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Alice Waters Venture - Merged topics

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Whatever happened to the plan that Alice Waters would open a restaurant at the Louvre. Is it not to be?

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Whatever happened to the plan that Alice Waters would open a restaurant at the Louvre. Is it not to be?

I've heard nothing for at least 6 months.

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Alice Waters at the Louvre? Her contribution would be highlighted in literature aimed at tourists no doubt.

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The project seemed quite serious and not particularly aimed at tourism when it was first announced.

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The project was indeed serious, but was scuttled a year or so ago as I remember. I believe she decided to step away from the project when multiple problems and delays made the actuality of opening such a restaurant beyond the constraints of her schedule or "life plan". I think that there is no plan, at present, for a more formal restaurant under any chef at the Louvre.

Adam Gopnik wrote (The New Yorker, October 26, 1998) that "Alice was invited to open a restaurant at the Louvre by Mme. Hélène David-Weill, the trés grande dame whe is the director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs there. An enthusiastic article in the Times gave the impression that this was a fait accompli, or nearly so. In fact, in September it still existed essentially only as an enthusiasm in the eye of Alice Waters, Mme, David-Weill, and Richard Overstreet, an American painter who lives in Berkeley and Paris, and who has been the go-between since the beginning."

Here is a 1998 article that describes the original plan.


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

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My glib remark was not intended to question, well, anyone's "intentions" or the project itself. I did a quick read of the article. The concept for a restaurant with Alice Water's name on it in Paris would almost necessarily target a non-local customer base. The concept is quite nice. But I would be hard pressed to say that the general French public or the French press would be open to learning about (to quote Chef Waters) " the relationship of food to agriculture, and food to art and culture" from an American, an American celebrity chef nonetheless. That's not to say that I don't think the French don't have anything to learn from other cultures. My comments are more about the overall chauvinism in France regarding food. Alot of the pride is quite justifiable. Alot of is stifling.

I'll take it a step further. If Chef Water's opened a restaurant in Paris or anywhere else in France outside of a tourist attraction her reputation in America would not carry her over there. Again that's not to say that her reputation is not well deserved. It's a different playing field over there. You can't open up a Chez Panisse in Paris like Ducasse can do something New York.

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The playing field is changing. It may be changing very slowly, but it's changing. One sign that it's changing is that there are people who are just becoming aware of an agricultural heritage and a food heritage that's been lost. There are artisanal cheeses, wines, beers, etc. that are being produced by people whose fathers were not in those industries. They're willing to look outside France because they understand that a generation of Frenchmen have neglected the heritage they thought should be theirs by right and isn't. Another sign of change is that the majority of French winemakers now appear to cater to the taste of one man, and he's an American. Yet another tell tale sign of change is that a French chef who's worked in the US, is no longer considered to have fallen off the face of the earth. French culinary students will willingly stage in American restaurants, although I understand that's less and less the case with the implementation of new work laws in France. Young French chefs no longer seem willing to work the house that Americans and Spaniards are willing to endure, at least according to what I've heard.

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Do you really think that the French winemakers are catering to the taste of the American man or marketing to the tastes of the American man? Two different things. Change the labeling system so that it is more easily understood for instance.

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I think Bux was referring to the widespread influence of Robert Parker, the American wine writer.

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I will add that many American food "gods" seem virtually unknown in France, except perhaps in very international circles: Julia Child, for example, or Jacques Pepin (even though he is French by birth and worked there for awhile), or Alice Waters. Gordon Ramsay seems better known, perhaps because of the football connections.

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Do you really think that the French winemakers are catering to the taste of the American man or marketing to the tastes of the American man? Two different things.  Change the labeling system so that it is more easily understood for instance.

As was clear to Jonathan, I was referring to Robert Parker. It's hard to blame him for "parkerization" of wines as I heard one winemaker call the trend towards making wines that please Parker. That same winemaker noted that a "92" from Parker made his banker very happy. In other times, it might have been said that a good wine would have made one's bankers happy.

Last night I had a vin de pays from the area designated as something like the "hills of the Rhone." The largest word on the label was the name of the grape, then came the negotiant's name. The region of production was indicated in much smaller type. In the south of France in certain areas, particularly in the Languedoc, but obviously not exclussively, wine labels read much the same as then do in the new world where the prominent feature is the name of the grape without reference to expected terroir.

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Here's a hypothetical question for people familiar with Chez Panisse (through eating there and/or her cookbooks) and the Paris dining scene.

If Alice Waters had opened a restaurant at the Louvre very much in the spirit of her restaurants and books, how do you think the food would have been received? Would it be thought of as something 'novel' or different (in a good or bad way) or would it be similar to other offerings or trends already available in Paris?

edited to add: Thanks for the information Margaret; it was difficult to find much on the topic on the net.


Edited by ludja (log)

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Last night I had a vin de pays from the area designated as something like the "hills of the Rhone." The largest word on the label was the name of the grape, then came the negotiant's name. The region of production was indicated in much smaller type. In the south of France in certain areas, particularly in the Languedoc, but obviously not exclussively, wine labels read much the same as then do in the new world where the prominent feature is the name of the grape without reference to expected terroir.

Yes, indeed, but it is a borrowed practice. Monovarietal bottles are not a feature of traditional winemaking in France (except for certain local wines like clairette de Die or gamay de Touraine, always characterized by their region anyway). They are quite recent and the trend caught on in the South principally, under New-World influence.

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Here's a hypothetical question for people familiar with Chez Panisse (through eating there and/or her cookbooks) and the Paris dining scene. 

If Alice Waters had opened a restaurant at the Louvre very much in the spirit of her restaurants and books, how do you think the food would have been received?  Would it be thought of as something 'novel' or different (in a good or bad way) or would it be similar to other offerings or trends already available in Paris?

edited to add: Thanks for the information Margaret; it was difficult to find much on the topic on the net.

By the French public? Other Chefs in France? The French press?

Or the group that would likely be most represented in a Museum restaurant (Louvre or not) Tourists?

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Here's a hypothetical question for people familiar with Chez Panisse (through eating there and/or her cookbooks) and the Paris dining scene. 

If Alice Waters had opened a restaurant at the Louvre very much in the spirit of her restaurants and books, how do you think the food would have been received?  Would it be thought of as something 'novel' or different (in a good or bad way) or would it be similar to other offerings or trends already available in Paris?

edited to add: Thanks for the information Margaret; it was difficult to find much on the topic on the net.

By the French public? Other Chefs in France? The French press?

Or the group that would likely be most represented in a Museum restaurant (Louvre or not) Tourists?

For the purposes of this discussion, the restaurant is not in the Louvre, and I'm mainly interested in the response of the French public unless it would be largely the same as that of the French press.

If the response of French Chefs is not uniformly "anti outsider" that would be interesting as well.

But given some of what you've said, could the cuisine be based on it merits or lack thereof primarily? If then, how would it be received? Would it just be too different from what is already there or would it be similar other cuisine in Paris?

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RE: Ludja's question

"But given some of what you've said, could the cuisine be based on it merits or lack thereof primarily? If then, how would it be received? Would it just be too different from what is already there or would it be similar other cuisine in Paris?"

Your question and my answer exist in a vacuum, becaue it is simply not the case that Chef Waters was even considering opening up a restaurant in France outside of a tourist attraction. (And I don't mean that in a disparaging way, I'm refering to the context) I haven't dined at her restaurants, nor have I read her cookbooks. I have visited her website and seen her menus. There is nothing on them that is necessarily similar or different from what is offered in Paris. Her menu wording is different from what a French Chef might call the components. (For instance Lucy's question, why call it a chutney, why not a salsa?) Her compositions aren't earth shatteringly out of this world that a Parisian wouldn't be able to identify (given a translated or recontextualized menu) what the components are rather easily. Let's assume her cooking techniques are solid (I have no reason to question that they wouldn't be, but I don't have first hand knowledge of them). Acting on this assumption I don't see anything on her menus that suggest that food wouldn't be good. How would the cuisine be received in Paris? My first question back would be, what is the point of having a California-French restaurant that emphasizes fresh local ingredients (terroir style) in Paris? She would have to get her fresh, seasonal produce locally or at least regionally or to take it further in country. (Isn't this her philosphy, correct me if I'm wrong. It seems to me that her approach to cooking is about the freshest, local ingredients and not neccessarily about pushing the envelope with innovation in other ways). Than in essence she has taken the California out of her California-French cuisine and she is left with French cuisine. So then my next question is, why would a Parisian or any other Frenchperson be interested in French food, expensive French food prepared by an American Chef? I ask my questions as a French diner. It goes without saying that the concept of eating seasonally and lighter dishes is already known in France.

EDIT: to add local


Edited by chefzadi (log)

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So then my next question is, why would a Parisian or any other Frenchperson be interested in French food, expensive French food prepared by an American Chef?

But why wouldn't they, if the food was truly good? I think, or hope anyway, that if the food is good, people would come no matter what nationality the chef is. And I can think a few French restaurants in Paris, which get excellent reviews, whose Chef's are not French and no one seems to mind-- Le Timbre where the chef is English, La Cave Gourmand (American)--I'm sure there are others.

Edited for typo.


Edited by Felice (log)

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I think it is interesting to think about how an Alice Waters restaurant would do in France. I've loved the food at Chez Panisse almost since it opened, and I still try to get there once a year- usually to the Cafe. I have always thought that the food there is influenced at least as much by Italy as France, but I do not really think of it as a French or Italian restaurant. The essence of the restaurant is taking the best produce that can be found and preparing it very simply. (There is also a component of sustainable farming that comes into play in the concept as well.) Indeed, some of the food isn't so much cooked as just served. That concept was quite revolutionary for an American when Chez Panisse first started more than 30 years ago. In those days, farmers markets even in California were few and far between. Now they are everywhere.

I am not sure that Chez Panisse would have become what it is in many locations in the US. The San Francisco Bay Area has the right combination of sophisticated food-lovers and activism that makes Chez Panisse such a success. I have recommended it to people who simply don't get what it's about, and I think there are a significant number of people like that. As an extreme example, at the cafe, one of the desserts usually consists of fruit and only fruit. By this I mean, you may get a peach with an apricot or two, and a knife to cut them with. That's it. The fruit will be about as good as it gets, but for some people, it isn't going to work. The other desserts are more conventional of course.

I have found that the restaurants in Paris that I enjoy most are based on seasonal market produce much like at Chez Panisse. (Obviously, this is not a new concept in France or Italy, as was discussed at length on the Fernand Point thread, but there does seem to be a new or renewed emphasis on it, at least from what I can see.) A meal at Chez Panisse is not so different from one I had at Le Troquet last summer for instance.

Alice Waters tells a story in the introduction of her excellent vegetable cookbook about a meal for a charitable event in New York City not long after the restaurant began gaining a national reputation where she was invited to do one course. She says she flew back for the event with boxes and boxes of absolutely fresh, organic, hand-picked, seasonal greens, from which she made a salad. One of the famous chefs looking at her contribution to the meal remarked, "That's not cooking, that's shopping!" I have had the same type of simple salads in France and Italy, but never a peach and two apricots with a knife to cut them.

I am inclined to believe that many Parisians would enjoy Chez Panisse food if they gave it a chance. Whether they would is another question. I don't know the answer, but I have my doubts.

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As an extreme example, at the cafe, one of the desserts usually consists of fruit and only fruit.  By this I mean, you may get a peach with an apricot or two, and a knife to cut them with.  That's it.  The fruit will be about as good as it gets, but for some people, it isn't going to work.

What, no mint leaf on top?

Forget it! :biggrin:

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If Alice Waters had opened a restaurant ... very much in the spirit of her restaurants and books, how do you think the food would have been received?  Would it be thought of as something 'novel' or different (in a good or bad way) or would it be similar to other offerings or trends already available in Paris?

One of the famous chefs looking at [Waters's] contribution to the meal remarked, "That's not cooking, that's shopping!"

The French would easily have identified a category for a restaurant that was primarily about beautiful ingredients, very simply prepared, "shopping" rather than "cooking":

Italian.

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As an extreme example, at the cafe, one of the desserts usually consists of fruit and only fruit.  By this I mean, you may get a peach with an apricot or two, and a knife to cut them with.  That's it.  The fruit will be about as good as it gets, but for some people, it isn't going to work.

What, no mint leaf on top?

Forget it! :biggrin:

No mint, but I think you get a sprinkling of granola. :laugh:

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If Alice Waters had opened a restaurant ... very much in the spirit of her restaurants and books, how do you think the food would have been received?  Would it be thought of as something 'novel' or different (in a good or bad way) or would it be similar to other offerings or trends already available in Paris?

One of the famous chefs looking at [Waters's] contribution to the meal remarked, "That's not cooking, that's shopping!"

The French would easily have identified a category for a restaurant that was primarily about beautiful ingredients, very simply prepared, "shopping" rather than "cooking":

Italian.

The French would also identify it as home cooking especially in the Beaujolais for example. There is French restaurant food and there is French home cooking. When I go back to visit my maman I just go to the farmer's market and do very little to the ingredients. It's all very simple, green salad, good cheese, crusty bread (LIGHT on the inside), grilled meat (salt and pepper seasoned only), etc... Maybe I'll make a rabbit with mustard sauce if it was available and I felt like "cooking" more.

We cook the same way in LA, but the ingredients aren't so good.

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The French would also identify it as home cooking especially in the Beaujolais for example.  There is French restaurant food and there is French home cooking. When I go back to visit my maman I just go to the farmer's market and do very little to the ingredients. It's all very simple, green salad, good cheese, crusty bread (LIGHT on the inside), grilled meat (salt and pepper seasoned only), etc... Maybe I'll make a rabbit with mustard sauce if it was available and I felt like "cooking" more....

But unless I'm mistaken, isn't this precisely the kind and quality of meal that is vanishing from the French restaurant scene? There is no shortage of ambitious dining throughout France, but very little excellent "home cooking", as you phrase it, the kind that travelers "of a certain age" remember from 3-4 decades ago.


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

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Yes Margaret and we talked about some of the economic reasons for that in other threads. The move away from agricultural to industry and the cost of doing business for the small business owner, etc. It's not that there aren't chefs who are capable of producing this sort of food in a restaurant or the French public wouldn't be appreciative of this type of cooking in a restaurant.

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Off topic a bit, but not so much really. The restaurant industry is like no other especially these days. The French chef of Los Angeles's top rated French restaurant who was creating very simple, modern French dishes was summarily dismissed in favor of a chef who had more "avant garde" style. The restaurant before was highly regarded and well recieved and on the surface by a all accounts a tremendous success. Why would the owner "play" around with something that was working so well? Who knows? The chef may be the most visible person in a restaurant, but please remember that they are other forces (egos) at play.

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