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Steve Plotnicki

Has the light dimmed on French cooking?

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My name is Fat Guy and I agree with Plotnicki.

Though I've mulled it over and over, trying desperately to think of a way to disagree with Plotnicki here, I must confess I think he's not only correct is his conclusions but also quite right in framing the issue to emphasize the relevant phenomenon.

Sure, French cuisine is the mother cuisine of Western cuisine at the haute-cuisine fine-dining restaurant level, and also to some extent at the quality mid-priced restaurant level. (This is to set aside the question of the historical origins of French cuisine, which may or may not be French.) To that extent, French cuisine is very relevant today, because pretty much any fancy Western restaurant is really serving French cuisine no matter what kind of Nouveau-whatever it claims to be serving. But that's not what Plotnicki is asking, and I think he's asking the right question: Are today's French chefs and restaurants as relevant as they once were?

Of course they aren't. They are hardly relevant at all. Many of the best restaurants in the world are still in France, and I'd choose France for a culinary holiday at the drop of a hat, but the world has progressed to the point where hundreds of restaurants outside of France are storming the ramparts of French restaurant supremacy. The French may still be masters of the restaurant, but they are no longer the masters of cuisine. When American restaurateurs visit French restaurants to steal ideas, they don't particularly care about the food -- the ideas worth stealking tend to be service- and presentation-oriented.

Who said the French are best equipped to judge this? I agree. But guess what? Ask every French Michelin three-star chef about the current relevance of French cuisine and I guarantee you the majority or at least a significant number will say France is no longer where the action is, or that the inevitable trend is towards France falling from its pedestal.

Plotnicki, one place where I'd differ from you in emphasis: I don't think this is really on account of the French lack of grace in integrating fusion. I think it's simply the inevitable result of other countries catching up and eventually overtaking France. France is a tiny nation in perpetual economic crisis. Nobody could possibly not be amazed by all the French have accomplished in the culinary arena -- they lead not only in restaurants, but also in wine and cheese and lots of other things having to do with food. But when three hundred million Americans or even a whole lot of Spaniards turn their attention to beating the French at this game, how long can France hold out?

Ducasse came to New York, why exactly? His presence here illustrates both traditional French supremacy in the culinary arts and the rise of cuisine in the world outside of France. If Ducasse sets up camp in New York, it means Ducasse thinks New York is the place to be. He thinks the future is here. Likewise, brilliant chefs the world over are casting their lots with the good citizens of London and other non-French cities.

There are a few connoisseurs who will continue to need France, because there are culinary experiences to be had in France that can be had nowhere else. But to the average lover of fine dining (yes, there can be an average within an economic elite), life is just fine these days without a trip to France.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Life is just fine without a trip to France, but it is so much better with one.  As long, that is, as you leave out Paris. ( light blue touch paper and stand well back )

S

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Cabrales--great research--and to your last point--I'd offer that L'Orangerie is clearly not the only high-end French restaurants in the US to copy--or emulate--what has appeared in Thuries magazine.  What's sad about L'Orangerie is that while its French savory dishes are modernized--and up on Michelin-starred trends--the desserts are stuck in the ice age, with chocolate souffles and apple tarts.

And once argan oil got written up in the Times, it's no surprise to see it on trend-spotting menus.  What I'd like to know is if anyone else made an "ice" out of an argan oil and carrot emulsion like Gagnaire did.  Now that would be trend-spotting!


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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There are a few connoisseurs who will continue to need France, because there are culinary experiences to be had in France that can be had nowhere else. But to the average lover of fine dining (yes, there can be an average within an economic elite), life is just fine these days without a trip to France.

My username is Cabrales and I may agree or disagree with Steve P. I am among the diners who continues to need France.  :wink:

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Monsieur Fat Guy.If the French could hear you describe their belle France as "a tiny nation in perpetual economic crisis" whose restaurants are "hardly relevant at all" and then understood that you meant it KINDLY in context,they would guillotine your head from your presumably ample torso and serve up both in two different sauces.We would then find out whether YOU were relevant to modern cuisine or not.

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If there is a stronger word than irrelevant, that's what I am to cuisine. And yes, I'd probably be whatever is the French equivalent of lynched (which no doubt includes multiple sauces or perhaps flights of service emphasizing different cooking techniques and contrasts in flavor, texture, and temperature) for calling them names. Luckily, the French are so antisocial and introverted there's little chance of many of them ever reading these message boards, and the ones who do will be the ones who agree with me!


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Much to respond to here. Let's see, where do I start?

Simon-I think the use of the word "Club" is no accident. Regardless of the many different meanings of the word and the implications, London is the epicenter of the concept of "club culture." Club music in London has transcended merely being music and is an entire lifestyle that includes fashion as well. Second, Club Gascon isn't influenced by French cooking, it is French cooking. Pascal has modernized the cooking of an entire region of France using all French products. What makes it interesting is that he left his native land to do it. One wonders why various French chefs left France to ply their trades. Already in these threads the names of Jean-Georges, Jacques Torres and Pascal A.'s name have been used as examples of people who somehow advanced French cooking practices but left France to do it.

Steve KlC- I'm not sure I am asking if the French are ahead or behind the curve. What I am asking is if the curve they are on is one with much relevence anymore. Last year I ate at the Fat Duck. And while the meal I had there had all the indicia of a modern meal, from a cerebral perspective, my recent meal at Arpege was every bit as modern. And one could argue that it was more daring in a way. Just not in an obvious way. But I am trying to parse the intelectual argument from the practical argument and it is easy for me to say that it appears to me that Adria is having a greater impact on food culture than Passard is. Why? Well there seems to be a bunch of chefs running around New York & London with aerosole cans. But I haven't seen the tomato (which is just a confit process) anywhere. In fact, it is sort of amazing to me that in this health conscious society we live in, some U.S. chef hasn't created a vegetarian dining concept based on Passard's technique in order to corner the healthy but delicious market.

Cabrales-Good research job. But I'm not sure how much those examples bolster France's relevence. First, nobody said that French cuisine wasn't relevent or that it wouldn't be relevent in the future. The question is how much of an impact it is making. That it has an impact on a classic French restaurant in L.A. isn't at all surprising. It always will.

I have  a little Argan oil story for you. You know that one of the things I do to keep myself amused is to import Alziari Olive Oil into the U.S. (a commercial plug I guess.) And about 3 years ago the owner of the shop had a bottle of Argan oil there and gave us some to taste. He had the entire history of the oil with a picture of the tree the goats eat from blah, blah.

So I'm not sure France has any bragging rights about that one since I believed the oil comes from Morocco and anybody who imports the oil would have acces to it.

Fat Guy - It's about time you figured out you needed to agree with me. Try and remember that next time you have the urge to disagree. But let me try and straighten you out from the one place we differ. You said;

"I think it's simply the inevitable result of other countries catching up and eventually overtaking France. France is a tiny nation in perpetual economic crisis. Nobody could possibly not be amazed by all the French have accomplished in the culinary arena -- they lead not only in restaurants, but also in wine and cheese and lots of other things having to do with food. But when three hundred million Americans or even a whole lot of Spaniards turn their attention to beating the French at this game, how long can France hold out?"

Since the backdrop for this issue is really about wealth and information distribution, I'm glad you brought it up because I think this issue is at the heart of Gopnik's book. I think that for a century, the French were able to keep their population happy by doing a good job of distributing their natural resources. In lieu of having an opportunity to accumulate wealth, people were happy to have a Bresse chicken once a week, or once a month depending on their situation. The French created a way of life that made the population's quality of life better than anywhere else I know of. They brought a semi-socialist point of view to these things. Everyone was entitled to eat at a baseline level that not only was quite acceptable, but was at an amazingly high standard. Don't forget that a mere 300 miles away the Brits were eating Spam and Marmite.

But along came the U.S. and the wealth we created was so enormous, and the popular culture(s) we created as a way of fueling our economy and furthering our ideology were so pervasive, that given human nature, people in France wanted high salaries and McDonald's rather than that Bresse chicken. In other words, wealth meant freedom of choice and given the choice, people wanted the money rather than the chicken. I mean who wouldn't? You could always buy the chicken if you wanted to. So it isn't that France is a tiny nation in a constant economic crisis. That was always the case. But the solution the government had offered for nearly 100 years didn't fly anymore.

I think this point speaks to things not only inside France, but to the way they treated outsiders as well. If you asked a Frenchman why his country was great, he would show you a Bresse chicken and explain everything about it's superiority from the color of it's feet and feathers to telling you how it is labeled and numbered so people aren't fooled into buying a fake. Now that was a good rap before you and I had been there 5 or 10 times and ate that chicken enough times so we knew what to expect when taking that first bite. But once we had that chicken under our belt (in more ways than one eh?),

and once others tempted us with things like Nobu's Crab in a Spicy Cream Sauce, the chicken wasn't good enough evidence anymore.

So now we have distilled this issue down to a single point. Why is it that a French chef didn't come up with something like the Nobu dish? Aside from the spicing regimen for the dish, which could have probably been replaced by a hundred different spice mixtures or approaches, why didn't some French chef make the creative equivalent in France?

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So I'm not sure France has any bragging rights about that one since I believed the oil comes from Morocco and anybody who imports the oil would have acces to it. . . .

So now we have distilled this issue down to a single point. Why is it that a French chef didn't come up with something like the Nobu dish? Aside from the spicing regimen for the dish, which could have probably been replaced by a hundred different spice mixtures or approaches, why didn't some French chef make the creative equivalent in France?

Steve -- Argan oil is from Morocco, but I believe that it was French chefs that began using it meaningfully outside of Moroccan cuisine (incl. the Gagnaire reference already provided) and before the NYT article ran. If that is the case, it could be argued that argan oil was successfully (leaving aside the question of the oil's taste) incorporated by the French, and then trickled over as a result to the US.

On the spicy crab dish, first of all I would not distill the discussion to date in this and other threads to the question of this dish. However, the dish was more readily invented by Nobu because, among other things, and assuming I am recollecting it correctly, it has little reddish/orangy dots inside the spicy cream sauce. If that item is indeed tobiko or flying fish roe (and that's a big if; members please advise), that item is prevalent in Japanese sushi/sashimi preparations. There are other reasons Nobu's signature dishes are what they are because of his Japanese influences -- (1) black cod with miso -- miso is rampantly utilized in Japanese cuisine and sweetening it in the way it is would not necessarily be natural to French chefs, and (2) rock shrimp tempura -- here, obviously, the tempura preparation is common in Japanese cuisine.  :wink:  Perhaps only a person with Matsuhisa's background (or something comparable) could have come up with these preparations, but that doesn't mean these admittedly delicious dishes had to be created by French chefs for French cuisine to continue to be highly relevant and, for me, dominant.  :wink:

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Cabrales-According to Nao Sugiyama, and this is what he told me if I understand him correctly, he invented the famous Black Cod with Miso dish when he was the Kaiseki chef at Matsuhiso in L.A. But that is an aside. And you have no dispute with me about why those dishes were more likely to be invented by a Japanese chef than a French one. But my example of the spicy crab isn't specific to that dish, it is to that style of dish. The reason that Nobu created that dish(es), was that he was eager to experiment. That draws the inference that French chefs weren't the ones to come up with any of those dishes because they weren't looking to experiment.

Look remember when we were at Guy Savoy last week and we ate the artichoke soup? My comment was that I liked the parmesan cheese shavings because they added a different type of texture to the dish that I found to be unusual. The typical way a chef like Savoy would approach parmesan would be to pulverize it into a cream or a foamy substance that he would dot the soup with to spice it up. But what was interesting about Savoy's dish (at least to me) is that letting the natural heat of the dish melt the cheese is more in line with Italian cooking stratagia than French technique.

Why Savoy only stuck a toe in the water as opposed to someone like Nobu jumping in over his head is one of the things this discussion is about. Yes Savoy's use of Parmesan, or Pacaud's use of curry, whether one likes those dishes or not, can be portrayed as pushing the envelope. But exactly how far can a 3 star chef push the envelope before what he serves isn't French food anymore?

As for it being dominant, you mean dominant as in the best? I agree with you there. But something that is the best doesn't neccessarily have more relevance than something inferior to it. In fact, quite often things inferior have more relevance than

things that are great.

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The reason that Nobu created that dish(es), was that he was eager to experiment. That draws the inference that French chefs weren't the ones to come up with any of those dishes because they weren't looking to experiment . . . . Why Savoy only stuck a toe in the water as opposed to someone like Nobu jumping in over his head is one of the things this discussion is about. . . . .  But exactly how far can a 3 star chef push the envelope before what he serves isn't French food anymore?

As for it being dominant, you mean dominant as in the best? I agree with you there. But something that is the best doesn't neccessarily have more relevance than something inferior to it. In fact, quite often things inferior have more relevance than things that are great.

Steve -- I don't disagree that Nobu might have been willing to experiment, but why do certain French chefs have to experiment drastically if what they have is already widely sought after and considered very good? Also, in pointing out the potential Japanese ingredient or Japanese cuisine inspirations of some signature Nobu dishes, I was trying to pursue whether the experimental "leap" might have been more natural for Matsuhisa, given his background and training, than it might have been for a traditionally trained French chef. Meaning, I do think leading French chefs experiment, but, for their background and sensitivities, they are less likely to have come up with Nobu's signature dishes.  You might view Nobu as "jumping" into the water, given your appreciation of French food and background. For him, the steps might have been less drastic. I am not saying they were or not; just that one could imagine they might have been.  

Take the tobiko example, if that is an ingredient in the spicy sauce. A French chef might think about caviar when he thinks of roe -- not flying fish roe -- but sturgeon caviar is not going to give the small grains of flying fish roe, let alone the different taste. So, it's possibly a more difficult leap for a French chef to come up with the flying fish roe, which, given its matching of the other flavors of the creamy spicy sauce, makes it less likely that the spicy sauce would have evolved the way it did for a French chef. Also consider the spicy sauce itself. While clearly differentiated from the spicy sauce used in sushi preparations like those involving spicy tuna (e.g., in cones or in sliced rolls), the Nobu spicy sauce is possibly an easier jump from that spicy sauce than from classical French sauces. (I assume spicy tuna has been around Japanese sushi preparations for longer than Nobu has had his spicy sauce?)  Thus, what you perceive may be more radical experimentation might not have been such to others differently situated. :wink:

Yes, dominant as in best, for French food.  :wink:

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Cabrales-According to Nao Sugiyama, and this is what he told me if I understand him correctly, he invented the famous Black Cod with Miso dish when he was the Kaiseki chef at Matsuhiso in L.A.

An aside worth commenting on: I doubt there's a world-class chef working today who doesn't have a few repertoire dishes that were heavily contributed to by his sous-chefs and colleagues. Even the most independent and original chefs, such as Adria, don't lock themselves away alone in laboratories -- they lock themselves away in laboratories with their sous-chefs. The role of a chef in a typical world-class restaurant setting is akin to that of a Renaissance artist presiding over a school of apprentices. They conceptualize and outline the work, leaving much of the detail and toil to the crew. If someone else first combined the ingredients that became one of Nobu's most celebrated signature dishes, it is at least in part because Nobu himself created the circumstances under which that vision could be pursued. And I'd be confident in saying that, once the dish was presented to Nobu, he had contributions to make and that the standardized repertoire form of the dish is something that bears his personal stamp. Nobu is also the guy responsible for selecting the dishes that are to be engineered into signatures from among the thousands that his various chefs no doubt create each year. Nobu is an even more interesting example than most, because he has juxtaposed the traditional Japanese concept of the sushi bar with Escoffier's notions of the Western restaurant kitchen. When you dine at Nobu, especially if you opt for omakase, much of your food begins in a restaurant kitchen and passes through the hands of a sushi chef who spontaneously creates his own gloss on the dish. So if you have Shin or you have Morimoto (not anymore) or you have Nao Sugiyama  as your sushi chef (you will likely never have Nobu in that capacity), your meal will be different. Yet all will be defined by certain common underlying Nobu-derived themes. It is Nobu's ability to leverage the talents of these chefs -- any of whom could be the head chef at a top sushi restaurant -- and to fit all those seemingly contradictory elements into a coherent whole that makes him brilliant. And I also think that it was inappropriate for Mr. Sugiyama to attempt to take credit for that dish, even in a private conversation, because when you sign on with a chef-executive you make an implicit promise that all the credit for the successes of the restaurant (and all the blame for its failures) will be assigned to the top guy and you will forever hold your peace.

I should also add, in the not-surprising category, that Pacaud's curry/langoustine dish has been emulated to a greater or lesser extent in a number of US restaurants. Most but not all are French. The most directly attributable example, which I can nail down firmly because the chef himself told me he was inspired by a visit to Ambroisie (which is incidentally his favorite restaurant or at least one of two or three favorites), is Christian Delouvrier's scallops with sesame tuiles and curry emulsion. Just surfing around the Web, I found a number of examples of dishes that seem quite similar, for example, a place in Nashville called Wild Boar that serves "Sautéed Nantucket Bay Scallops; With a toasted coconut and curry emulsion." Of course, I agree with you completely, Plotnicki, when you say the relevance of French cuisine has declined massively. But within that framework I think Mr. Pacaud's curry-and-langoustine dish is one of the more influential preparations. Then again, for all I know there's a nearly identical Escoffier recipe out there -- there usually is.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Another interesting thread, but what amazes me is that the thread has not yet succeeded in reaching agreement on the meaning of the question  :sad: It was, after all, SteveP's question, and it cannot be right that respondents tell him he's asking the wrong question  :wink: So let me try to define what I believe SteveP is asking, and that has to start with a definition of "French cooking".

The reason that French cooking assumed its pre-eminence in the world (I guess in the 19th century) was above all else its assertion that "we live to eat, not just eat to live". The French turned an everday necessity into one of the pleasures of life. They discovered that human beings could obtain joy and entertainment from the process of eating, provided that certain 'values' were added to the food.

The 'values' they added were variety of ingredients, mixture of flavors, development of totally new flavors from primary ingredients by means of herbs and spices, creation of different textures in the same ingredients by using different cooking methods.

This all gave rise to the demand for higher quality ingredients, and greater variety of dishes. Finally, the French added perhaps their most enduring 'value', which was artistic content in presentation, both of the dish and the environment in which the dish was delivered, that is the crockery, the cutlery, the restaurant with all its ambience.

That is what 'French cooking' represents to me. Particular dishes are irrelevant to the concept. And if that is so, then it is clear to me that French cooking does indeed hold a unique position in the cultural history of the Western world. It is equally clear to me that the relevance of French cooking per se to the modern world is much less today than it was 200 years ago, and also less than 20 years ago. In fact it has become continuously less relevant since its inception.

The decline of influence and relevance is inevitable, just like the decline of British political influence, or German musical influence, or Italian artistic influence. To pick just one of those, Beethoven's music is eternal, and its influence on all Western music that followed it is immeasurably large. But as Beethoven's music has embedded its principles in future music, and widened its presence in the body of all music, so Beethoven's followers have themselves become the inluencers, and so Beethoven himself has become less directly influential and less relevant to each generation's music.

So it is with cuisine. In a thousand years, the elements of 'French cooking' will still be present in the cuisines of the Western world, and maybe the Eastern world too. But those elements will not be recognisably French, they will have transmuted into an appearance of American, or Hungarian, or Italian, or Icelandic....well OK, not Icelandic then  :smile:

This is called progress, the improvement of the old to create the new, then the improvement of the new to create the newer. Who gets the credit? Well now the thread will digress into philosophy or religion  :smile:

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Don't forget that a mere 300 miles away the Brits were eating Spam and Marmite.

Tsk tsk.  Have you been hanging out with Rebecca Mead?

Let's not perpetuate these myths.  I can't see that you've put a time frame on the remark about the Brits.  It is absolutely true that in the nineteen forties, fifties, and on into the sixties, French eating was incomparably better than British eating. There are a number of reasons for this, but the blindingly obvious one is the contrasting performance of the two countries in the war against Germany.  The French agricultural and food industries suffered little interruption in their activities as a result of the war.  Britain - which, in any case, was less agriculturally self-sufficient than France - was isolated from its regular sources of food supplies for a very long period.  Rationing persisted for some time after the end of the war.  Milk/dairy production and other functions were centralised in order to ensure that the population could continue to be fed.  It took decades for local, high quality, "artisanal" food producers to re-establish themselves.  I believe that many bad eating habits were formed in the nineteen fifites and sixties, and Britain only began to learn to eat again over the last twenty or so years.

The "spam and marmite" comment is just inaccurate if it refers to the first decades of this century, and of course is inaccurate today.

(Oh no, I think I've done another pompous post.  Never mind.)  :wink:

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Absolutely spot on Wilfred,and before that time parts of rural France such as Gascony and the Auvergne,were as desperately poverty stricken as any area in Western Europe-see the book Garlic and Goose Fat by Jeanne Strang for references to Gascon rural life in the late 19th,early 20th century.

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Wilfrid-The reasons that the British ate spam and marmite and the French didn't is that the French upper classes agreed to feed the lower classes in France far better than the upper classes in Britain agreed to feed their lower classes. It is really that simple. How well a population eats is simply a matter of how wealth is distributed. Macrosan touches on it in his post. The French invested in creating high quality ingredients because they set up an internal economic and social system that 1)taught the populace what good food was and 2)provided them access to it by making it affordable to them. There is no reason that a similar phenomenon couldn't have happened in Britain  because it is happening there now. So while I agree with you that the results of the war(s) had impact on both countries, the reason that Britain was on the other side of the boot was that it was well behind in what the governing class deemed an acceptable way to feed the population before the war(s) ever started. What was always amazing about it (and it goes to the Spam, Marmite example,) is why the British population stood for it for so long?

You know a similar thing happened here. During the 60's and 70's the U.S. government stopped subsidizing farmers and as a result, as soon as there was a year with bad weather or some other malady that would limit production the farmers couldn't pay their mortagages and the banks foreclosed. And in fact the U.S. government wanted the foreclosures to happen. The thinking was that if farming fell into the hands of a few strong companies, then they would find a way to feed the population for less and create efficient distribution systems in the process. But while the price of tomatoes migh have come down as a result, the beautiful red and luscious tomatoes that were once readily available were no more. They were replaced by a commercialized version that was pale and mealy.

Those tomatoes and other foods like them were the inspiration for the new American cuisine. Because people were so unhappy having to eat those things at home and at restaurants, all types of artisans, both on the farming side and the restaurant side sprang up to create a new way of looking at food. It wasn't just sustanance. It was as Macrosan put it, value added that improved the quality of our lives. And when a chef like Larry Forgione offered a "Terrine of Three American Fish and their Caviar", it was an epiphany not because he pointed to the existance of fish in our rivers and streams, it was an ackowledgement that there were now  fisherman who were willing to wade into those waters and pretty much hand carry the fish to the restaurants that were willing to serve them. Forgione himself recognized this and the descriptions of the dishes came with explanations that the vegetable you might be eating came from "Small American Farmers."

So the spam and marmite comment is not to identify it as something the British ate at a given time period. It is to say that they accepted it and it should have never happened. And I'm glad to see that it has changed. The result being that London has turned into a great place to eat when it used to be a poor one for a city of its size and diversity.

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Steve, I thought I already put up a post saying I would raise the subject on the UK Board, but I don't see it now, so I'm saying it again.  Don't want to mess up the Frenchness of the thread.

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Humbug,Steve,The French governing classes never "agreed" to do any such thing.France is a much more agriculturalized country than Britain. The number of people living off the land and producing food (and wine)is far higher.In rural France people lived off of the surplus that they produced.That is why the regional cuisines are so distinctive.If you lived in areas suitable for raising  geese and ducks etc-that is what you lived on.Sheer quantities produced meant enough to feed people well,but if your crop,or whatever,failed,ot there was a sudden shortage- make no mistake-you starved.Throughout the period of the Belle Epoque poverty was as desparate in many areas of rural France,especially in the South,as any in Western Europe and you only need to read Zola to see how desparate urban poverty could be .

No government "taught the populace what good food was". The populace never did and never have eaten the type of food you've been talking about on this thread. Yes they took their locally produced ingredients and turned them into delicious dishes,but French country cuisine is a product of French country people living in communities largely unaffected by industrialization,the Great Depression of the thirties and the second world war.

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Tony-Once again, you can't use people we aren't talking about as the basis to disagree. We aren't talking about French peasants, we are talking about people in big cities who would have the use for a cosmopolitam lifestyle and the cuisine that goes with it. Have you ever see how many market streets there are in Paris? I can name maybe ten off the top of my head. And they aren't all posh streets. Go to the Marche Aligre in the 11th arr. behind the Bastille. That is thw working class market. But even at a working class market you will find all the indicia of a diet that anywhere else in the world would be considered luxurious.

I do not know anywhere in the world where the government spends more money and effort spreading culture than they do in France. And the food and wine they make in France are part of the culture they spread. And it is to this day that the French governnent still tries to insure the continuance of French culture. If you own a radio license you have to agree to play 50% French speaking music. And people who have wanted to build movie theater complexes were given permission providing they build a screen dedicated to art films.

So agreed that France had the benefit of its wonderful lands. But you know what, so did England but like the Americans they screwed it up.

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1.  I think that for a century, the French were able to keep their population happy by doing a good job of distributing their natural resources. In lieu of having an opportunity to accumulate wealth, people were happy to have a Bresse chicken once a week, or once a month depending on their situation. The French created a way of life that made the population's quality of life better than anywhere else I know of. They brought a semi-socialist point of view to these things. Everyone was entitled to eat at a baseline level that not only was quite acceptable, but was at an amazingly high standard.

2.  We aren't talking about French peasants, we are talking about people in big cities who would have the use for a cosmopolitam lifestyle and the cuisine that goes with it.

Steve, I think Tony and I could be forgiven for assuming that quote 1. refers to French people generally, peasants included, rather than to consmpolitan urbanites.

I tried to move this down to the UK thread, but while we're here...oh, in random order:

Britain doesn't have wonderful farmland like France does.  Just doesn't.  

Britain does have food markets in its streets.  Not as good as they used to be, and never were as good as France.  Lots of reasons for that, which I'll go into if invited, but not part of any central plan that I'm aware of.

The French government ensuring the continuance of French culture?  Absolutely - but have you heard about the BBC, the World Service, the National Theatre, the Arts Council, and so on and on?  Major involvement of British government from the end of the war up to Thatcher, and reduced involvement since.  Somewhat different from France, but not fundamentally - and not in a way which explains your, well, fantasy about the way the British eat.

But I am just not sure what your point is.  Are you really saying there was a French upper/governing class master plan aimed at ensuring a high standard of eating for big city dwellers?  I mean, when I state it, it just sounds so implausible.

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The role of "curry" in French food indicates a

change in French food?  Hmm ..., let's see:

Looking at

    Louis Diat, 'Gourmet's Basic French Cookbook:

    Techniques of French Cuisine', Gourmet, New

    York, 1961.

we see curry with chicken, p. 159, lamb, p. 159,

scallops, p. 256, shrimp, p. 245, turkey, p. 233,

veal, p. 198.  The veal use is in a 'Blanquette de

Veau'.  P. 71 has a curry sauce, made with a

'veloute' and cream, and to be used with fish or

poultry.

In

    A. Escoffier, 'Le Guide Culinaire:  The

    Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery',

    Translated by H. L. Cracknell and R. J.

    Kaufmann, ISBN 0-8317-5478-8, Mayflower, New

    York, 1982.

we see a curry sauce, also with a 'veloute', this

time, from veal or fish, as recipe number 112 on

page 20.  There is also chicken with curry, as

recipe number 3199 on page 384.

In Western Civilization, and perhaps in the world,

tough to believe that French cooking will fall from

first place:  In all of Europe, France has some of

the best farm land and some of the best access to

seafood.  The French have long had high interest in

good food and excellent examples of it.  Broadly in

the world of wine, nearly all the world standards

are from France, and that situation has not been

changing quickly.  French cooking constitutes a body

of knowledge and a huge list of examples solidly

grounded at least in Western Civilization and tough

to improve on.  In the West, we can look to England,

Germany, Italy, Sweden, Russia for various

specialized contributions, but in cooking we look

first to France.

Sure there are changes now, but there have long been

changes.  Curry, potatoes, tomatoes, and much more

were brought in from outside France.  At least in

the West, and likely in the world, the country,

culture, cooks, and cuisine already ahead and

working the hardest on continuing to move forward

are, uniformly, just the French.


What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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We are going in circles, if not in knots. I recall quoting Diat and maybe Escoffier in one of the other parallel threads on the subject of curry. The responses that followed noted that Pacaud was using in a new way pretending to be modern, or conversely that it was just more of a sign that French cuisine is mired. We're also told that Hoffman was looking for "classical" French cuisine when he ordered the curry dish. There is a certain unlikelihood of this being settled with research.

:wink:

... the French miscalculated and were unprepared for the type of competition that globalization created for the hearts and minds of consumers. They didn't need to speak English to make my life easier in France, they needed to learn it because their competition was coming into my home country speaking English
This falls in with other inconsistencies in your argument. If the center of influence in haute cuisine has moved in any direction outside of France, it has moved towards Spain and towards Catalunya because of the Adrias. When we met Alberto Adria in France, my wife spoke to him in Spanish. He speaks Catalan and Spanish fluently and French with some difficulty. His English is almost nonexistent. The Spanish are far more likely not to speak another language other than Spanish or one of the regional languages such as Catalan or Gallego. French is a more likely second language than English. None of this stops them from being influential.
... it is easy for me to say that it appears to me that Adria is having a greater impact on food culture than Passard is.
...
... why do certain French chefs have to experiment drastically if what they have is already widely sought after and considered very good?
Because if they don't have to, Plotnicki's argument is only about food that suits his subjective jaded tastes.

We don't have the French Nobu in America because having dominated our haute cuisine the French are in no position to come in and fuse their style on American food with any effect. Perhaps a French chef could go to Tokyo and do that. There is  tremendous interest in French food in Tokyo and one wonders if the new creative food from Japanese chefs could have occurred without that interest.

Those tomatoes and other foods like them were the inspiration for the new American cuisine. Because people were so unhappy having to eat those things at home and at restaurants, all types of artisans, both on the farming side and the restaurant side sprang up to create a new way of looking at food.
You've asked me to stick to haute cuisine before, but as you raise this issue here, I've seen signs of a similar agricultural interest in France where the quality of produce has declined. Within the larger ebbs and flows of influence, there are smaller ones. I'm not sure you're not focusing on smaller aspects and, in terms of fusion cooking influences, sometimes on fads. Time will tell.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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And whose world are we basing this distinction on... To billions...... Who love to eat and often live to eat, French cooking means nothing.  And has no place in their culinary conscience.  There are more billions living in this planet I suppose with little interest in French cooking than those that worship it.

And yet, that does not make French cooking any less relevant.  All we need to understand is that all of this means something only when we understand well, how little of the world we represent in our discussions.  While America is a fraction of this world, it is eating away 85 percent of the world's resources.  But that still does not make it represent the world.  I say that only to make all realize that in the culinary realm, there would be a similar percentage ratio.

In my meetings with French chefs and my travels, I have realized that many French chefs and most French people would first love and entertain Asian cuisines and cultures before giving any due to the American culture or food.  In Indian cooking, I am told by many, they find a deep connection to history and culture, which they believe true about their own cooking.  And why I bring this out is to share with all the very cultural base of cuisine.  While food is independent of all other art forms, it still represents the state of being of any culture within which it evolves.  Thus the food movement in France is a small reflection into the French reality.

The French have become far less stubborn about not speaking in English and are just as open to change as most other people from other nations.  Thus, I am sure the French chef is just as apt to accept change and create anew, as any of his counterpart anywhere else.

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Suvir, I share your conclusion, or at least your closing paragraph. I think you also bring an interesting perspective to this. We here in America (myself excluded  :wink: ) live for novelty and change. I think both India and Europe have more respect for tradtion, continuity and evolution of cuisine.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Novelty and change are very important and keep life from becoming stagnant.  But change just for the sake of it, means nothing.  And has shown us how dysfunctional it can make us.  Thus, even as one of the most civilized, rich and advanced nations, we are still one of the most crime ridden ones.  

Respect for oneself, ones culture, ones heritage, ones surroundings and ones past is what makes one become more profoundly intelligent.  And when we are able to understand without fear and ignorance that which we are, we are able to move on.  The rest of us, struggle each day.  Whilst we certainly can entertain novelty and something very different, it is by no means an assurance t hat we have found in that new situation a lifetime of success.

We can live to create from life or we can understand that life creates that which it must be.  For in the end, we are a very small blemish in the large expanse.  And when we can understand that, we can keep creating, but in balance with where we are, at what time and what place.  For in living as one with the world, we are also able to accept the fact that life ultimately is its own revenge.

And I do not even for a moment, that America does not have culture.  We have given the world a lot.  Have we shared it the right way?  No.  We are so into always worrying about the external form of all our creations, that the wonderful substance that would have been worth sharing, one that would sustain often gets ignored.  What is shared is only PR driven and dies a quick death until the next fad and next big thing.  But that still does not erase all the many things we have created.  It only makes other lose focus with all that we could have left them with, but could not, since we did not grasp their attention to those things that make us worthwhile, we lost them in the frivolous details that most do not care about.

While France, India and China and other old nations may not be on the cutting edge, they will certainly have victory over the US in having lasting successes.  Also, while we may celebrate that which today seems fascinating and meaningful, those that live amongst very high standards, debate, challenge and struggle in their acceptance of all things new, but those that can show resilience, are soon accepted as new classics.

This makes me feel that French cooking is far from diminished or dull.  At least just yet, the light not only shines on French cooking, but it is from French cooking that it finds its direction in the western hemisphere.

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