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johnmitsch

importance of french cuisine?

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This is a naive question, i no, but i just have to know, why does french cuisine have such and importance in the training of the culinary arts? It seems to me that French cuisine is like learning classical music while becoming a musician. It teaches you the basics and techniques all the way to the difficult stuff, which prepares you to be ready for anything. Is this right? or is it just the "mother" cuisine that all cuisines took shape from?

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I've always thought that it was mainly because French cuisine is fairly rigidly structured with standard techniques and preparations nearly exhaustively articulated. So you can learn it, just as you say, in a structured way, all the way to the top. If you mean it is a "mother" cuisine from which other cuisines have taken their own foundations, I don't see it as the foundation for something like Italian cuisine or Spanish, though, because I think they developed foundations (traditional style and ways of doing things) of their own. Is the foundation of "American" cuisine (if we think of one and not many American cuisines), then maybe French supplies a tradition for fine dining food where there isn't one (though the relationship between American regional food and American fine dining food is interesting too).

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or is it just the "mother" cuisine that all cuisines took shape from?

In that case, one popular myth has it that Italian cuisine is the "mother" of Western cuisines, having been brought to France by Catherine.

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This is a question I asked myself on numerous occasions probably for the same reasons. I think I found some of the answers whilst studying some of the early classes in my Gastronomy degree. Here's my take which is very much in short-hand:

Firstly, around the time of the French revolution brought about the very first Restaurants. Initially from memory a restaurant was a dish, like a soup or consomme which was used as a restorative for patrons who were feeling 'weak'. What differentiated these places from other Inn's and places where one could buy food was that it was they were the first places to offer choices of what one could eat. They were also places where one could essentially be 'seen' in public but still dine in a 'private' space (ie you didn't have to share tables with strangers as was the case in Inn's and the like. In fact some of these restaurants had private rooms as they still do). Many of the chefs in these early restaurants were previous employed by the French aristocracy. As the royals were now spending much of their time either running away from France or getting their heads chopped off, these chefs were now unemployed. Many of them opened restaurants as a means of keeping employed, the difference being that now in a France where there was indeed 'power to the people', many of these people were now enjoying haute cuisine that was previously only ever enjoyed by those of noble origin.

As part of this we also got the first celebrity chefs and food writers who celebrated food in ways not often done before. One could argue that Archestratus was the first food and travel writer and that there were other chefs too before this time who were held in high esteem but during this time we got Careme (chef), Grimod de la Reyniere and Brillat Savarin (writers) who were all in their own right much like the celebrity chefs and food writers that we have today (Does anyone reading this think Steingarten is a bit like a modern day Brillat-Savarin?)

Another one to look at is Escoffier who perhaps was the ultimate celebrity chef and cooked the greatest food for the rich and wealthy all over Europe. What he also developed though was a highly codified and rigid standard for cooking that was exceptionally well documented.

All this information here is very much in short hand and written from memory. It probably excludes a lot of very important people and dates and times and so forth.

I think though that the reason why it was so important is partly one of timing. So the French revolution happened and we got restaurants and celeb chefs and food writers. During and after this time, we also got the British colonizing half of the world, the development of the USA and the Industrial revolution. So when big hotels opened up in big cities the world over, the French way of cooling in restaurants was a great model to use and a relatively recently developed and highly popular phenomenon. The French restaurant brigade was a good way to run a high class food outlet that needed to cater to the different needs of well-heeled clientele. The French it seems were the ones who it seems venerated their chefs the most at this time. I once heard Giorgio Locatelli say that the difference between French and Italian food was that French food was all about the chef whereas Italian food was all about the ingredients. If this is true then if you wanted to open the best restaurant for your hotel, you needed both the best chefs and best ingredients. I suspect the French chefs were the ones of yelled the loudest!!

Below are some books that I found very interesting on this topic. It is certainly not an exhaustive list.

I hope this post was of interest.

Regards,

George

The physiology of taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Harvard Historical Studies): Rebecca L. Spang

Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme - The First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly

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Doc, that's a great list of books on the subject.

I don't want to seem dumb or irreverent or specious here, given the great posts on this topic, but in my heart of hearts I believe it's just because it tastes good, and it's been documented thoroughly.

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or is it just the "mother" cuisine that all cuisines took shape from?

I have a hard time believing that French cuisine is the mother cuisine to Japanese cuisine. Or Chinese cuisine for that matter.

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Hi Maggie,

You could well be right. Ultimately, I think it's pretty hard to say why French cuisine is so venerated in Western culture. I certainly agree with sanrensho's comments regarding French cuisines relationship to Japanese and Chinese cuisine. I guess I should add that my comments in the post above are strictly limited to modern Western society.

I guess we have just taken so much from it over the years that in some ways we do tend to look at it as the 'mother-cuisine' right down to the way it is served at the table. I know the mode of serving food is Russian in origin (aka service a la Russe) but it wasn't until it went to France and was adopted in France that it became standard elsewhere (...from memory!!).

Anyway, this is one of those threads that I really enjoy and I'm sure I will be corrected and also pick up lots of other information that I had not heard before.

Regards,

George

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I know that as I've learned more about cooking and gastronomy, I've come to appreciate French cuisine more.

Personally, I think it is because it is incredibly well detailed and systematized. It is very traditional, but most of the traditions are in place because they have been thoroughly tested and work well...

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