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French city food or country food excels?


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ps: the raspberry sign you posted on your response to me isn't very nice in this context.

That was suppose to show that I wasn't serious about the comment.

Sorry it gave you the wrong impression. That was not my intention.

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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Pineapple is certainly not a traditional Alsatian fruit and that Westermann uses it in a dessert, doesn't make that recipe Alsatian. Unless someone can make a strong case that Marlena is mistaken about "the abundance of fresh vegetables, especially in the starters, the utter freshness and connection to the garden," I'd have to say that this is distinctly not the mark of an Alsatian restaurant and it's not particulalry representative of traditional Alsatian restaurant cooking. It can only result in an Alsatian restaurant from an outside influence. It's a lot easier to look at the influences by being inclusive rather than exclusive.

I am not saying that Mon Viel Ami IS an Alsatian restaurant. I said they gave nods to that direction.

No Pineapple is not a traditional Alsatian fruit. Bu that same item is also on the menu at Le Buerehiesel. That's another nod toward that general direction.

Again, I am not saying that Mon Viel Ami is an Alsatian restaurant per se. Only that, if we are going to talk about influences at all, the ones I saw were from the general direction of Le Buerehiesel and the Alsace, rather than from America.

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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The gist of the argument, for me, is this, I am not arguing that influences are not shared or traded amongst great chefs and culinary traditions around the world. That would be silly.

I was just interested in seeing more specific instances of particular influence in this case, since it was cited as being "evident". Subsequent posts made this a bit clearer, but I must say that pointing simply to the use of superlative produce and the connection to the garden alone still didn't quite do it for me. There are traditions of using great quality ingredients in a great many culinary traditions.

Yes, Mon Viel Ami may fit in NY, SF, or many other big cities around the world, but that would make it "international" rather than "American", no?

Pim

PS: You know, this will teach me not to get into a discussion on a beautiful Sunday. I'm off now to enjoy the California sunshine, and perhaps a few Frog Hollow farm peaches I got yesterday from the farmer's market.

signing off..

Edited by pim (log)

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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Simple food. simple presentation. rusitc bread. no towers. i mean, we couldn't have been in london thats for sure.

Italy? :smile:

Maybe I'm only being silly, but why would the above quote be the trademark of American cooking, or the fresh vegetables? I'm not arguing about the fact that the chef himself points the origin of these influences out. If he does, why shouldn't I believe him?

Still, in today's global village, as Pim properly pointed out, it is really difficult to claim one influence is strictly connected to one nation alone unless you're talking about very specific recipes or ingredients. The fact that the US have been the centre of the new international cuisine certainly makes America the reference point for many chefs around the world. Nonetheless I find the points you mention in your quote as defining aspects of US cooking alone, not necessarily such. I'm not being polemic for the sake of it. I would only like to understand your point.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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When a dog bites a man, it isn't news. Man bites dog. Now you've got news. When a restaurant in France is 98% influenced by French cooking and shows 2% influence from America, the influence that's news is the 2% from America. We all understand the Mon Vieil Ami is an Alsatian restaurant. The intersting part is that the chef working in the restaurant, who is one of the owners, says he has been influenced by working in the states and that an American food writer sensed that when eating there.

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.

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When a dog bites a man, it isn't news. Man bites dog. Now you've got news. When a restaurant in France is 98% influenced by French cooking and shows 2% influence from America, the influence that's news is the 2% from America. We all understand the Mon Vieil Ami is an Alsatian restaurant. The intersting part is that the chef working in the restaurant, who is one of the owners, says he has been influenced by working in the states and that an American food writer sensed that when eating there.

Once again, Bux, well said. I was confounded by our reaction to our single dinner at MVA. It was not a bad meal; it was, simply, by our standards, an ordinary meal. Once Marlena compared it to a San Francisco dinner, light bulbs flashed! Of course. It was a dinner we could have found at home someplace around the corner, ergo, not a meal we travel to France to experience. In reflection, I can trace most of our disappointing meals in France to what I can best describe as international food in quintescentially provincial venues.

As I wrote to an eGullet friend, perhaps success in food and life depends on "knowing yourself". :wink:

eGullet member #80.

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It was a dinner we could have found at home someplace around the corner, ergo, not a meal we travel to France to experience.  In reflection, I can trace most of our disappointing meals in France to what I can best describe as international food in quintescentially provincial venues. 

I feel about food much as I feel about music. If I were to go to a recital in Spain and the pianist played Mozart, my response would not be, "Why isn't he playing Falla?" It would be, "Is he playing Mozart so well that I'm glad I came?"

At MVA Mary and I only casually remarked on the "American" connection. What engrossed us was how very well the meal was conceived and prepared, how much we enjoyed it bite by bite, and how satisfied we felt when we left, without feeling bloated. It was all perfectly familiar -- not mind-blowing or archetypically Gaullic -- but it was a manifestation of my favorite benchmark, a better standard of ordinariness.

Of course, price enters into it as well. If our meal at MVA had cost the same as a menu degustation at l'Arpege, we would not have come away smiling. :biggrin:

EDIT: A general observation, addressed to no one in particular: A lot of the pretentious nonsense talked about food results from the fact that journalists must come up every week with some strikingly original observation about the pleasurable but mundane necessity of filling their stomachs. Their publications are city-based and city-led. In Britain, Ludlow is a community in which food is very important. There are excellent shops and world-famous restaurants. But could you imagine a food critic as a regular columnist in the local paper?

The local sausages are excellent today. They were also excellent yesterday and they will probably be excellent tomorrow.

Last night Shawn Hill's lobster was two points behind Claude Bosi's frogs legs. Can he still hold his narrow overall lead of 94.6 over 94.4?

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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Simple food. simple presentation. rusitc bread. no towers. i mean, we couldn't have been in london thats for sure.

St.John?

st john is indeed, as i said: simple food. simple presentation. rustic bread. no towers. and of course its in london. but st john is so distinctively st john, in its almost aescetic architecture and plating, its being the temple of offal, that i couldn't confuse it with anything in california or elsewhere. (though actually in all of london's new wave of contemporary restaurants I do indeed see a California/America influence--I mean i've been here for decades and remember who restaurants used to look like and used to serve)

st john is its own wonderful self; i should have put the reference to abundance of vegetables and fruits in that description so as not to confuse.........

anyhow hope you had a great day out in california sunshine. eat something delicious for me, i'm back in hampshire now and i can assure you, i haven't found anything delicious at all to eat here, except during asparagus season when you can buy a nice bushel from a farm stand and cook it up (i make it with truffled hollandaise). only trouble is, no car now, so i'm stuck in village.

and in our lovely, leafy village, people eat at macdonalds and kfc (as well as the local greasy spoons). breaks your heart, doesn't it.

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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  • 2 weeks later...
american is their inspiration! from the horse's mouth so to speak.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that the chefs at Mon Vieil Ami were not inspired by America only that I don't see any attempt to copy the food they cooked in the US. Perhaps they are cooking a very similar menu, but I suspect that in DC, that menu would have seemed very French to an American clientele.

I understand the point and noted my own conversation with a French chef several years ago whose own greatest inspiration was from his stint in the US.

two things:

1. perhaps modern european cuisine is very international and there are qualities that go over the border from one country to the next? i felt without a doubt that mon viele ami had an influence from america in the same way chez panisse et co have the other way around.

2. fine if you don't want to believe my impression, we all have our own. however,  chef-antony  himself and collaegue  told me two days ago that they were inspired to open mon vieil ami, by working in america. full stop.

also, is american influence a bad thing? after speaking with many french chefs behind the scenes at so many of the multi-starred restaurants, i really don't think its a bad thing at all. we're talking really good american food etc.

btw: my british husband thought we were in san francisco at our lunch chez mon viele ami. and, i might add, coming from him, this is not a bad thing at all.

1. Modern western cuisine is very international these days and at levels far simpler than haute cuisine. There are any number of menus in little restaurants in Paris that would not seem unusual in restaurants in NY or SF--or even in American cities with less of a history of French restaurants.

2. I see no discrepancy between this and the fact that the menus may have been worked out in Alsace with Antoine Westermann.

Let me thrown in another story I've told here before. About nine years ago, I met a young French cuisiner working in NY. He had been here a year or two as line chef and then sous chef at one of NY's best restaurants. I asked him how his work here would be regarded when he returned to France, specifically how it would look when stacked against working at Georges Blanc, his last employer in France. He said it would be as if he stopped cooking for a few years. No one would care at all where he worked or what he did in the states. New York was no place. Not so many years later the same chef and I were discussing his recent trip to Europe and the meals he had eaten there. It quickly became obvious to me that because of his position as sous chef in one of NY's best French restaurants he was getting VIP treatment right and left in both France and Spain. Much of the attention was coming from chefs who had eaten his food and who had met him in NY. I reminded him of our earlier conversation and his reply was that things have changed drastically in just a few years and that was several years ago. French chefs are aware of what's cooking here and are being influenced by it.

Paaaleeeeeeeeeeeeease!

The French care about US influences in the same way that Mexican cooks in San Antonio care about what the Mexican scene is in France. Zippo.

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The French care about US influences in the same way that Mexican cooks in San Antonio care about what the Mexican scene is in France. Zippo.

When did you last cook in France and how much are you in contact with French chefs, cooks and kitchens today?

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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I am an American - and I don't care what's going on in US restaurants outside of the one I work in (Mobil 4-star in Santa Fe - guess which). I just spent three months working in a Paris two-star kitchen; that makes a total of forty-three months of working in French starred restaurants over the last twenty-five years. The French are proud of the inroads of French cuisine and French technique throughout the US, that's about the limit of their real culinary interest - well, that and Mexican food, which I cooked aplenty for the staff.

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The Parisian two stars seem to be a rather sedentary lot, but yes, the interst of French chefs starts with an interest in how well French chefs have made out in the states, but that's an interest they didn't have ten, or maybe five years ago. They're waking up and they're learning. The Spanish chefs have seemed more interested in what's cooking in American for longer and young American cooks are now more often looking to stage in Spain. It's still news when a chef in France admits he's influenced or inspired by America, but that is the news many are hearing. There's plenty of pigheaded chauvinism in France, but the more interesting talent will rise above that. As I noted earlier, a stint in the US is no longer considered dead time on a cooks C.V.

There appears to be only one Mobil 4 star restaurant in Santa Fe. Cooking seems one of the least important aspects of what a Mobil rater is looking for from what I can tell. We don't take food very seriously in many ways.

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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"We don't take food very seriously in many ways."

That's right; especially in Haute Cuisine. I work in France every other two years - to keep up with the big leagues. The two-stars can still wow a discerning patron; and it's the two-stars that allow the three-stars to do what they do, and get away with it.

It's all so much better in France - and you know it.

Edited by BigboyDan (log)
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Try New Englander.

England is in fact the opposite of what I described. Having destroyed its own rich culinary tradition, beginning a couple of centuries ago with the Enclosures, it is attempting to build a new tradition out of the many cultures it now includes.

This is both its strength and its weakness. It is a strength inasmuch as openness of mind is always an asset, but a weakness because there is not a national base of educated palates who will recognize and expose the fashionable foods created by the unskilled and the ambitious.

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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  • 5 months later...

I know this is an old thread and I usually avoid getting involved in these sorts of discussions. But I think my experiences can contribute something.

I grew up in one of those tiny, rural French villages. All the food we purchased was from the weekly farmer's market. I have glorious memories of the best produce from the Beaujolais. It was pretty much as described in one of the earlier posts, cheese from the next village over. .. I also remember that if we ran out of something we had to wait for the next market or travel to another one in a nearby village or go directly to the farm. Not terribly convenient. We also didn't have a refrigerator. Also, if there was a bad crop we went without certain things. It took a lot of work and time being a quaint, country French person eating glorious food only seasonally. Now there is a tiny "supermarket" (it's smaller than a 7-11) in the village square, but the farmer's market still comes.

I'm also a classically trained French Chef. I graduated from Culinary School in Paris. And I apprenticed under the "old guard" in Lyon and also in Paris. I have 16 years of experience working in restaurants, beginning as a dishwasher up to Executtive Chef. There was no doubt about it, when I was in culinary school we were all to be French Chefs and the standards and procedures were very clear and rigid. This is still pretty much the case.

I've also worked in England, Scotland, South Korea and the U.S. As a French chef I can't say that I've been terribly "inspired" by the actual results of "innovative" American chefs. I am more inspired by their openness to knew ideas, cultures, techniques and ingredients. But this is a huge inspiration for me. Even though I was born in France, my parents are from Algeria. In America I am constantly encouraged to express all sides of my culinary history, whereas in France I was not at all. But attitudes are changing over there as well. When I go back to France having worked outside of France is not considered "dead time". There is an increasing interest in other cuisines over there. But the increase is from a miniscule amount to miniscule x 2. I also know that Chefs in France pay attention to how American chefs market themselves. They are clearly behind in this area.

Don't believe everything you read. I'm starting to get interviewed here and there for some publications. In almost all the articles there is a misquote or a factual error or something I said is recontextualized to mean something totally different. If a French Chef tells an American reporter that he was influenced by his work in America it can mean so many things. I told a Korean reporter once that I was inspired by my work in South Korea and I also mentioned a few dishes that I liked. It turned into a full blown article about "French chef embraces Korean cuisine as one of the best in the world!"

As for the quality of American food and awareness of good food... I can give examples from my teaching experience. I teach professional cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles. But I also teach recreational cooking classes. Some of these classes are targeted towards affluent older people. They have the money to spend $6.00 on 3 organic cherries, they buy the "best" for themselves, they eat at the best restaurants, many of them are well traveled, they are "serious foodies." I also teach inner city kids. Some of them don't even know what a vegetable is! They can't identify a single fresh vegetable! But they can rattle off an endless list of their favorite junk foods. In a few months from now I will be volunteering to teach cooking classes as a part of life skills course to low income families. I have been told that most of them feed themselves almost exclusively from boxes and cans. And that obesity coupled with malnutrition is a huge problem among poor Americans.

Just my tuppence from my experiences.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Don't believe everything you read.

Things are not as they used to be.

Things were probably never quite like they were reported to be either.

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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If a French Chef tells an American reporter that he was influenced by his work in America it can mean so many things. I told a Korean reporter once that I was inspired by my work in South Korea and I also mentioned a few dishes that I liked. It turned into a full blown article about "French chef embraces Korean cuisine as one of the best in the world!"

That's what I thought throughout the reading of this thread. Every time I have been to Mon Vieil Ami, I enjoyed what I felt to be a nice, generous Parisian bistrot with an Alsatian touch and (at first) a slight weakness on desserts. Sensing an "American" influence could not have been farther from my mind then. I'm not denying that there may be some sort of influence of new American cuisine (mostly NY and California styles) on some aspects of French "nouveau bistrot" cooking but I wouldn't have picked Mon Vieil Ami as an example.

I have heard some young cooks and chefs who worked in the US for some time describe what an inspiration the experience was for them: it seems to "open up their minds", broaden their sense of possibility and their gift for associations, but it doesn't give their food anything that could honestly be described as an "American" touch. It seems to concern the mind more than it concerns the food as a material reality. I can also testify that I got most of my interest in food, and the origin of my decision to devote my professional life to food, from living in NYC for a couple of years. That's one thing America does to food-oriented people. But I don't cook much American food, let alone American-influenced food. The experience has only broadened my curiosity to all kinds of cooking. I do understand how a chef, while staying in the US, may get the inspiration to open a restaurant in France and shape the project in his mind. But this by no means implies that his inspiration is "American" in any way. If there is an American influence in the cuisine of "Mon Vieil Ami", then it may be found everywhere and nowhere.

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John Whiting was kind enough to point me to an article from the FT by Michael Steinberger that relates to the French/American food comparison. He writes that Francois Simon ate in NYC and from Chicago to LA on Route 66 and in Steinberger’s words, NY restos “fell substantially short of [his] expectations;” there was “nothing….fantastic”… “something [was] missing.” More soon in the Digest.

Note: it was also summarized and discussed at greater length in this thread.

Edited by John Talbott (log)

John Talbott

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But I do think that these have changed in rural France and not really to its culinary advantage. I live part of the year in a tiny village (300 people) in the Alpes de Haute Provence. The butcher fell down from his roof the day we bought our house and never reopened. The bakery has been producing terrible bread since 1540(!), but the wine has improved from gutrotting to mediocre. It was a self sufficient farming village for 600 years, but most of the farmers are quite old and nearly all the commerce that made the village lively until WWII has died out.

The big Agri Gel monster truck comes by with its frozen foods once a month and even the old ladies who know how to cook tradtional foods buy from them. The nearest market is 20 kms away -- one of the liveliest in Provence and much written about. The tomatoes are supermarket varieties that ship well but taste of little, the peppers are often from Spain or Holland and there are more resellers than farmers. The quality of the veggies is usually but not always better in my local farmers markets in DC than there.

I can find top quality veggies, but it takes a lot of time and driving. The three local cafes/restaurants are mediocre at best and do not buy from local farmers. The local farmers I speak to have no relationship with any regional restaurants. You have a much better chance of finding a good bistro cooking local produce in NYC, San Francisco, even DC than in much of the small towns of the Provence I know. The Chef=farmer connexion is weak or nonexistent, except in the haute cuisine restaurants.

Luckily, there has been some backlash. Several farmers have started to grow real tomatoes again and their tomatoes are wildly popular so traditional varieties are reappearing. True producer only farmers markets that exclude resellers with Spanish veggies have started to appear. The goat cheese is still excellent and the butchers in nearby towns are skilled and knowledgeable. People still forage wild asparagus in the Spring and baskets and baskets of wild mushrooms whenever it rains. There is good wild game in the Fall. And there are still small farmers who sell long green or pimply yellow snake shaped courgettes that are the best I have ever tasted. My carrot guy died last year, though.

Still hard to find excellent bread, but there is a superb baker 90 minutes away who grinds his own flours and bakes huge 5 kilo rounds of bread that lasts two weeks wrapped in a teatowel.

All this to say that the food situation in Provence is in flux.

Don't believe everything you read.

Things are not as they used to be.

Things were probably never quite like they were reported to be either.

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Luckily, there has been some backlash.

I don't know your town, or that pocket of France, but I know the story. We've been visiting various parts of France since the mid 60s. The best I can say is that the quality of food in France has dropped sufficiently enough for there to be movements of resistance and artisanal producers who are rejecting an urban lifestyle rather than those who are carrying on the business of the family farm. Regional microbreweries are part of that movement.

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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