work at one, I haven't seen anything like either of them in a long time.

Wikipedia here.

Larousse Gastronomique here.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Hi,

I have one specific example of the original use of the term Nouvelle Cuisine, that has since ALMOST disappeared.

The term was originally used to justify making demi-glace by the reduction of veal stock. Even today, many experienced chef's take umbrage at the idea of making a demi-glace without using espagnole sauce.

Tim

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"Nouvelle cuisine" seems to me somewhat similar to "modern art" -- which is to say that it has a plain reading sense that could be applied to anything happening "now" but has largely come to describe a certain era. Which is to say that art happening in modern times is not best described as "modern art" and food from a new perspective is not best described as "nouvelle cuisine."

--

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"Nouvelle cuisine" seems to me somewhat similar to "modern art" -- which is to say that it has a plain reading sense that could be applied to anything happening "now" but has largely come to describe a certain era.  Which is to say that art happening in modern times is not best described as "modern art" and food from a new perspective is not best described as "nouvelle cuisine."

This analogy between "modern art" and nouvelle cuisine works. Art produced now is called "contemporary" and the word "modern" has a very specific meaning and refers to a particular historical period, just like nouvelle cuisine does. I don't think we'd call anything we'd brand as nouvelle cuisine "contemporary."

nunc est bibendum...

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"Nouvelle cuisine" seems to me somewhat similar to "modern art" -- which is to say that it has a plain reading sense that could be applied to anything happening "now" but has largely come to describe a certain era.  Which is to say that art happening in modern times is not best described as "modern art" and food from a new perspective is not best described as "nouvelle cuisine."

This analogy between "modern art" and nouvelle cuisine works. Art produced now is called "contemporary" and the word "modern" has a very specific meaning and refers to a particular historical period, just like nouvelle cuisine does. I don't think we'd call anything we'd brand as nouvelle cuisine "contemporary."

again thanks, I'll use these points to fortify my side.

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For purposes of your publication, I would think that "contemporary cuisine" fits the bill. Has more or less the same plain-reading meaning as "nouvelle cuisine" but doesn't have the same connection to a certain historical period and style as "nouvelle cuisine." Also, any reader who understands what "nouvelle cuisine" means would also understand what was meant by "contemporary cuisine."

--

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My memory of Nouvelle Cuisine - A bunch of cooks throwing things together, just to be different and without regard to culinary basics.  Every once in a while, like the chimpanzee writing a sentence, they got it right.

But you think a cheesesteak is the height of culinary genius! You probably hate Rothko, too. :wink:

Sure -- as with new food fashion there were some idiots out there screwing things up and a fair amount of excess, and part of the thrill of the movement was that you could try anything (not that all of it worked). But reduction sauces? Bright fruit and vegetable flavors? Respectful updates of peasant classics? Meals that you could walk away from without gout?

There was a lot of good stuff going on back then, and there are few high-end French-style (for lack of a better term) places today that don't build on the foundations NC poured.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Embarrassing stuff out of the way first - I had to Google Rothko. But once I figured out who he was, I like his art, may even recognize a few of his works.

I also really liked my meals at Grant Achatz's Trio to the point that I giggled with delight. I am not all cheez whiz and Norman Rockwell though I do maintain that places like Tony Luke's and Red's Eats deserve Michelin Stars.

Agreed some good things came out of Nouvelle Cuisine and concede that not all of them contained raspberry vinaigrette. My problem is the it all looked too easy - that many a cook wanting to be a chef just combined the unexpected and labeled it Nouvelle Cuisine. Nouvelle Cuisine had more pretenders claiming to be serving it than any other culinary evolution - taking credibility away from the relatively few chefs that understood what they were doing.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Let me try this: "Nouvelle Cuisine" came out of "La Nouvelle Cuisine Francaise", an expression coined by Henri Gault and Christian Millau to categorize a group of young chefs in France starting in the late 1960s. Two of the pioneers, Paul Bocuse and Pierre Troisgros were apprentices of Fernand Point, but as time progressed and the ranks grew larger, Jean Troisgros, Alain Chapel, Michel Guerard, Roger Verge, Paul Haeberlin, Charles Barrier in Tours and a few others formed the hard core. (Some also claimed that Jean Delavayne in Bougival, outside of Paris was an early practicioner, as well as Jacques Maniere from Doudin-Bouffnat in Paris).

Although there have been attempts to try to isolate its characteristics, I believe that "La Nouvelle Cuisine Francaise" was more a PR device to highlight the young Turks at the time. You could go to Chapel and eat your brains out and have renditions of local classics as well as lightened-up dishes. Probably Guerard had the lightest touch of all these chefs, which accounts for his "Cuisine Minceur". They all had respect for tradition; just read the book of Curnonsky (the title escapes me) that Pierre Troisgros reworked and updated the recipes for. So I am guessing (not knowing much about cooking) that Nouvelle Cuisine is, if anything, a respect for tradition and time-honored techniques adapted in the service of making dishes lighter. Like most new names, this one got corrupted and misued, which accounts for all the confusion, vulgarization and bastardizing. One thing for sure about all of these fellows: They bent over backwards and gave you your moneys worth.

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Let me try this: "Nouvelle Cuisine" came out of "La Nouvelle Cuisine Francaise", an expression coined by Henri Gault and Christian Millau to categorize a group of young chefs in France starting in the late 1960s.

gault and millau were journalists and bons vivants... with a journalist's sense of a story and headline. they coined the term to align with la nouvelle vague in cinema - a very clever idea which they parleyed it into a magazine/guidebook franchise. christian millau hired me to work at his magazine in the mid-80s but even then "nouvelle cuisine" seemed more like the company's founding myth than a vital culinary current... FWIW

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By the way, shjould anyone need a primer in nouvelle cuisine, see if you can track down a cookbook I just remembered I had from years ago: Dining in France by Gault-Millau "based on the public television series."

Recipes (lovingly illustrated) from, anmong others, Blanc, Chapel, Gagnaire, Rostang, Loiseau. Glancing through it, it's not so much that it's dated, it's that everyone else seems to have caught up.

[Holly -- I have nothing but respect for your palate and assume a Philly kid can takes his chops being busted every now and again. If my kid gets into Temple, I hope to buy you a few beers.]

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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  • 1 month later...
By the way, shjould anyone need a primer in nouvelle cuisine, see if you can track down a cookbook I just remembered I had from years ago:  Dining in France by Gault-Millau "based on the public television series."

Recipes (lovingly illustrated) from, anmong others, Blanc, Chapel, Gagnaire, Rostang, Loiseau.  Glancing through it, it's not so much that it's dated, it's that everyone else seems to have caught up. 

[Holly -- I have nothing but respect for your palate and assume a Philly kid can takes his chops being busted every now and again.  If my kid gets into Temple, I hope to buy you a few beers.]

I want to thank all of you who replied.

I cut and pasted several of your thought, sent them to my boss and WOW! the category was changed to Modern Cuisine - still not perfect but much better and at least up to date.

Now if I could only get him to rereview places we haven't done in years I'd be a happy camper.

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  • 2 months later...

Ferran Adria explains it this way (from memory/loose translation): "In gastronomy, between 1900 and now, there were only 3 movements. Cuisine classique, nouvelle cuisine, and techno-emotional cuisine".

From 1900 to more or less 1970, it was the cuisine classique, which was not about interpretation. You had a recipe and you carried it out.

Then in the 70's, as it has been rightfully explained in various posts before mine, Bocuse, Troisgros and the like came up, aided by influential food critics Gault & Millau, with an extraordinay way to break up from the conventionality. In other words, they started to think outside the culinary box.

At that time, granted, Nouvelle went crazy. Most diners ended up with a very pricey, large white plate with stuff like a 2 oz of unilaterally grilled rare beef tenderloin, 3 bright-green Correze peas and a tiny drizzle of balsamic reduction. It was ridiculous.

But the only reason it was ridiculous for the diner, it's because Nouvelle was not about the diner. It was about the chef. They needed, at that point in time, to break away and explore their own creativity instead of following Escoffier. And thank god it was about them, because Nouvelle deeply transformed gastronomy and utterly modified the way chefs thought about their food. It wasn't about Escoffier anymore, it was about them!

I started chef school in 1986 in France. And let me tell you, it was ALL about Nouvelle Cuisine. Sure, we had to learn Escoffier and cuisine classique, and know what a sauce Espagnole or a potage St Germain was. But mainly, it was about techniques and creativity. It was a great time . A very similar time, in fact, as right now, where we observe that techno-emotional cuisine supplants the last remains of Nouvelle (it can be argued that nouvelle is dead but really, fine dining in America or in Europe, with the exception of chefs practicing techno-emotional cuisine, is a re-calibrated, time-tested, better and more satisfying version of Nouvelle).

Note that it was at that time that the way culinary students were taught completely changed. Being a chef was not anymore about learning classic recipes by rot; it was about learning techniques, and finally have the liberty to create.

Before my time at chef school, students had to learn recipes. The problem with that, of course, is that if you know how to make a Bechamel, you don't necessarily understand how to make a Mornay (only difference is the addition of cheese). It was so stupid. With Nouvelle, and the new way of teaching students, a chef knew how to make mother sauces (it's the same technique) and could come up at every stage of the elaboration, with additions or omissions of his own. Very liberating.

In my humble opinion, what we are seeing now with techno-emotional cuisine, and the way Grant Achatz, Ferran and others revolutionize the world of gastronomy, has just a very familiar air of deja-vu. Aided by food critics, these great chefs are the new Bocuse and Troisgros. They are finally breaking with the ground rules of Nouvelle, and take diners to unexplored territory. This is as exciting as the birth of Nouvelle back then.

To conclude, the phantom of Nouvelle still lingers in virtually ALL fine dining restaurants today. But yeah, the term "Nouvelle" is so obsolete and somewhat gives us tired, tacky flavors reminiscent of the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever.

Gui Alinat, CEC

chef - blogger - food writer

chefgui@hotmail.com

::www.chefgui.com::

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