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vmilor

French Haute Cuisine: Dead or Alive?

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Following some stunning meals in the Spanish Basque country, and in Northern Italy that I have already reported, we stayed in Paris for 2 nights and had the opportunity to dine at L’Ambroisie and Le Cinq. Recently there has been some speculation about the demise of top end cuisine in France (for the lack of a better word, let’s call it Haute Cuisine or HC). Moreover, the remarks attributed to Berasatequi by a perceptive reviewer of the Spanish scene (Berasetequi, when asked whether or not he considered the backbone of his cuisine to be French quipped: “No. Besides, we all know that French cuisine is on the verge of its death!”), is hardly an unorthodox statement anymore, as the French themselves are nowadays undergoing some soul searching and are no more oblivious to gastronomical developments elsewhere.

But, sensationalism and marketing gimmicks aside, is it true that the HC in France is on the verge of death? My answer to that question may sound equivocal at first: Yes, and No. Yes, it is dying when the French cater to the level and expectations of an international clientele and start cutting corners in classical dishes, or, supposedly move in a “fusion” and creative direction by, say, imitating techniques and using ingredients from Asian cuisine in a superficial way without dedicating themselves to develop the required new skills and holistic understanding of these foreign cuisines. It is also dying when top French chefs, partly to justify hefty bills and partly to respond to demands for “luxurious” ingredients on the part of unsuspecting and inexperienced clientele, start to utilize out of season, frozen or second rate ingredients. Worse still, the cuisine suffers when, in an effort to please everybody, top French chefs sail against the winds and compose very large menus with 15 appetizers, 20 fish, 30 meat dishes and so on. What we end up with is a technically proficient but soulless cuisine where more than an optimum component of a complex dish is precooked. I call this an assembly line three star meal. But please do not mistake one thing. I believe some current 3 stars in Paris who are guilty of caving in to market pressures are extremely capable and great chefs. If they choose to or if you are important to them, they can concoct extremely satisfying and grandiose dishes. Hence, having an unsatistactory meal, say at Lucas Carton, means nothing about Senderens’ ability and capacity. At gun point I would say that Senderens is a greater chef than the 30 years of Massimiliano Alajmo at Le Calandre.(which may change though as the latter extremely talented Italian matures) in the sense that he has created more dishes which have become classics. But you are much more likely to dine better and cheaper today in Le Calandre than in many of the Parisian 3 stars because Massimiliano will give any unknown diner 90% of what he is capable of, whereas you will be lucky if a Legendre or Senderens are even in the kitchen when you dine there.

But, on the other hand and fortunately, there is the other side of the coin and old habits die hard. There are those great artisans in France, who are unwilling to give any concession from the search for perfectionism. Perfectionism for them means, above all, a constant search to seek the most pure flavors of natural products. They know that a great dish can be made of simple, inexpensive produce if it is of exceptional quality. But the converse is not true. That is to say, a truly great dish can not be made of second rate products even if we are talking about luxurious products, such as white truffles, black truffles, caviar, lobster and what not. Perfectionism for these chefs also means staying in the kitchen and trying to patiently perfect the dishes before they are included in a menu. These chefs are not carried away by the temptation to create new and newer dishes all the time and to impress the inexperienced dinner with a series of small tapas which follow one another in dizzying speed. Their menus, even in the 3 stars, are generally shorter and change often according to season. But, at the most exalted levels and when we are talking about the greatest of the great chefs, such as the old Robuchon at Jamin and Girardet (although not French) and Pacaud and Passard, these chefs are not conservative. They stay abreast of new culinary developments, such as in molecular biology, and they are not threatened by, say, what a culinary “enfant terrible” is concocting in Catalunia or the Basque country. If new and previously undiscovered combinations are suggested by looking at the molecules present in various ingredients, these chefs are willing to experiment. But they experiment carefully. Indeed I will go out on a limb and suggest a tentative conclusion that being an avant garde chef does not necessarily mean that one is a non-conformist. Innovation for innovation’s sake to the detriment of natural flavors is also a conformist attitude when it achieves the status of a cult following, and we see plenty examples of that not only in Spain and the US, but also in France…somehow not in Italy though.

Let me now illustrate what I am saying with reference to 2 meals I have recently had in France: December 3, Friday, at L’Ambroisie, and the next day at Le Cinq. Of course the positive and negative models I developed above are what the great social scientist Max Weber would call “ideal types” in the sense that they are just a heuristic approximation to make comparison possible. I can also attest that Legendre is a great cuisinier and if he chose to, he can prepare epicurean meals. The dining staff team in the hotel George Cinq is not just ,merely good. They are absolutely perfect. They give no concession whatsoever from the grand tradition of French hospitality cum professionalism and the way they organize and orchestrate different aspects of the meal service reaches a level that only happens in France (assuming Monaco is in France), if you know what I mean.

And the food is just good enough not to lose its exalted 3 stars rating. But there is an assembly line, precooked quality to most dishes. Even the famous lobster dish with a heavenly combination of chestnuts and cepes is probably precooked and then finished quickly in a smoker to emulate the incomparable taste of a la plancha or grill or parrilla cooking I just reviewed. Hence the chopped off lobster tail itself by no means compares to the heavenly taste I had at Etxebarriwhich I reviewed and posted the pictures. But the dish itself, with a frothy nantua like sauce and the contrast/complementarity endowed by two great ingredients which are both seasonal, i.e. the cepes (porcini) and chestnuts is a triumph of conception. This is the best one can do to serve the dish in one portion and as part of the tasting menu. (It was part of the tasting menu but we ordered it from the a la carte menu.) But what is best under these circumstances is not good enough to deliver the sublime level this dish is potentially capable of achieving. As such, and if you want to eat “sophisticated” preparations of lobster, head to Arpege for his whole lobster in vin jaune and turnips preparation, or to l’Ambroisie for his matelote with red wine and new potatoes when new potatoes are in season in Spring, or to Cancale to eat at Roellinger. Or else, pay less and have a la plancha lobster in seafood brasseries anywhere in Brittany!

I gave the example of the lobster dish because it was still very good and showed some tensions between the concerns of a luxurious hotel and the demands of international clientele on the one hand, and the requisites of perfectionist French HC on the other. Other dishes were less good at Le Cinq and the desserts were just above average. Even the tourte de gibier, wild game torte that was a Legendre classic at Taillevent was no better than you would get at the best bistros in Paris, and it was clearly precooked and reheated. The restaurant also serves black truffles frozen (and they are imperceptible in the dishes that cite them). We were dissuaded from ordering a dish with white truffles because the quality was not very good (acknowledging this shows the integrity and honesty of the captain, so I am actually happy about being told this).

But then, given the Michelin’s unfortunate overemphasis on technique at the expense of ingredients and also given the expectations of the clientele which sure will be impressed by the superb setting and service, is there any reason to try harder? I can not think of any. To put it in the parlance of new theologians that I interact with: “what are the incentives to upgrade?”

Well, frankly I cannot think of any monetary incentives given that all 3 stars in Paris are doing well even though some operate below the level of the best 2 stars (like Meurice and Le Bristol). But there is something else. There is an inner drive for perfectionism and perhaps reputational concerns which still enable some French chefs to create a cuisine at a level that, how to put it, is at a level which makes the discriminating diners feel blessed and ensures that they comprehend that cuisine can have a transcendental dimension.

From the mid-80s to mid-90s I had this feeling of transcendentality at Robuchon more than in any other restaurant. And, in the last 10 years, it is L’Ambroisie which ascended in the ranks and more often than not makes me ecstasic.

I do not want to dwell on the details and make a painstaking analysis of each dish, but let me say a few things. First, L’Ambroisie, contrary to general opinion held in these forums, is not a temple-like place. Under Monsieur Caimant, the old Jamin was such a place, but not L’Ambroisie. The setting in the ancient Place des Vosges is very refined and apt. The service and the general philosophy of the restaurant though, under the direction of Monsieur LeMoullac, who is also a true connoisseur of great wine, is actually very professional and full of humor and joy of life at the same time. Second, the chef Monsieur Pacaud is almost always there (he may greet you when you come), yet do not expect him to make rounds with a smirk on this face as this is a shy man who expresses himself with his work. Third, do not expect to find all luxurious ingredients all the time there. Pacaud menus typically consist of 5 appetizers, 3 to 4 seafood courses and a maximum of 5 meats. They also change seasonally. What does not change is that Pacaud always sources the best products, and he will not offer, say, black truffles, even in mid-January, if they are not ripe enough for his taste. Fourth, do not expect 10+ course tasting menus at L’Ambroisie. If you make your preferences or your dislikes known, Monsieur Pascal, will put together a menu for two which will emphasize balance and harmony, the very qualities French HC amply display when it is that good.

Here is what our last menu for the two of us composed of: “soupe cremeuse d’ecrevisses au celery, chutney de poivron et ananas” or crawfish soup with celery and a chutney of pineapple and sweet red pepper, followed by “corolle de noix de St. Jacques, a la truffe blanche, mousseline de broccolis”, or scallops with a broccolis mousseline and white truffles, and, finally, “tourte de Canard Colvert au foie Gras, wild duck torte with duck liver. Then a cheese course, then a fruit-rhum baba combination and finally the world’s best “tarte fine sablee au chocolat”to finish. And to accompany the dishes, first we had a bottle of Pernand Vergelesse from Chandon de Brialles and then a bottle of Cmambolle Musigny Les Fuees from J.F. Mugnier. Both were vintage 2000.

What makes L’Ambroisie in general and this menu in particular exciting is that each dish contains only 3 to 4 elements which all shine and complement one another, but they are there not to subtract from the main focus, but to enhance the main ingredient. Each dish is harmonious in itself, but in progressive succession they create a crescendo effect. All of the dishes respect the ingredients of which they are made, but when all are combined together they are calibrated in such a way that the overall effect is greater than the sum of the ingredients. And on top of it, this is by no means heavy, butter laden cooking. It is classical cuisine but calibrated to modern taste, but with no short cuts.

Take the scallop dish. I wish I had a picture of this dish to look at like I admire good paintings. Brocolis are young and tender and emerald green, and the olive oil based sauce is so limpid and green that the white scallops in the middle and the very white and large truffle pieces on top (sliced from half pound aromatic truffles) look like some large and flawless diamond has been planted in the middle of a ring consisting of small, leaf shaped emeralds on the outer ring. And the dish tastes as good as it looks. It is the clarity and the intensity of the tastes that strike you, and there is nothing you can do to this dish to improve it further.

Take the wild game tourte or game pot pie. Different parts of duck (leg and breast) are done to perfection, which is pretty amazing since they all require different cooking times, and they are all in the same pie. There are 3 colors ranging from very pink (the duck liver) to light brown and dark brown (the leg I guess). You can taste each of them separately, they are thick; the pie is made to order and cooked to order as all the 6 slices are going around to appreciative diners. The crust is clearly homemade and very tasty in itself. The sauce is very intense but it is the natural intensity of game, enriched with an ample quantity of wild mushrooms (cepes) and mushroom stock, not mounds of butter. This is a type of dish where it is better not to prepare it because it will amount to overreaching in the hands of lesser chefs. It is also a dish that nobody dares to prepare without shortcuts in the 21st century. It is also a dish that you will appreciate more if you like real game and you sequence your menu carefully. When all these factors converge, and when cooking is so good, you start realizing that the grand old Haute Cuisine only reaches this level in France, and this will probably continue to be the case in the foreseeable future.

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Vedat, perhaps you should call your piece (or at least the L' Ambroisie part ) "Ode to a Dying Quail". When Pecaud is gone, and perhaps one or two others, what will be left? My guess is that L'Astrance will more likely be the model. What do you think? I have never dined at L'Ambroisie" and must say that we must go together before 2005 is out. I must not forget about Ledoyen where I did have a dinner not unlike the way I dined at the top level in the 1980s. But tell me: At Le Cinq, do you think your server told everyone to skip the white truffles? If it's becoming a case in which the maitre d'hotel changes his attitude for those he spots as truly gourmand, what will happen to the generation that is growing up on degustations and thus can never become gourmand?

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You guessed it right Robert. At Le Cinq, when I asked questions about white truffles, our captain had me talk to their prize winning Italian sommelier. Enrico. He did not recommend the truffles.

I still think that the torch will pass on to somebody else when Pacaud and others retire though. France is just another culture and they have a different attitude vis a vis gastronomy and life in general. I actually expect that over time, the better of the creative chefs elsewhere, such as in Spain, will start offering fewer dishes in their tasting menu but with greater consistency. But the prices for rare ingredients will continue to go up. Actually my friend Alberto, who has Galician blood, just sent me an article :"Gastronomy in Spain today". It is very insightfull. I will urge him to publish in these forums.

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HOLY SHIT VMILOR!!!

what a fantastic post, much appreciated for both the insight & detail!

merci

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A tremendous report vmilor. With regards to L'Ambroisie, I am in complete agreement with you. I was both surprised at the simplicity - or almost paucity - of ingredients in each dish. And yet - when they worked - their cumulative effect was quite overwhelming.

The sea bass with shaved artichokes and a caviar sauce will never leave me.

In terms of old world cuisine, the last representative that we have in this country might be considered to be The Waterside Inn. Although the kitchens are run by his son, Alain, the menu still reflects the tastes (I understand) of Michel Roux. I have not yet been, but was considering going when budgets allow, if only to sample something of that disappearing cuisine. Have you been? Would the funds be better spent on a trip to Paris or elsewhere?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Moby, if I may butt in here: I've never been to Waterside Inn. It's convenient, so why not? Incy for inch, and I think Vedat would agree, Switzerland seems to be the best and almost last bastion of the way restaurants shoud be run. It's expensive, though, if you go to Rochat or Domaine du Chateauvieux,etc. Ledoyen struck me as somewhat like the good old days. Troisgros has the service and the choice, but to my mind the young Troisgros has mucked up the cuisine. Regsardless of where you go, though, you can't order the degustation menu. :wink:

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History is eluding me, it seems. Switzerland, for the moment, is beyond my reach. But I do have a birthday approaching, and perhaps a credit or two to spend, and Paris is not too prohibitive if I went for a lunch, and then fell asleep on a bench, to the sound of the Seine...

Tell me, do we think that Lucas Carton is in the running here?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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I haven't been to Lucas Carton, but the word seems to be that it's not what it was when Senderens was in his prime. Other than not friendly service at Ledoyen, the cuisine was exscellent; the ambiance historic and luxurious; and the prices not killer-like as at Gagnaire and Arpege. I think Jonathan Day dined there and liked it also. One caveat is that it was two years ago that I was there, and we all know that restaurants can change on a dime.

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I wouldn't make too much of Paris. France's genius, admittedly a bit dormant, rather lies elsewhere - Bras, Veyrat, Roellinger...

Heck, we (meaning: we foodies without too heavy blinkers) all know, in Spain, which two chefs have been most influential and decisive in Spain's surprising jump into the world league of gastronomy: Ferran Adrià and Michel Bras. In that order? I'm not so sure!


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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I might have misunderstood, but I believed we were speaking not of "most influential" or avant guarde etc, but of the formerly classical, disappearing cuisine, and the decreasing number of places where on might encounter it.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Certainly not what I understood. What's a "formerly classical" cuisine? L'Ambroisie's? Senderens'? There is no classical cuisine left, hasn't been for a long time. Is there still a haute cuisine? - that is the question to me.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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vserna,

:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

You're too funny. Spain is a gastronomic backwater compared to France... Adria offers gimmickry, Senderens offers food.


Edited by BigboyDan (log)

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vserna,

:laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:

You're too funny. Spain is a gastronomic backwater compared to France... Adria offers gimickry, Senderens offers food.

BigboyDan, perhaps you've just awakened from a long sleep. Whatever one may think of Adria, Spain is no longer a culinary backwater, it's the place where the most exciting things are happening. On the other hand, there is a real question as to whether France is in the process of, if not becoming quite a backwater, at least losing its longstanding culinary leadership. I don't actually believe this to be the case, but if Senderen were the model for France, then its obsolescence would already be upon us.

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I understood Moby to mean that he is searching for a restaurant that dishes it out in the style of "no holds barred" that has all but disappeared. In other words a restaurant of grande luxe ambiance that serves a multitude of dishes, posesses a sizeable wine cellar, offers formal service with a full staff, and has at least a kitchen brigade of 20 cooks. He also wants the opportunity to exercise his gourmandness by putting together a well-chosen or well- conceived meal in the face of the copious selection and to find a wine or two that will go with the food and exhibit changing character with each dish. He doesn't want to be spoon-fed in a pre-determined fashion and, God forbid, served a procession of mediocre wines that someone has chosen for him. In other words, we should suggest establishments that offer a real Bacchanal replete with the rituals of fine dining. The more classic the cuisine the better. Lots of cheeses and desserts offered freely should be part of the experience. How, can anyone come up with as much as that as possible that's not far from London? That's the rub.

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vserna,

:laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:

You're too funny. Spain is a gastronomic backwater compared to France... Adria offers gimickry, Senderens offers food.

BigboyDan, perhaps you've just awakened from a long sleep. Whatever one may think of Adria, Spain is no longer a culinary backwater, it's the place where the most exciting things are happening. On the other hand, there is a real question as to whether France is in the process of, if not becoming quite a backwater, at least losing its longstanding culinary leadership. I don't actually believe this to be the case, but if Senderen were the model for France, then its obsolescence would already be upon us.

Marcus,

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

You're kidding, right??? Spain is still a pretender at the haute cuisine multi-starred level; tapas and hams are great though.

My eighteen year-old daughter, who grew up on bistros, brasseries and Parisan starred restaurants, lives in Madrid attending school; I visit Spain often, eat there too. I'll be sure to pass on your comments on the possible obsolescence of his gastronomie to Senderens, I'll be working for him in the Spring.

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

Food is meant to nurish, not to entertain... THAT'S THE PURPOSE of all French culinary technique.

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I understood Moby to mean that he is searching for a restaurant that dishes it out in the style of "no holds barred" that has all but disappeared. In other words a restaurant of grande luxe ambiance that serves a multitude of dishes, posesses a sizeable wine cellar, offers formal service with a full staff, and has at least a kitchen brigade of 20 cooks. He also wants the opportunity to exercise his gourmandness by putting together a well-chosen or well- conceived meal in the face of the copious selection and to find a wine or two that will go with the food and exhibit changing character with each dish. He doesn't want to be spoon-fed in a pre-determined fashion and, God forbid, served a procession of mediocre wines that someone has chosen for him. In other words, we should suggest establishments that offer a real Bacchanal replete with the rituals of fine dining. The more classic the cuisine the better. Lots of cheeses and desserts offered freely should be part of the experience. How, can anyone come up with as much as that as possible that's not far from London? That's the rub.

Robert,

Merriam-Webster

Main Entry: bac·cha·nal

Pronunciation: 'ba-k&-n&l, 'bä-; "ba-k&-'nal, "bä-k&-'näl

Function: noun

Etymology: Latin, shrine of Bacchus, probably back-formation from Bacchanalia

1 : ORGY 2, 3

2 a : a devotee of Bacchus; especially : one who celebrates the Bacchanalia b : REVELER

As you say, the grande luxe ambiance type of restaurant does't really exist anymore - not in Paris, London, Mexico City, nowhere (outside of a State dinner or private party, maybe); LC doesn't pretend to be. One does not have to take wine-by-the-glass per taste serving at LC, they're more than welcome to choose from the menu and from any of the 15,000 bottles from the cave. Also, as a seasonally-working French chef, I do not care about fulfilling someone's fantasy of receiving a trancendent orgy through food.

Of course, If you'd like to buy Laperouse and make me chef...


Edited by BigboyDan (log)

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As I'm sure vserna will be glad to attest, I'm something of a back-country boy when it comes to luxe cuisine. The circumference of my interest does not extend very much further than the rim of my plate. Although I recognise the semiotic value of setting, ambiance, service, clientele, I would gladly forsake them all for a quiet park bench and a napkin, so long as I could keep the plate and its contents remained unchanged. Cuisine, always ephemeral, seems now to have the lifespan of a fruit-fly. Fashions used to last a decade. Now they seem to pass before you have time to pick up the phone. Of course the grand cuisine of thirty years ago is gone, as the cuisine of thirty years before that was gone as well. But perhaps there were places where its last echoes could be found, resonating between the arches of some old building. Perhaps in the dining room of Point. Or in the kitchens of an old estate. I do mourn their passing, not because of any lost Relevance (capital R) they might have had, but rather - like the gargoyles of Notre Dame, or the columns if Athens - they were indicative of the greater world around them that allowed their creation. And obviously, as the gargoyles were attached to a church, or the columns to a temple, so the cuisine was attached to ceremony. To a culture. To a social or political status. I don't doubt it, but it's not what speaks to me. Great cooking, for me, is an act of communion with a world wider than itself. Like listening to the Miles Davis Quintet, or reading a 1980's play by Howard Barker. The difference is, once it is gone - that's it. There is no record that can act as a substitute. It is irretrievable. So - echoes of echoes. We put our hands to our ears, and listen as we can, and try our best to hear what once was deafening.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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I visit Spain often, eat there too. I'll be sure to pass on your comments on the possible obsolescence of his gastronomie to Senderens, I'll be working for him in the Spring.

Mmmm... Backwater? And you visit often? And you survive on tapas and hams?

I humbly bow to your superior gastronomic knowledge, sir.

PS Do say hello to Alain for me, Victor de la Serna. But, please... Do remind me of my comments on "the possible obsolescence of his gastronomie". I can't seem to find any such comments in my prior posts.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Fellow eGulleteers:

Hear, hear! Mopy P! I so agree!

A tuppence worth of my humble opinion.

Haute Cusine only exists today in kitchens and dining rooms across Europe and beyond, because it is the historic backbone to all cuisine and dining experiences of today. Which is a crying shame!

Haute Cusine is not only to do with the seasonal locality of top notch ingredients and how they are combined to produce gastronomic pleasure (which is the foundation), but as a state of mind. Not only of the chef and service staff, but the diner as well. To dine in the manner of Haute Cuisine is to dine upon history.

Time is the common denominator here. In this fast paced world of instant gratification, how willing are the majority of people to slow down enough to wait for, or even fully absorb, let alone pay the going price for the many faceted splenders of Haute Cuisine, whether over the road or over the Channel?

It takes more money and time than all of us have put together to operate an establishment that is considered to be rated as Haute Cuisine. Unless people are prepared to pay the high monitary price of dining at these establishments, and to slow down enough to appreciate what it truly means to dine in that manner (time is money), then we will lose them forever. A high price to pay for high cuisine? Damn straight!

That said... The Waterside Inn and Le Gavroche are 2 of the last bastions in, or near the capital. These are the living Chefs and Maitre d' that future culinary students will be studying. Experience it at all cost.

Worth every penny!


"...It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable..." Leopold

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vserna,

See above, I addressed my comment to "marcus". Spain has great food, everywhere, you and I both know that... but at the haute cuisine level there are so few contenders that it is hard to draw a conclusion of their true value to world gastronomie. I know that Spain got a late start (1975), she'll only improve at the top.

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Who needs "haute cuisine", anyway?

Sorry if this sounds provocative but what used to be one of the most likable, genuine and cheerful aspects of French culture has become a schizophrenic, soulless, and, finally, boring rat race.

It's all about money and competition, the negation of art. Innovation, originality for originality's sake (art is no longer art when it becomes a strategy; that's easy to understand but obviously it is still very hard to understand for many chefs who try to imitate Ferran Adria or Michel Bras), a good dose of elitism and snottiness, and food that, at high level, ends up looking and tasting the same all over the world, and — yes — the plague of assembly-line cuisine which is not really cuisine at all. Once or twice, I've been referring to this as "cuisine d'assemblage", which is exactly the same idea. The first post of this thread sure hits the nail. "La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le goût de ce qu'elles sont." "Cuisine is when food tastes as it should." This sentence is the basis of the French art of cooking. You may wonder whatever happened to this basis in a recipe like this one (second recipe, scroll down) from Ducasse's latest book. Who really needs such sophistication? More important: who will make it at home? (because if a recipe in a book is not intended to be made at home, then it's only show-off). Who is chronically bored to the point of needing so much complication in their food? Where do you draw the line between the refinement inherited from an age-old civilization and nouveau riche show-off?

Personally, I'm very bored with many aspects of today's French cuisine gastronomique (what you call "haute cuisine" in English). Sometimes there's an artist, a true craftsman who cares about the freshness and quality of ingredients and then Haute Cuisine deserves to survive. But elsewhere, increasingly, I smell a stench of Roman decadency in some of the highest layers of French haute cuisine. One meal I had at the Plaza Athénée, in the aquarium, a couple of years ago was perfectly refined, minutely crafted like a Swiss watch, very luxurious, and totally boring. Good food is good food, I believe there is a top level in the experience of the senses above which there is no possibility to rise higher, and personally I place this top level lower than Haute Cuisine, especially when I know that simple dishes like Korean chopped raw beef, fresh lobster a la plancha or a perfect winter squash soup make you reach this level naturally. I'd give a whole dinner at Le Crillon for a dinner on perfect Ibérico ham, fresh ripe tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and jerez fino. I mean, if this kind of decadent French cooking were to die, I don't think I'd shed a tear. It can only die from its excesses and errors. Let it die.

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This thread is fascinating, especially as I am lucky enough to have been invited to join Moby on the hunt for haute cuisine. So I have a vested interest in the results.

I've been exploring the avant-garde side of food for the past 18 months or so (molecular gastronomy/culinary constructivism/load of old rubbish depending on your viewpoint) but am now starting to realise that innovation is naught if you don't understand the classics. A single mouthful of the lobster with white truffle dish I had at ADNY was filled with more meaning for me than the whole tasting menu at WD-50 the following night. That's the sweetspot of haute cuisine for me, the fact that it's just the diner and the dish caught in a moment. No twists, little whimsy, no knowing nods to fashion. Just perfect ingredients perfectly cooked.

The conversation on here about the death of haute cuisine saddens me, it actually saddens me more than the complaints of people who say that innovation in food is just a fad. To me there is no way that Adria and Achatz could exist without la cuisine gastronomique. There is no point to 21st century food if it has to exist without what has gone before.

So, come Moby's birthday, I want to revel in the classic, the luxe, that which has been perfected over years. If I'm served an air I'm walking out. If I don't get a stool for my handbag I'm out of there. So please, keep discussing the death of haute cuisine, but please also take a second to describe and revel in those temples to the old style.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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vserna,

See above, I addressed my comment to "marcus".

And your 'backwater' comment with a bunch of laughing emoticons was addressed to me. At any rate, anything that is not a private e-mail is addressed to every eGullet member who is reading this thread, so please don't use that alibi.

You've posted every view on Spain now - that it's terrible and that it's great. You have me baffled. Possibly you are somewhat confused yourself.

What happened in 1975? Franco died? And that's when Spaniards began eating hot food?

Strange, strange...


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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vserna,

?Necesitamos charlar en español? Por favor, no se tome la ofensa, apenas un discusión vibrante.

-------------------------------------

- Marcus made the Senderens comment - I addressed him for it.

- 1975 is when Spain was opened to the world; before, she was as isolated as any country behind the Iron Curtain (Miro, Picasso, or Calder: offered the Spanish as devastated, scared, lonely, angry, confused). -- Spain does indeed have exellent food (la comida del pueblo) JUST NOT ENOUGH at the haute cusine level, still too raw in developement to make a determination of her grander value to technique.

Es todo que tengo.

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[...]The first post of this thread sure hits the nail. "La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le goût de ce qu'elles sont." "Cuisine is when food tastes as it should."[...]

Up to this point, I've just been watching this discussion on the sidelines, because I haven't felt I had much to contribute to it. But on this point, I imagine a different translation: "Cuisine is when the ingredients [things] have the taste of what they are." In other words, it seems to me that the meaning of this statement is that true cuisine is not artifice that makes things taste like something other than what they are, but a type of cooking in which the result is that everything tastes like what it is -- fish should taste like fish, chicken like chicken, spinach like spinach, etc. Do you disagree with my interpretation of the statement? Because if my translation is accurate, it brings in a whole other interesting topic, which is whether haute cuisine started off with an ethos similar to the Italian emphasis on fresh ingredients largely standing on their own and ended up giving way to artifice. I don't have an opinion on that but would be interested in watching that debate from the sidelines, as well. :laugh:


Michael aka "Pan

 

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