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That Sweet Enemy

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This diversity is still a relatively recent phenomenon and is not all that diverse considering that the most widespread examples tend to occur around ethnic enclaves. That some of the foods or derivatives of them have made it to the mainstream is a function of evolution and the fact that not everyone is xenophobic and by xenophobia I mean averse to eating foods foreign to them as opposed to foods of non-US origin. Michael I believe that you answered your own question about "relatively recent" when you provided the time line you did.[...]

What time line? My mother and grandparents were eating Chinese food in the 1950s and probably earlier. Katz's Delicatessen was founded in 1888. And how long have foods of German origin been part of the American diet?

Michael, I'm not sure what you are arguing. NYC has always had more ethnic cuisines than other parts of the country because there have always been greater ethnic populations than elsewhere. That does not necessarily translate to the rest of the country. Also just because some people were more adventurous and less xenophobic than others doesn't disprove the rule, it simply provides an exception. American cuisine has evolved as it would by definition considering the ever-changing demographics of the country. That evolution has not necessarily been rapid or uniform though. It is also apparent that the evolution has been speeding up of late though as more cuisines get more and more exposure nationally and the nation's demographics continue to change. Still, that does not make the US a nation of adventurous eaters. Most individuals still prefer the familiar, though as evidenced by this Society an increasing number are interested in expanding their culinary horizons. To bring this back on topic, if those horizons include high quality British cuisine, bring it on. I'm just not sure I know what that is just yet. I am willing to be educated though.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This diversity is still a relatively recent phenomenon and is not all that diverse considering that the most widespread examples tend to occur around ethnic enclaves. That some of the foods or derivatives of them have made it to the mainstream is a function of evolution and the fact that not everyone is xenophobic and by xenophobia I mean averse to eating foods foreign to them as opposed to foods of non-US origin. Michael I believe that you answered your own question about "relatively recent" when you provided the time line you did.[...]

What time line? My mother and grandparents were eating Chinese food in the 1950s and probably earlier. Katz's Delicatessen was founded in 1888. And how long have foods of German origin been part of the American diet?

John, define "relatively new." When I was growing up, I ate in Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Arab, and Indian restaurants, among others, as well as patronizing Jewish, Italian, Viennese, and Hungarian bakeries, again among others. This was in the 70s. And when my parents were courting in the early 50s, I know that they ate at a cheap Greek restaurant and an Indian restaurant (though to be fair, that was one of only two in the city, they say).

Michael, this is your time-line. Though there were ethnic restaurants in NYC in the 1950's the number and variety of them were clearly significantly fewer than today.

Germans used to be a dominant ethnic group in NYC. NYC has always been a melting pot of European cultures and more recently of Asian cultures. In addition it has incorporated regional influences from various parts of the United States and the Americas. Even so I would venture that until recently very few ethnic groups in NYC ventured much outside of their own heritage. When I was growing up we ate mostly Italian-American or what we considered "American" food from outside our heritage that had become familiar to us.. Chinese cuisine, for example, was poorly understood and eaten from within a limited exposure. Obviously that has changed for me. :wink:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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briefly in the late 1970s I can say that my experience of British food varied in reference to quality. In contrast, I sent some time growing up in France and found it difficult to not find a good meal.

So what is the explanation for the better quality* of (the food of) one place over the other? Temperament? Soil and sun? Geography? History? Natural ability or talent? Education? Personal or cultural myth maintained and made real? Economic factors? Class factors?

Pure luck? :biggrin:

One wonders.

*quality being a word that is a bit subjective, of course, when speaking of these things. Though probably we might be able to determine a closer definition upon trying.

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briefly in the late 1970s I can say that my experience of British food varied in reference to quality. In contrast, I sent some time growing up in France and found it difficult to not find a good meal.

So what is the explanation for the better quality* of (the food of) one place over the other? Temperament? Soil and sun? Geography? History? Natural ability or talent? Education? Personal or cultural myth maintained and made real? Economic factors? Class factors?

Pure luck? :biggrin:

One wonders.

*quality being a word that is a bit subjective, of course, when speaking of these things. Though probably we might be able to determine a closer definition upon trying.

One factor may be on cultural emphasis on particular factors. Within some cultures food and eating for pleasure may be more important than others. Many Mediterranean cultures have within them the tradition of siesta or mid-day break to enjoy a good meal. That tradition may have eroded somewhat in those cultures in recent years, but they are still a factor in their culinary history. I am not as certain about this within British culture, but clearly that tradition has never been a significant one within most of the US and the US has largely been influenced by Great Britain more than any other single culture when it comes to the development of our own culture sets. In the US food is viewed by many people as a fuel and a necessity rather than as a pleasure. There remains a very significant puritanical streak in the US when it comes to food much like was described upthread for the Dutch.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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briefly in the late 1970s I can say that my experience of British food varied in reference to quality. In contrast, I sent some time growing up in France and found it difficult to not find a good meal.

So what is the explanation for the better quality* of (the food of) one place over the other? Temperament? Soil and sun? Geography? History? Natural ability or talent? Education? Personal or cultural myth maintained and made real? Economic factors? Class factors?

Pure luck? :biggrin:

One wonders.

*quality being a word that is a bit subjective, of course, when speaking of these things. Though probably we might be able to determine a closer definition upon trying.

Mushy peas, gray meat, and grayer custard. Enough said. :sad:

I think it is a matter of priorities (and terroir). The French take food VERY seriously and much of their great food comes from cultures of poverty.

On the up side I think the U.S. is experiencing some good luck now that folks are getting more adventurous. I mean sweetbreads in Dayton, OH - right on!

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Mushy peas, gray meat, and grayer custard. Enough said.  :sad:

:shock: But. . .wait a minute there! In the WASP family I come from, that's considered just *lovely* food! Is there something wrong with that?!

:raz:

Mmm. On the other hand, when one thinks of the ways that Elizabeth David wrote of the cooking of the British, and Jane Grigson too. . .it has to be said that certainly the knowledge of "good food" was known, and not just in translation from somewhere else.

But attitude does seem to have a lot to do with anything, and how one thinks of oneself (as a culture or as an individual). If the reputation is that it is something (either good or bad) for the most part I think the performance in that category will follow through with most who know of it, for it would take being "different" from the majority to change anything. . .and being "different" is not something that always brings immediate happy rewards to its practicioner. The French have a culture of caring about their food, a cultural attitude that it is *not* just fodder. . .while it is true that some cultures have an attitude that it *is* just fodder and *should be* just fodder as focus of it as more than that would be unseemly in a philosophic way that somehow (though not directly and not specifically) ties into the way the majority of the culture sees the world shaped through the major religion. Our Puritan base here in the US certainly has shaped our attitudes toward enjoyment of food and other earthly pleasures though we seem to be racing to catch up in latter years.

I think that if there were more of an attitude in general that Tim showed in this piece about his countries cookery (notice, please that I did *not* use the word "cuisine" :biggrin: ), an attitude of "there's no need for us to follow others who have always said they are better" that then, that is when a place can and will be found among whatever other top dogs have pranced their way to the "top". After all, it's thinking that makes it so, and thinking is is malleable thing based on so many factors. The proof of the pudding that's in the eating can be changed with recipes that grow and become something new. Kowtowing to the ways that "others do it" brings only weak tea and sad derivation.

Excuse me. I'm off to find some crumpets. :smile:

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I can understand Tim's desire to see his country's "cookery" taken more seriously both there and elsewhere, but I would like to see more actual evidence that it really deserves to be taken more seriously. Of course that is not to say that good cooking and good food products have not come from the British tradition, but I would like to see them specifically named and compared to others before blindly stating that it should be considered on a par with French or other cuisines. Take the world of cheese. England produces some excellent cheeses, amongst them stellar Stiltons and choice cheddars. I have had examples from some of the finest purveyors of some of their finest cheeses and though they were indeed excellent, the best haven't ever approached the sublimity of the finest French or Italian cheeses (I would also include Spanish). In other words, before sanctifying the "cookery", I would like to know, "Where's the beef?"


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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In other words, before sanctifying the "cookery", I would like to know, "Where's the beef?"

I wish I were a cattle dog so that I could give you the answer to that. Ruff ruff.

Personally, I'm against sanctification of cookery, wherever it comes from.

(Wait a minute. Isn't the word "chauvinist" French? :rolleyes: ) Heh.

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I can understand Tim's desire to see his country's "cookery" taken more seriously both there and elsewhere, but I would like to see more actual evidence that it really deserves to be taken more seriously. Of course that is not to say that good cooking and good food products have not come from the British tradition, but I would like to see them specifically named and compared to others before blindly stating that it should be considered on a par with French or other cuisines. Take the world of cheese. England produces some excellent cheeses, amongst them stellar Stiltons and choice cheddars.  I have had examples from some of the finest purveyors of some of their finest cheeses and though they were indeed excellent, the best haven't ever approached the sublimity of the finest French or Italian cheeses (I would also include Spanish). In other words, before sanctifying the "cookery", I would like to know, "Where's the beef?"

In Aberdeenshire and Angus.

The pigs are in Glouchestershire, Berkshire, Oxford and Tamworth.

As far as I can determine, and I may be entirely wrong, cattle are very dairy focused in Southern Europe, more so in higher elevations. Makes sense.

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Writing that French food is great, that English food is unremittingly awful -- or even that Phoenix lacks decent chefs -- is easy, but without an understanding of the web of national, cultural and class preconceptions behind it, the statement is pointless. Food -- to me -- is one of the most important creative outlets available to human beings. It will never be taken as seriously as it deserves -- as seriously as art, literature or music -- as long as our appreciation of it remains intellectually naive. Maybe the ability to write a pleasant thousand-word, adjective-laden piece on why French food is simply lovely is the very definition of a food writer. I believe firmly to the contrary. In 2006, it displays a complete lack of objective taste, zero knowledge of food history and an almost criminal ignorance of a wider world of food appreciation.

I disagree entirely. Whether or not French food is better than English food or Phoenix lacks decent chefs has very little to do with the " web of national, cultural and class preconceptions behind it." It has a great deal to do with what's for dinner in England, France or Phoenix.

A thousand word article on the subject may well be trite these days -- though without a link it's hard to make a judgement -- but it's certainly easy to see why a writer would be tempted to grind one out. It may be just as easy to get bad food in Paris as in London these days, but it's a hundred times easier to get good food in French provinces as it is to find it in the American equivalent. Spend a few years reviewing American expense account restaurants and it's almost a given that a few nights at wonderful, $35, four-course, three hour dinners washed back by relatively inexpensive local wines would tend to make one wax a bit poetic. (I may jot down a few verses myself, though it's been a few months).

It may be true that, in our francophilia, Americans go overboard for French cooking. I find the opposite to be the case more often, though. Americans, particularly outside of our handful of great restaurant cities, tend to lavishly praise on establishments -- and here I'm not speaking of those featuring "indiginous" cooking like Cajun or New York-Italian -- which are expensive, tired and mediocre.

All the history in the world doesn't change that. The point isn't to construct elaborate justifications of an alleged, misplaced inferiority complex. It's to demand better food and support better cooks.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Mushy peas, gray meat, and grayer custard. Enough said.  :sad:

:shock: But. . .wait a minute there! In the WASP family I come from, that's considered just *lovely* food! Is there something wrong with that?!

:raz:

Mmm. On the other hand, when one thinks of the ways that Elizabeth David wrote of the cooking of the British, and Jane Grigson too. . .it has to be said that certainly the knowledge of "good food" was known, and not just in translation from somewhere else.

But attitude does seem to have a lot to do with anything, and how one thinks of oneself (as a culture or as an individual). If the reputation is that it is something (either good or bad) for the most part I think the performance in that category will follow through with most who know of it, for it would take being "different" from the majority to change anything. . .and being "different" is not something that always brings immediate happy rewards to its practicioner. The French have a culture of caring about their food, a cultural attitude that it is *not* just fodder. . .while it is true that some cultures have an attitude that it *is* just fodder and *should be* just fodder as focus of it as more than that would be unseemly in a philosophic way that somehow (though not directly and not specifically) ties into the way the majority of the culture sees the world shaped through the major religion. Our Puritan base here in the US certainly has shaped our attitudes toward enjoyment of food and other earthly pleasures though we seem to be racing to catch up in latter years.

I think that if there were more of an attitude in general that Tim showed in this piece about his countries cookery (notice, please that I did *not* use the word "cuisine" :biggrin: ), an attitude of "there's no need for us to follow others who have always said they are better" that then, that is when a place can and will be found among whatever other top dogs have pranced their way to the "top". After all, it's thinking that makes it so, and thinking is is malleable thing based on so many factors. The proof of the pudding that's in the eating can be changed with recipes that grow and become something new. Kowtowing to the ways that "others do it" brings only weak tea and sad derivation.

Excuse me. I'm off to find some crumpets. :smile:

The WASP in me compels me to politely tolerate such foods with a stiff upper lip. :wink:

I am surprised that no one has quoted Cyril Connolly yet. Before I do I would like to state that I love the cheese, baked goods, Yorkshire pudding, pub lunches, Branston pickle, fish and chips, bangers and many other food items of the British isles. That said Connolly once mused: "Oh, the superb wretchedness of English food, what a subtle glow of nationality one feels in ordering a dish that one knows will be bad and being able to eat it! The French do not understand cooking, only good cooking - this is where we score." :biggrin:

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Are we discussing the merits of French food, or the perception of the merits of French food?

In a previous life, I had to travel quite a bit to Paris and London, and I 'shopped stores' looking for fashion. I know, poor me. But, the experience meant that I was on the streets at lunchtime and would have to find lunch wherever I happened to be. I kept trying London pubs, or something that seemed organically English and it was, in a word, awful. Now, if you spent some real money, the food was excellent (I had a revelation over outstanding mushy peas.) In Paris, everywhere you looked there was an opportunity for an outstanding lunch. This is at the medium level...not down and out cheap, and not haute.

So, for me, I'm hard pressed to say the English have just gotten a bum rap. There might be a little more to it.

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I went to a cordon bleu cookery school in Britain in the mid 1970's and apart from shortbread, mincepies and christmas cake everything they taught us to cook was french. I swear we spent far more time garnishing and arranging the food than cooking it.

It seemed quite alien to my home background of get it on the table quick but I was young and soaked up the french food snobbery. This was also a time when 'convenience food' was being touted as sophisticated. Why fill your newly acquired freezer with home cooked food when you could fill it with ready made chicken kievs.

It came as quite a shock to me when I started my first cooking job at a shooting lodge in the highlands of Scotland that they did not want any of my newly acquired french tricks. We cooked with fabulous ingredients off the estate - wild salmon, venison, grouse etc. I do not remember any of the french or italian parties that we catered for complaining about the food, though a lot of them preferred the cheese board to the steamed puddings.

I would struggle to defend British cuisine as worthy of special mention, but I still think it is very good, but so many cuisines are when treated with absolute respect. There is far more interest in how we produce our food than there was 20 years and at last restaurants here do not insist on writing their menus in french when there is no point. But I am doubtful that British food will ever be revered. I still find that most foreign visitors we have want to go for a curry.

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Blimey. You turn your back for a second and it's a learned debate :biggrin:

A couple of points to reiterate though...

I didn't want to make direct comparison between French and English cookery. My point was that such comparisons are idiotic.

There have been some great French cooks, there are some great French dishes, the French may even be culturally more attuned to food.

The French are great at closing down the town and having a festival to celebrate a local pastry. The English would clearly prefer to forget that hindle wakes or Bedfordshire clanger ever existed.

The French codified haute cuisine and exported it to the willing upper classes of the civilised world.

Post war the English speaking literary elites afforded particularly high status to Mediterranean and particularly French peasant cooking.

As a result, French food could arguably be said to be 'better' than English but only when viewed through the filter of the last couple of generations of food writers.

But asserting that 'French Cuisine' is 'better' than 'British cookery' is as pointless as trying to prove that Italians make better lovers than the Spanish.

Who says? It's a lazy preconception. The stereotype of the smouldering Latin lover is the last resort of a third rate writer who lacks the imagination or skill to develop a realistic character. It wouldn't stand up in a serious work of literature so why should we accept such crapulous shortcuts from supposed foodwriters.

I reckon someone who wastes 1000 words saying that French food is better than the stuff he gets in Phoenix has nothing valid left to say about food and should be run out of town on a rail by right-thinking foodies.


Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Blimey. You turn your back for a second and it's a learned debate  :biggrin:

A couple of points to reiterate though...

LOL, I guess you know better now!

Great post. You raised some issues that made people think and respond. Good job.

:biggrin:


Edited by annecros (log)

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Blimey. You turn your back for a second and it's a learned debate  :biggrin:

A couple of points to reiterate though...

.....

The French codified haute cuisine and exported it to the willing upper classes of the civilised world.

Post war the English speaking literary elites afforded particularly high status to Mediterranean and particularly French peasant cooking.

As a result, French food could arguably be said to be 'better' than English but only when viewed through the filter of the last couple of generations of food writers.

But asserting that 'French Cuisine' is 'better' than 'British cookery' is as pointless as trying to prove that Italians make better lovers than the Spanish.

Who says? It's a lazy preconception....

I reckon someone who wastes 1000 words saying that French food is better than the stuff he gets in Phoenix has nothing valid left to say about food and should be run out of town on a rail by right-thinking foodies.

Your entire premise is based on the idea that no one cuisine is objectively better (on the whole yada yada) than another, and that if it's perceived so it's only because of some aesthetic hegemony by a buch of hacks, romantics and fops. I would argue that you are wrong.

I cannot speak to English food, but I would say unequivocally that French cooking is (on the whole) better than Greek cooking or American cooking. Objectively.

Further, in defense of our still anonymous Arizonan, (no links? Now I'm curious) I would say that way too many local food writers spend so much time fluffing their local food scenes that the food scenes suffer qualitatively and become insufferable egotistically. I lived in one city (I'm trying to be nice, so I will leave it nameless) where the chefs and the writers all seemed to be involved in a non-stop love-in and I kept thinking that maybe if some of the restaurants there got bitch-slapped instead of French kissed by the gentry and the local culinary journalists, they would cook better. Or charge less. Or do something to lift the scene from the second tier.

There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that. But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too. Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.   But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Blimey. You turn your back for a second and it's a learned debate  :biggrin:

A couple of points to reiterate though...

I didn't want to make direct comparison between French and English cookery. My point was that such comparisons are idiotic.

There have been some great French cooks, there are some great French dishes, the French may even be culturally more attuned to food.

The French are great at closing down the town and having a festival to celebrate a local pastry. The English would clearly prefer to forget that hindle wakes or Bedfordshire clanger ever existed.

The French codified haute cuisine and exported it to the willing upper classes of the civilised world.

Post war the English speaking literary elites afforded particularly high status to Mediterranean and particularly French peasant cooking.

As a result, French food could arguably be said to be 'better' than English but only when viewed through the filter of the last couple of generations of food writers.

But asserting that 'French Cuisine' is 'better' than 'British cookery' is as pointless as trying to prove that Italians make better lovers than the Spanish.

Who says? It's a lazy preconception. The stereotype of the smouldering Latin lover is the last resort of a third rate writer who lacks the imagination or skill to develop a realistic character. It wouldn't stand up in a serious work of literature so why should we accept such crapulous shortcuts from supposed foodwriters.

I reckon someone who wastes 1000 words saying that French food is better than the stuff he gets in Phoenix has nothing valid left to say about food and should be run out of town on a rail by right-thinking foodies.

I am coming to this discussion a bit late, only to express my approval and admiration for Tim's initial post. As I read somewhere about something else, it is something you'd like to tattoo on your chest. :biggrin: There isn't a word in it that I do not wholly agree with. As a French person trained in the muti-faceted arts of French cooking (and cuisine, for those who insist on the precision), but who has also travelled quite a bit and lived in the US for years, I too believe from experience that it is pointless to judge that one cooking — French cooking for instance, or any other — is "best of all", or even intrinsically superior to most.

I also like the way Tim sets his subject into its geographical, historical, and political background, and how well he does it. It is not only honest writing, it is also a healthy scientifical approach. So few food writers do that. So few of them are actually able to take those aspects into account. But they are essential, at the risk of smashing a few illusions or destroying some masks — which is always for the better, disturbing as it may be.

I do believe that French cooking is wonderful and unique, and that the French have a tradition of caring for food, produce and nutrition that belongs to them only. That for some historical reasons — some of them, but not all, indeed based on the intrinsic value of some French preparations and dishes — that cooking became preponderant in the wealthy Western world is one thing. But that doesn't imply a superiority of any sort.

But I also do believe that many other cultures have an approach to food that is just as wonderful, and sometimes even more, than the French. When it comes to finesse, technical fastidiousness and sensorial acuteness, some cultures could teach the French a lot of things they don't know. The way, for instance the Cantonese have always worshipped their food, beverages and ingredients; the quasi-religious way the Japanese can seek, pick and savour a well-chosen piece of fish or top-quality fresh vegetable: there is enough there to make the proudest Lyonnais gourmet blush, and the fact that the Lyonnais gourmet will probably refuse bo agree with me is explained by the stubborn, hermetic local temper. But that the same closeness of mind regarding a so-called superiority of French food can be expressed by non-Lyonnais gourmets (US, British, etc.) is more difficult to explain and certainly finds its logic in something other than just food. (Note to our Lyonnais friends: Lyon is only picked here as an example. I might have chosen Caen, or Toulouse.)

And these are just a few examples. In almost every place I've visited, I've seen, experienced and tasted things that made me wish "we had the same thing in France". I've had simple meals in America that were far better than much haute cuisine I've had back home.

There is no superior culinary tradition, there are just culinary illuminations within each culinary tradition. In some traditions, they seem to be more common than in others. But between a perfect beef rendang and a mediocre beef rendang, there is the same difference in level than between a perfect poularde demi-deuil and a bad one. At least, I see the same difference.

Culinary illuminations: no culture has more access to them than another, not even the French. Of course, historical factors like puritanism and defiance towards the senses can make a lot of difference in the way nations experience food. But this is cultural, and subject to change. No nation is naturally deprived of gourmetdom. The illuminations can be found everywhere, running through every world cuisine, and they all set the level at a rather immeasurable zenith, making each cuisine the best in its own right. And this is not just opinion, it is a fair estimation of the skill and care needed to achieve those illuminations: the successive stages and conditions leading to a perfectly ripened Stilton cheese; a Boston clam chowder made and served just as it should be; a real Turkish stuffed mackerel; the lièvre à la royale du Sénateur Couteaux; the corned beef hash and poached egg they serve in some coffee shop I know in New England; the Niçois ravioli made in the traditional manner, from daube de bœuf and sardo cheese; a complete Dahomean gombo with market-fresh ingredients; a perfectly balanced Thai green curry; a properly baked lamb and vegetables casserole in a Greek taverna, and the honey-sweet, slightly fermented bread that goes with it; etc. — I see exactly the same skill, the same talent, the same value, the same amount of civilization in all of these. And that is why, proud as I am of my native cooking with deep experience of its many aspects to justify my pride, I never could honestly write or say that French cooking was the best in the world, let alone that it was better than British cooking. Because I also know enough about British traditional cooking to know how wonderful it was, before it was eclipsed for the reasons described by Tim.

Henry Miller wrote in The Colossus of Maroussi (a book I found pretty silly apart from that very sentence): "I prefer a bad Greek meal to a good French meal."

Why I agree with him, I do not know. And I do not wish to bash French cooking, far from me. But for some mysterious reason, having many times experienced the wholesome goodness of ordinary Greek food, compared to the fussiness I have often seen in "good French meals", I perfectly understand what he means.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

So, anything that can't be easily be quantified is subjective? Truth, beauty (beauty, truth), Shakespeare's talent relative to John Grisham, the dinner you had last night versus the one you'll have tomorrow; justice, culture and "progress?"


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I just happened across this journal article

<a href="http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2003/spring/jones-new-lookand/">The New Look and Taste of British Cuisine</a>

Written in Spring 2003, with this final paragraph:

The French publisher, Hachette Pratique, is planning to translate three TV celebrity chefs Delia Smith, the man billed as The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, and Rock Stein, the seafood specialist. Delia Smith's first book, a selection of recipes from two of her books has been published with the title La Cuisine Facile d'Aujourd'hui and the author is simply "Delia." It was thought the "Smith" would put people off since news of the new wave of English cooking seems not to have reached Paris.

Maybe things are slowly about to change ....

Anyone know if these books are in the French bookstores yet, and if they are, how well (or otherwise) they are doing?


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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I translated the Delia Smith books for Hachette. Actually the publisher picked only a number of recipes from each book in order to make one book out of three. I do not think the book sold well. No other Delia book translation was attempted by Hachette after that.

You have to know that Hachette Pratique is directed by an Englishman, Steven Bateman, who was at Dorling Kindersley before he arrived at Hachette. Which means that his choice of translating British books for the French audience was motivated at least as much by his own idea of what a good food book was as it was by a solid knowledge of what the French readers wish to buy as a cookbook. In publishing, you never really know what is going to work out, anyway. However much you study the case, launching new books is always a hit-and-miss affair. It is a difficult question: when to throw something new to the public and when to confirm them in their familiar ways. Most never do the former and stick to the latter. Steve did the former and that's rare enough to be praised.

I also translated one Nigella Lawson book for the same publisher. Didn't sell, experience not repeated.

But the Jamie Oliver books worked out beautifully and sold quite well. They still do. Rick Stein's book on fish is considered a classic, but I do not know if it sold very well. It is, at any rate, very much respected among French chefs who know about it. I do believe it is still in print, as are all the translated Jamie Oliver books. I do not know if the Nigella and the Delia books are still in print.

The French are only partly interested in the British "food wave". I suppose that the Delia and Nigella books did not do very well because the French public did not particularly wish to be reminded by British food writers or TV figures how to do what they already knew how to do; on the other hand, Rick Stein is seen as a serious professional and Jamie as someone who really brought something new, not just to the English food scene, but to modern cooking in general. Which may explain why they do well here.

I should also add that Jamie Oliver, in France, is more famous from his TV shows than Nigella is, and that to my knowledge Delia's tv series were never shown in France. I'll stand corrected if they ever were.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

So, anything that can't be easily be quantified is subjective? Truth, beauty (beauty, truth), Shakespeare's talent relative to John Grisham, the dinner you had last night versus the one you'll have tomorrow; justice, culture and "progress?"

Um, yeah. After reading it three times, I think those are all subjective judgements. Unless you can give me an objective measure for them, such as distance - I think you are absolutely correct.

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But the Jamie Oliver books worked out beautifully and sold quite well.

....Jamie as someone who really brought something new, not just to the English food scene, but to modern cooking in general. Which may explain why they do well here.

I should also add that Jamie Oliver, in France, is more famous from his TV shows than Nigella is, and that to my knowledge Delia's tv series were never shown in France. I'll stand corrected if they ever were.

You make an interesting point about Jamie Oliver. Watching his shows, he comes across about as Brit and you can get. That the French would appreciate his cooking style says a lot about his cooking, the French audience, and the internationalization of food.

SB (of course Jerry Lewis was always very popular in France too!) :wink:

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You make an interesting point about Jamie Oliver.  Watching his shows, he comes across about as Brit and you can get.  That the French would appreciate his cooking style says a lot about his cooking, the French audience, and the internationalization of food.

SB (of course Jerry Lewis was always very popular in France too!) :wink:

As Brit as you can get, perhaps, but that's not the important point there. The French audience isn't interested in his britishness or non-britishness: if they were, all other authors like Delia or Nigella would have done equally well, or he would have been rejected with them. It's just that they want to read and taste something new and fresh, and French publishers had been giving them very little in that respect for years.

I'm not sure it says that much on the French audience and the internationalization of food either. The French are like everybody else, they have to shop for cooking and cook for eating; and they have day jobs just like Americans and British, and like everywhere else small shops are disappearing and big supermarkets are taking over, and French shopping carts are as full of junk, frozen and processed foods as anywhere else. Lunchbreak cafeterias and collective catering are just as dreadful in France as anywhere else. Just because we invented lièvre à la royale and potage saint-germain centuries ago, that doesn't make the majority of us super-heroes once we have to reach for our daily food; and that doesn't make us able to reproduce that kind of cooking when we come home at 7 PM holding the kiddie fresh from day care on one arm and shopping bags on the other. What the French want from a TV food show is fresh ideas, practicality, speed and common sense. Plus a certain ability to bring a little sunshine and originality to the everyday table with easy-to-find ingredients. Plus a bit of openness to other food cultures, which the French cookbooks have been lacking until a few years ago. That they were absent from French-published cookbooks doesn't mean there wasn't a need for them. And Jamie Oliver has all of these; that is all the French audience was asking for, britishness being only a detail for them.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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There is just always something admirable to be found in any artistic style, whether it's Pre-Raphaelite painting, rap music or pub grup, and real criticism discovers and popularizes that.  But the critic owes his or her audience a little bit honesty, too.  Though it's hard to quantify sometimes, some things are just better than others -- French food, Rothko, the Grateful Dead  :wink: -- and that should be pointed out as well, because that's how we learn to demand better or to provide it.

No no no. If it is hard to quantify then isn't it merely a subjective opinion?** (My emphasis in the original.) How is it honest to point out that X is better than Y in matters of subjective opinion?

**I am pretty sure Heidegger would have something to say to me about that statement, but I can't objectively say what it might be. :laugh:

All rely on argument and evidence. I would argue that although things may be subjective, they are not merely subjective. Also, does the mere presence of a number denote objectivity. If ten people in a room pick the cassoulet over the bangers and mash then the subjective truth in that sphere lies with the cassoulet, but the same might not be the same in another circumstance. Foucault might suggest that these perceptions have significance only in historically created matrices of power. :smile:

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