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Daily Gullet Staff

That Sweet Enemy

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It seems as if a lot of people on this topic are looking at French food and cuisine and thinking that it is all about Escoffier and haute cuisine. That is certainly an important element, but it is still only an element.

I thought Haute cuisine was what Tim was talking about - Frenchy-French stuff like ris de veau a la financiere au vol-au-vent, Coulibiac, Bavarois Clermont, aspics & all that fancy shit for the upper classes.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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[...]Is the US a meritocracy, or do we just fancy ourselves a meritocracy and aren't really since we just fancy ourselves one?[...]

We fancy ourselves as one, just as we also pretend that we are all middle class. The reality is that there is more socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. than in any other developed country in the world. And in terms of meritocracy, why is it that there are so many starving artists here? Because they are objectively inferior to the stylish ones who sell out (literally) to the ad agencies and wealthy investors? No. Because we don't support the artists and intellectuals the way they do in Europe. And going back to my other point, I don't think you can point to any examples of U.S. presidents in the last 60 years who made their reputation first as intellectuals or writers, in the mold of someone like Vaclav Havel. But do we really want to have a full-blown political debate here?


Michael aka "Pan

 

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[...]Is the US a meritocracy, or do we just fancy ourselves a meritocracy and aren't really since we just fancy ourselves one?[...]

We fancy ourselves as one, just as we also pretend that we are all middle class. The reality is that there is more socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. than in any other developed country in the world. And in terms of meritocracy, why is it that there are so many starving artists here? Because they are objectively inferior to the stylish ones who sell out (literally) to the ad agencies and wealthy investors? No. Because we don't support the artists and intellectuals the way they do in Europe. And going back to my other point, I don't think you can point to any examples of U.S. presidents in the last 60 years who made their reputation first as intellectuals or writers, in the mold of someone like Vaclav Havel. But do we really want to have a full-blown political debate here?

Oh Great answer!

Please, check the UN numbers from the report, then come back and let me know if there is MORE socioeconomic inequality in the US than any other developed country in the world. I have seen those numbers, and am feeling pretty cocky.

Do you really think the entire nation "pretends" it is middle class? What would be the reward? I see the posers busy posing upper class if anything. So there is a huge lower class that is pretending to be middle class in the US? Come on, and what does this have to do with food!

Why is it that there are so many starving artists here? More than anywhere else? There are fewer starving people here than most places in the world, and logically fewer starving artists. I do not understand why you want to go into this issue - this is not a political forum. How does one become supported in Europe when one is a starving artist? I think Ireland did the best job of the nurturing starving artist thing. You may know something that I do not.

I have been rightly tagged with the fact that I am so open minded that my brains have fallen out. I think that is a fair assessment. So convince me.

Sheesh, now you are comparing leadership in Czechoslovakia to the United States. No not within the last 60 years, but so far T. Jefferson and either of the Adam's kick his butt. Nixon was a drama club member. Ford was a better athlete. Carter overcame more adversity, Clinton was better looking and went to Oxford as a bastard child of a single mother, Reagan was the closest comparison with his time as a representative of the Screen Actor's Guild. People like Vaclav Havel would have never had a thought of ending up where they did end up, without other things happening first. And those other things were not just in the US.

Lighten up on the 'hood.

THE WHOLE BIG FAT POINT IS:

Do not roll in the mud or grovel because somebody else tells you that you are not good. Know who you are, stick with it. If you like it, you do. If you do not like it, then change, hopefully someone else will come along who will and who does not deserve to be treated as less of a human because they are appreciative of what you cast away.

I am not the writer that Tim is, but I get it.

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[...]I do not understand why you want to go into this issue - this is not a political forum.[...]

eGullet Management can correct me if my information is out of date, but my understanding is that questions of topicality that apply to the rest of the site do not apply or at least apply more loosely to the Daily Gullet.

I will simply observe that you ask me for hard figures but offer some highly, highly dubious assertions. It is in fact a truism that there is more inequality in the U.S. than in any other developed country, and I have never seen anything that contradicts this. I'm sure that anyone who can understand technicalities of economic terms and figures will be able to Google hard facts fairly easily, but here is an interview that details some salient points:

The Wealth Divide: The Growing Gap in the United States Between the Rich and the Rest

[...]Multinational Monitor: How do economists measure levels of equality and inequality?

Wolff: The most common measure used, and the most understandable is: what share of total wealth is owned by the richest households, typically the top 1 percent. In the United States, in the last survey year, 1998, the richest 1 percent of households owned 38 percent of all wealth.

This is the most easily understood measure.

There is also another measure called the Gini coefficient. It measures the concentration of wealth at different percentile levels, and does an overall computation. It is an index that goes from zero to one, one being the most unequal. Wealth inequality in the United States has a Gini coefficient of .82, which is pretty close to the maximum level of inequality you can have.[...]

[...]MM: How does the U.S. wealth profile compare to other countries?

Wolff: We are much more unequal than any other advanced industrial country.[...]

And yes, there are loads of poor people and a bunch of way-above-middle-income people who call themselves "middle class" here. In terms of intellectual U.S. presidents, let's not go back to the days of Jefferson; that doesn't apply today. Clinton is a bona fide intellectual but had to campaign as a "regular guy" from Arkansas to get elected. I don't know what all of this has to do with food, but since the fiction of the U.S. as a genuine meritocracy was brought up, it's relevant. The U.S. is a genuine meritocracy only if all the economic "losers" are unworthy and all the economic "winners" are the cream of the crop. Sounds like an after-the-fact rationalization to me, and I don't like it.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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While this was certainly significant, one of the important elements that runs through French, Italian and Spanish cuisines (and others less intimately familiar to me as well probably) is the excellence from bottom to top that is ingrained within the cultures. That appears to be less the case in certain Anglo-Saxon based cultures including American. However, both ends may be coming towards a middle as some of the mainland European cultures may be becoming more lax in the primary importance of food at all socio-economic levels and some of the Anglo-Saxon based cultures are becoming more serious about it. That may be influenced at least in part by cross-cultural assimilation between those cultures and others.

I see what you mean, and I agree with it to some point, but not fully. Bad food on a daily basis is not a new phenomenon in France — but it's a matter of class and society, not just of food.

Hence my admiration for Tim's post, which I found to be right on spot, and all the more precious because those questions are so rarely discussed in that light.

The French have always been perfectly able to cook and serve dreadful food throughout the ages, and they still do, and that is certainly not going to stop. It all depends on the socioeconomic context and people who visit France with the fortunate purpose of experiencing its food just do not have access to the whole picture. Non-French people who gather on a high-quality food forum like eG have, happily, no experience of it, partly because their itinerary is not likely to include that and also because they can afford not experiencing it. They travel for, and they get led to, good food, whether the decisive factor is guidebook stars, reputation, word of mouth, eG tips, and the usual privileges that come with food travelling. That is all very good, but it is not likely to give the traveller a fair idea of the way the French really eat and it certainly can give no faithful notion of "excellence from bottom to top". Those who claim that French food is intrinsically superior to all others have never have lunch in a Flunch cafeteria, or in a Sodexho-catered business cantine, or shared meals with kids in some school restaurants, or taken a close look at what people at French supermarkets have in their shopping carts.

What I want to stress, also, is that this situation is somewhat worsening, particularly in the suburbs (though it is balanced by the recent occurrence of good, cheap ethnic food joints), but that it has always been there.

I do agree with that notion of "excellence from bottom to top". It does exist, but to a certain point and only in certain social contexts (just like in England and in the US). It does have to be relativized to the benefit of non-French culinary cultures, up to and including — yes — the Anglo-Saxon-based cultures. Because once the experience really becomes "bottom to top", then you realize that bad food in France is just as common as in those countries and is to be found in the same context. Everywhere, expertise and food knowledge (not intellectual superiority, just knowing the subject) make the difference. I have spent two years of my life in the US, I had a bad meal only once in a while (and it was always at my in-laws), and I never went to a fancy restaurant.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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I'm interested in this notion of codification - it's come up several times in the discussion.

It seems to me that the French had written cookbooks that dealt with catering for the aristocracy from an early stage, as did the Brits.

There have been manuals - in extremely limited print runs - which have explained how an aristocrat should run his catering operation, in all languages and since fairly early on in the history of the written word (Apicius, Wynkin de Word etc).

The first 'codification' - and by this I mean a structure and processes efficient and useful enough to be worthy of memehood - came late with Escoffier.

Le Guide Culinaire was 1903. Admittedly he lifted from other cooks - this business was always rife with plagiarism - but up to that time I can't see how 'haute cuisine' could be said to be codified

Yet by this point our aristocracy had already been obsessed with all things French for several centuries. (Bear in mind that the English have always regarded those descended from Norman families in the same way that North Easterners regard those who can trace descendancy from the pilgrims.

<OUTOFMYDEPTH>I'm getting way out of my depth here with cookbook history - particularly French cookbook history - but as far as I remember, the attempts to 'codify' French regional, provincial and rural cooking also came much later.

As a matter of fact, I think it ran parallel to the Europe wide interest in folk history which sprang up at the turn of the century.</OUTOFMYDEPTH>

I agree that French cooking appears codified to us now but I'm not sure how much we can rely on this as the reason for the worldwide supremacy of the cuisine.


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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I'm getting way out of my depth here with cookbook history - particularly French cookbook history - but as far as I remember, the attempts to 'codify' French regional, provincial and rural cooking also came much later.

As a matter of fact, I think it ran parallel to the Europe wide interest in folk history which sprang up at the turn of the century.

Quite right, and it can indeed be linked to that interest in folk things and traditions that ran through French literature, journalism, music, etc., from the late 19th century to, roughly, the 1960's. The trends were complex and sometimes intermingled: on the right side it was about romanticizing the national roots (the Pétainist streak, to rough it up), on the left side it was about giving the rural classes their rightful place in the shaping of the national cultures ("the nobility of the paysans"), and also, on a scientific level, there was a premonitory impulse to collect and collect all the traditional rural material as possibly could be collected because it was already known that this cultural heritage was likely to be lost someday.

Of course cooking was part of that interest: from the late 1800's to the 1950's, thousands of rural, country and traditional recipes were gathered and collected, helping to give France's culinary culture a solid, sound, earthy face until the arrival of Nouvelle Cuisine in the 70's.

But, as a codification, it was never really successful. What was important was collecting (i.e. enriching the corpus) and absorbing (i.e. putting to practice). Codifying was not the aim. Technical, regional, historical variations were happily taken into account (because they meant more ways to cook the dishes). If there was any codification, it should rather be seeked in the world of haute cuisine, écoles hôtelières, urban dining, and top-class restaurant cooking — i.e. international French cooking, which is a category in itself, and the one you've been referring to indeed.

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Of course cooking was part of that interest: from the late 1800's to the 1950's, thousands of rural, country and traditional recipes were gathered and collected, helping to give France's culinary culture a solid, sound, earthy face until the arrival of Nouvelle Cuisine in the 70's.

I suspected as much. In Nicola Humble's book 'Culinary Pleasures' she covers the same period in the UK in some detail. Hilda Leyel's 'Gentle Art of Cooking' - supposedly St David's favourite book - was part of this movement as was the wonderful Florence White who actually founded the British Folk Cookery Association and wrote 'Good Things in England' and 'Good English Food'.

We tend to conveniently forget in the UK that Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England' - which drew on White's writing plus a great deal of original research - outsold ED's first three books* in the year of its publication (1954). David's writing only really gained broad popularity in the 60s - whereupon it pretty much eclipsed what was left of the unfashionably sandal wearing, beardy-wierdy 'folk-food' squad.

* Mediterranean Food (1950), French Country Cooking (1951), Italian Food (1954).


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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In terms of intellectual U.S. presidents, let's not go back to the days of Jefferson; that doesn't apply today. Clinton is a bona fide intellectual but had to campaign as a "regular guy" from Arkansas to get elected. I don't know what all of this has to do with food, but since the fiction of the U.S. as a genuine meritocracy was brought up, it's relevant.

During the last presidential election John Kerry was excoriated in the press for preferrring elistist (and foreign!) swiss cheese on his cheesesteaks while George Bush II favored the more proletarian "whiz." John Edwards and wife always celebrate their anniversary at Wendy's. George Bush I lauded pork rinds and disparaged broccoli. Clinton was seen as loving Big Macs and downhome chow like spareribs. There's a story like that about every American president, or candidate - even in their food choices they must seem to be of the common people and not wealthy, extremely educated politicians.

"I want to live like common people

I want to do whatever common people do"

If there was any codification, it should rather be seeked in the world of haute cuisine, écoles hôtelières, urban dining, and top-class restaurant cooking — i.e. international French cooking, which is a category in itself, and the one you've been referring to indeed.
That's what I have assumed Tim was talking about and not regional French cuisine. I used Escoffier's name for effect and not strictly for accuracy as that style of cooking evolved long before he put his Guide together. The solid, round, earthy regional French has become food for the upper class only recently.
Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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[...]I do not understand why you want to go into this issue - this is not a political forum.[...]

eGullet Management can correct me if my information is out of date, but my understanding is that questions of topicality that apply to the rest of the site do not apply or at least apply more loosely to the Daily Gullet.

I will simply observe that you ask me for hard figures but offer some highly, highly dubious assertions. It is in fact a truism that there is more inequality in the U.S. than in any other developed country, and I have never seen anything that contradicts this. I'm sure that anyone who can understand technicalities of economic terms and figures will be able to Google hard facts fairly easily, but here is an interview that details some salient points:

The Wealth Divide: The Growing Gap in the United States Between the Rich and the Rest

[...]Multinational Monitor: How do economists measure levels of equality and inequality?

Wolff: The most common measure used, and the most understandable is: what share of total wealth is owned by the richest households, typically the top 1 percent. In the United States, in the last survey year, 1998, the richest 1 percent of households owned 38 percent of all wealth.

This is the most easily understood measure.

There is also another measure called the Gini coefficient. It measures the concentration of wealth at different percentile levels, and does an overall computation. It is an index that goes from zero to one, one being the most unequal. Wealth inequality in the United States has a Gini coefficient of .82, which is pretty close to the maximum level of inequality you can have.[...]

[...]MM: How does the U.S. wealth profile compare to other countries?

Wolff: We are much more unequal than any other advanced industrial country.[...]

And yes, there are loads of poor people and a bunch of way-above-middle-income people who call themselves "middle class" here. In terms of intellectual U.S. presidents, let's not go back to the days of Jefferson; that doesn't apply today. Clinton is a bona fide intellectual but had to campaign as a "regular guy" from Arkansas to get elected. I don't know what all of this has to do with food, but since the fiction of the U.S. as a genuine meritocracy was brought up, it's relevant. The U.S. is a genuine meritocracy only if all the economic "losers" are unworthy and all the economic "winners" are the cream of the crop. Sounds like an after-the-fact rationalization to me, and I don't like it.

The biggest health risk of the poverty stricken in the US is obesity. How do you define poor?

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1713.cfm

The following is from the citation, although I have read the Census report personally and concur:

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

* Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

While the poor are generally well-nourished, some poor families do experience hunger, meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13 percent of poor families and 2.6 percent of poor children experience hunger at some point during the year. In most cases, their hunger is short-term. Eighty-nine percent of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs.


Edited by annecros (log)

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And yes, there are loads of poor people and a bunch of way-above-middle-income people who call themselves "middle class" here. In terms of intellectual U.S. presidents, let's not go back to the days of Jefferson; that doesn't apply today. Clinton is a bona fide intellectual but had to campaign as a "regular guy" from Arkansas to get elected. I don't know what all of this has to do with food, but since the fiction of the U.S. as a genuine meritocracy was brought up, it's relevant. The U.S. is a genuine meritocracy only if all the economic "losers" are unworthy and all the economic "winners" are the cream of the crop. Sounds like an after-the-fact rationalization to me, and I don't like it.

Every President for the last 100 years can be safely categorized as an intellectual. Some more than others, but all were pretty sharp people. They have all also had to demonstrate in words and actions that they understand the lifestyle of the typical American. This is a standard imposed by the American people.

In order to be able to put a compassionate leader in a position of power, I think that standard is reasonable. Your Clinton example is particularly apt, if you want to stick with it. He was a regular guy in reality, I think it is fair to say he was disadvantaged in his youth. Yet through hard work, determination and intellect, he rose above his humble beginnings. His success was based upon merit, not birthright.

Kerry lost, and is struggling in his ambitions now, because he is perceived to be an individual who believes his birthright and his membership in the well heeled Martha's Vineyard yacht club entitles him to the oval office. This is a direct result of his words and actions.


Edited by annecros (log)

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Le Guide Culinaire was 1903. Admittedly he lifted from other cooks - this business was always rife with plagiarism - but up to that time I can't see how 'haute cuisine' could be said to be codified
(I will admit to not having the time to reasearch this - I have to make some school lunches. :smile: ) But Le Guide did not spring forth from the brow of Escoffier; it was specific enough to composition and technique that the techniques and compositions must have existed a long time prior. I think Taillevant was the first attempt at codifying haute cuisine for the upper classes in the 13th century - the cuisine described is very different but the intent is the same. And what about La Varenne?
Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Le Guide Culinaire was 1903. Admittedly he lifted from other cooks - this business was always rife with plagiarism - but up to that time I can't see how 'haute cuisine' could be said to be codified
(I will admit to not having the time to reasearch this - I have to make some school lunches. :smile: ) But Le Guide did not spring forth from the brow of Escoffier; it was specific enough to composition and technique that the techniques and compositions must have existed a long time prior. I think Taillevant was the first attempt at codifying french cuisine for the upper classes in the 13th century - the cuisine described is very different but the intent is the same. And what about La Varenne?

All, granted, wrote in a similar tradition, and, as their books have survived until today, we can see a connection.

But each of these was a small circulation handbook for aristocratic cooks and, though they stole from each other and from previous sources, one can only really call it a national cuisine in the sense that all the authors were French*.

It was Escoffier who created a systematic model for cooking (who else needs concordance like 'Le Repertoire' for Chrissake?), who had a large enough circulation to affect public eating across France and was translated widely enough during his own lifetime that he came to represent 'French' cookery outside his own country.

I wonder, as a matter of interest, when the French started referring to 'French Cuisine'.

*I don't mean this to sound like a circular argument but, in the same way as it's daft to talk about 'Italian' cooking when Italy was a mess of City states, it's equally fair to point out that 'haute cuisine' was more a product of Paris and the aristocracy than it was of France as a whole.


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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I wonder, as a matter of interest, when the French started referring to 'French Cuisine'.

It would be unwise to take the French globalizing approach of "French cuisine" at face value. Now or then, French defenders using that term before the rest of the world quite possibly did/do not know what they are talking about. If they did, they would use a plural (French cuisines), or make it quite clear that they were/are only referring to a certain type of French cuisine (the ex-aristocratic/haute/international one) — and they never do. I certainly feel that way in the presence of anyone who serves me the "French cooking/cuisine is the best in the world" mythology. If there is any such thing as French cuisine, it can only be understood as an astounding millefeuille of many layers.

As for when the term of "French cuisine" began to be used in a globalizing manner, I have no precise idea, but it is not likely to be earlier than the French Revolution and is certainly a 19th-century thing.

One word of caution about my use of French cooking/cuisine indistinctly: in French, there is only one word and it is "cuisine". The distinction doesn't exist in French so I'm not adopting it here.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Armchair observer, here---I have not much frame of reference since I have not had the travel or vast dining experience and knowledge evinced by so many contributors to this thread, and I am just enjoying the repartee.

I'm just wondering about the title---was it purposefully composed to express the content, or is there some esoteric background which provided the words? So many of the titles of these pieces are cleverly put out there, to be "caught" or not---The Frying of Latke 49 comes to mind---that one was so "in" it could have come through a wormhole.

Pray continue.

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Armchair observer, here---I have not much frame of reference since I have not had the travel or vast dining experience and knowledge evinced by so many contributors to this thread, and I am just enjoying the repartee. 

I'm just wondering about the title---was it purposefully composed to express the content, or is there some esoteric background which provided the words?  So many of the titles of these pieces are cleverly put out there, to be "caught" or not---The Frying of Latke 49 comes to mind---that one was so "in" it could have come through a wormhole.

Pray continue.

I am assuming it refers to a very well written book:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/That-Sweet-Enemy-B...t/dp/0434008672

but, only Tim knows for sure.

And, like the book, the thread would require having a dictionary handy.

:biggrin:

Anne

Edit to add: Oh come on in Racheld, the water is fine. I am sure you have your own perspectives on cultural influences imposed upon the regular folk. You are a displaced southerner in the United States, for goodness sake. You express yourself very well.


Edited by annecros (log)

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I wonder, as a matter of interest, when the French started referring to 'French Cuisine'.

It would be unwise to take the French globalizing approach of "French cuisine" at face value. Now or then, French defenders using that term before the rest of the world quite possibly did/do not know what they are talking about. If they did, they would use a plural (French cuisines), or make it quite clear that they were/are only referring to a certain type of French cuisine (the ex-aristocratic/haute/international one) — and they never do. I certainly feel that way in the presence of anyone who serves me the "French cooking/cuisine is the best in the world" mythology. If there is any such thing as French cuisine, it can only be understood as an astounding millefeuille of many layers.

As for when the term of "French cuisine" began to be used in a globalizing manner, I have no precise idea, but it is not likely to be earlier than the French Revolution and is certainly a 19th-century thing.

One word of caution about my use of French cooking/cuisine indistinctly: in French, there is only one word and it is "cuisine". The distinction doesn't exist in French so I'm not adopting it here.

Having taken a short thinking break to do the school run (amazingly productive time for homeworkers :wink: ) it strikes me that this line of thinking leads to one inevitable point: for people who care to examine cookery in any depth, the idea of a 'national cuisine/cookery' can only ever be a generalisation.

Such generalisations will always be subject to assault from single examples which leaves the question of how useful the generalisation is to us.

I guess we have to make certain generalisations if we're to discuss international food at anything other than the level of strict personal experience, but this discussion (for which, many thanks BTW) has brought up some really interesting questions for me - some specific, some frighteningly large.

1. Brits often point to the presence of UK born chefs of international stature as an indication that the UK is 'back on the culinary map'. I wonder if Ramsey and Blumethal say any more about British food than say, Adria does about Spanish or Keller about American. To me they just prove that we too can conform to a kind of 3* internationalism. Doesn't globalisation of chef's personal 'brands' inevitably lead towards a higher quality version of the 'International Cuisine' that polluted hotels and airports in the 70s?

2. How does something get to be French? Take something as utterly 'French' as Careme's four mother sauces. Surely liaison, thickened meat stock, roux and milk have all occurred or would have come into being elsewhere. In fact Careme's genius was to restrict the variations rather than to invent new ones.

3. In some way or other doesn't 'National cuisine/cookery' owe as much to the preconceptions of foreigners as it does to the foodways of the population?

4. Our preconceptions about food history, which we imagine stretch unbroken into prehistory don't stand up to much scrutiny. A lot of it is more recent in conception, attributable to a few points in media and comes via a class of interlocutor which narrows as it goes back.

Is any of it useful to literate foodies in 2007? We're a self defining group of appreciators with access to a world's worth of ingredients and knowhow. Food is still not taken seriously as a topic for historical or scientific study and as a result we cling to the preconceptions of Victorian 'thinkers' who could never have imagined the access we have.

Isn't it time to question harder? Is it not time, like art historians before us, to tip a few sacred cows?


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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Armchair observer, here---I have not much frame of reference since I have not had the travel or vast dining experience and knowledge evinced by so many contributors to this thread, and I am just enjoying the repartee. 

I'm just wondering about the title---was it purposefully composed to express the content, or is there some esoteric background which provided the words?  So many of the titles of these pieces are cleverly put out there, to be "caught" or not---The Frying of Latke 49 comes to mind---that one was so "in" it could have come through a wormhole.

Pray continue.

"That sweet enemy, the French" is a quote from Sir Philip Sidney and in fairly common use in England where we never miss an opportunity to bash our neighbours :biggrin::biggrin:

"Paying for French tricks" refers to the quote in the original piece

In 1747 Hannah Glasse averred that...

'If Gentlemen will have French Cooks, they must pay for French Tricks. So much is the blind Folly of this Age, that they would rather be impos'd on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!'

Thanks for asking :biggrin:


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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At this point in time, where ingredients as well as people travel far and wide and quickly, the boundaries of most national food collections (trying to avoid "cuisine" and while doing to rather stodgily I sound sort of Soviet-like :biggrin: ) oh okay "national cuisines" have become stretched to points well beyond what anyone could have imagined even several hundred years ago.

No more seasonal produce, no more reliance on what grows directly in front of one, no more reliance on native fuels or in some places set formal rituals of "this is how we do this and no other way", neccesary.

Cooking techniques from so many various cultures known and practiced (stir fry in Kentucky, clay-roast hens in Alaska or wherever), and cooking tools, pots and pans and ovens of all varieties, happily understood and used halfway around the world from where they initially were developed. . .naturally, being developed at the original place due to neccesity or ease of utility.

We have a far-ranging global understanding of so many things that one would think boundaries would be erased.

But then of course there's football.

And we know what happens with that, and know that whether we like it or not, football in various guises will always be with us.

In the food world, our football games are even televised now, and the genre is expanding at an amazing pace. "Who will WIN?" the announcers cry joyously, as the chef-contenders approach the tables and knives, slyly smiling with contempt across the table at the other.

.......................................

I adore tipping sacred cows, myself. A fine activity for any afternoon. :smile:

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.......................................

I adore tipping sacred cows, myself. A fine activity for any afternoon.  :smile:

Oh I do too!

But, as a recent animated feature pointed out, the cows tip back sometimes.

Even if the bovine with udders speaks with a masculine voice. Haven't figured that out yet.

:biggrin:

It only seems fair.

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Even if the bovine with udders speaks with a masculine voice. Haven't figured that out yet.

All is fair in love, war, and bio-engineering. There is even a cow up the road a piece from me that was recently born with two faces. Quite Shakespearean, I thought. :smile:

On the other hand, we lived right up next to a farm with many steer on it, and regardless of their unhappy losses, they still bellowed in the usual way. (Hmmm. I do wonder where all those bull balls went. A nice stew for the farmer? :rolleyes: )

(On second thought, better than a Shakepearean take on the little calf, perhaps a Macchiavellian one would be an even closer fit.)


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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Do you believe that where someone graduated from indicates merit? Have you never heard of a legacy?

Interesting question. Not only about the institution one "graduates from" as indicative of the quality level or potential of that person, but also about legacy preferences.

Could a stretch be made to think of French food in some cases being touted as something "more than it is" due to a sort of legacy preference based on an assorted number of things?

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There is no superior culinary tradition, there are just culinary illuminations within each culinary tradition.

This phrase is memorable. It is not only exceptionally nicely turned, but also glows with a classic (not garden-variety) sort of truth.

I think it's very gracious for someone from a country with an impeccable culinary tradition to grant equality to all others, :wink: but I beg to differ, if only because different countries value different achievements and do different things well. We Americans can surely hold our heads high in the pantheon of nations based on our achievements in many areas. But, for all the traditional excellence behind some of our cooking, it hasn't generally been a great priority during our relatively brief existence. That's just kind of the way it is and, while there's no shame in it, there's no pretending otherwise.

That's not to say that you can't get great food here, highbrow and lowbrow. I think there's a strong case to be made that New York is the best food city in the West (another thread is born!) because of the sheer variety good food available at a modest price -- not to mention those gastromic temples like Per Se and Jean-George.

But the fact that so many of New York's top restaurants look to France -- and that the American culinary revolution is thought by many to have begun with a restaurant that was unabashedly francophilic -- underscores the relative thinness of our culinary tradition. And, while it is possible to get great food in the U.S. -- and, tomato-for-tomato, I'd eagerly put our greenmarkets up against the ones I've found in France -- and it's easy to get bad food in France, most Americans, most meals, just don't seem to be eating that well. And they're just as happy not to. To judge a culture (if that is permitted) is not to look at the highs and lows, but at what most people are doing most of the time, and by that standard dinner just isn't a priority here.

I spent three weeks in France this summer, eating at mid-priced restaurants (nary a Michelin star in sight) and getting some home cooking done (including a memorable lunch with eG's own Bleudauvergne) in the largely rural departement of Gard and along the Cote d'Azure. What was most memorable to me was how little effort was necessary to get a very good, reasonably priced meal, and to enjoy a leisurely, lengthy lunch or dinner. Brandade, crepinettes -- when you order the budget menus you find chefs doing wonderful things with inexpensive ingredients -- invariably beautifully presented and consumed at a pace that demonstrated respect for the act of dining.

My second favorite place to vacation seems to have become rural Oregon and we were there the summer before last. The Portland farmer's market is an extraordinary place and I think we ate as well around the campfire on Steamboat Creek as I have eaten lmost anywhere I've ever been. But leave the campsite and try to buy dinner in town or at the pricy resort downstream, and the food is awful. And expensive. And the wines at the local general store were bad. And expensive (relatively speaking). The less said about cheese, the better.

A phrase like "culinary culture" is politically loaded, so I won't say that the culinary culture of Gard is superior to that of Oregon's. And I loved the market in Portland and what small slice of the restaurant scene I was able to explore. But, on the whole, the food is better in Gard, it's less expensive, it's eaten more elegantly (?) and the people who prepare and eat it know more about it. And to pretend that that's not true, or to say that one area is the culinary equal of the other because "there is no superior culinary tradition," is just silly. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

Why did the Arizonan wax poetic after his French vacation? Probably because the food was better -- and more delightful -- there.

I actually hear that the Italians are better than the French, though. :laugh:

+++++

On the meritocracy vs. anti-elitism front, it's perfectly possible for America to be both. Certainly politics in my lifetime has been marked by ongoing demonization of the intellectual left by the populist right, with not inconsiderable success. Remember Mike Dukakis? Neither do I.

I don't think you can get elected to high political office without a certain amount of smarts, but I think if you called George Bush an "intellectual" to his face, he'd take a swing at you. :laugh:

At the same time, there is a reasonable amount of upward mobility here, despite the real problems highlighted by Pan, new immigrants and poor natives have a fairly good chance to succeed on the power of their own drive and intellect. If George Bush is stereotypically dynastic, Bill Clinton grew up poor.

When it comes to food, the stereotype of the snotty French Maitre d' and the French chef doing weird things to snails and organ meats still remains strong -- there's even a whiff of backlash in this thread, as though by defending the French you're a little bit of an egghead. Or maybe oeuf-head. And, while Americans remain a bit anti-elitist about French food (which, in stereotyope, is always seen as Escoffier and never as Grand-mere) our mertitocracy is rewarding restaurants whose merits tend more towards our cultural strengths -- efficiency, standardization, a kind of faux mulitculturalism, creating wealth -- and less towards what most of us would think of as culinary excellence.

I was limping through Gard's local daily, Midi-Libre, trying to improve my bad French and get a feel for where I'd be vacationing (every time I buy a crappy bottle of Red Bicyclette wine from the limited-selection bodega around the corner from my house, I tell myself that I'm doing it for the wine-growers of Gard, whose plight was an ongoing feature) and two local restauranteurs who'd just earned their first Michelin stars were on the front page. I can guarantee that the only way a chef would make the front page of an American daily would be to shoot someone. Outside the food section, we read about our restaurants on the business page, where earnings, not food, are the concern.

Different countries. Different cultures. When it comes to food, I'll take the French as not just different, but better.

+++++

One more bit of ramble before we go. (Not "rumble" this time, Tim. Rumble is better, btw). A possibly illuminating and possibly irrelevent juxtaposition of anecdotes regarding politics, culture and food.

France: Francois Mitterand having a final meal days before his death, illegally eating endangered ortolans because they're apparently an extraordinary gourmet treat for the elite, while he and his companions covered their heads with napkins to (I've heard it two ways) hide their faces from the camera while they committed a criminal act or to ensure that all the aroma from the extraordinary delicacies made it from the plate to their noses.

U.S.: George Bush ostentatiously eating pork rinds for the cameras to prove that despite Yale, he's just a good ol' boy.

+++++

Edited to add: No judgements on the policies of any politician mention in this post, French or American, R or D is implied. I am merely commenting on their tactics and the symbolism involved.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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There is no superior culinary tradition, there are just culinary illuminations within each culinary tradition.

This phrase is memorable. It is not only exceptionally nicely turned, but also glows with a classic (not garden-variety) sort of truth.

I think it's very gracious for someone from a country with an impeccable culinary tradition to grant equality to all others, :wink: but I beg to differ, if only because different countries value different achievements and do different things well. We Americans can surely hold our heads high in the pantheon of nations based on our achievements in many areas. But, for all the traditional excellence behind some of our cooking, it hasn't generally been a great priority during our relatively brief existence. That's just kind of the way it is and, while there's no shame in it, there's no pretending otherwise.

That's not to say that you can't get great food here, highbrow and lowbrow. I think there's a strong case to be made that New York is the best food city in the West (another thread is born!) because of the sheer variety good food available at a modest price -- not to mention those gastromic temples like Per Se and Jean-George.

But the fact that so many of New York's top restaurants look to France -- and that the American culinary revolution is thought by many to have begun with a restaurant that was unabashedly francophilic -- underscores the relative thinness of our culinary tradition. And, while it is possible to get great food in the U.S. -- and, tomato-for-tomato, I'd eagerly put our greenmarkets up against the ones I've found in France -- and it's easy to get bad food in France, most Americans, most meals, just don't seem to be eating that well. And they're just as happy not to. To judge a culture (if that is permitted) is not to look at the highs and lows, but at what most people are doing most of the time and dinner just isn't a priority.

I spent three weeks in France this summer, eating at mid-priced restaurants (nary a Michelin star in sight) and getting some home cooking done (including a memorable lunch with our own Bleudauvergne) in the largely rural departement of Gard and along the Cote d'Azure. What was most memorable to me was how little effort was necessary to get a very good, reasonably priced meal, and to enjoy a leisurely, lengthy lunch or dinner. Brandade, crepinettes -- when you order the budget menus you find chefs doing wonderful things with inexpensive ingredients -- invariably beautifully presented and consumed at a pace that demonstrated respect for the act of dining.

My second favorite place to vacation seems to have become rural Oregon and we were there the summer before last. The Portland farmer's market is an extraordinary place and I think we ate as well around the campfire on Steamboat Creek as I have almost anywhere I've ever been. But leave the campsite and try to buy dinner in town or at the pricy resort downstream, and the food is awful. And expensive. And the wines at the local general store were bad. And expensive (relatively speaking). The less said about cheese, the better.

A phrase like "culinary culture" is politically loaded, so I won't say that the culinary culture of Gard is superior to that of Oregon's. And I loved the market in Portland and what small slice of the restaurant scene I was able to explore. But, on the whole, the food is better in Gard, it's less expensive, it's eaten more elegantly (?) and the people who prepare and eat it know more about it. And to pretend that that's not true, or to say that one area is the culinary equal of the other because "there is no superior culinary tradition," is just silly. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

Why did the Arizonan wax poetic after his French vacation? Probably because the food was better -- and more delightful -- there.

I actually hear that the Italians are better than the French, though. :laugh:

+++++

On the meritocracy vs. anti-elitism front, it's perfectly possible for America to be both. Certainly politics in my lifetime has been marked by ongoing demonization of the intellectual left by the populist right, with not inconsiderable success. Remember Mike Dukakis? Neither do I.

I don't think you can get elected to high political office without a certain amount of smarts, but I think if you called George Bush an "intellectual" to his face, he'd take a swing at you. :laugh:

At the same time, there is a reasonable amount of upward mobility here, despite the real problems highlighted by Pan, new immigrants and poor natives have a fairly good chance to succeed on the power of their own drive and intellect. If George Bush is stereotypically dynastic, Bill Clinton grew up poor.

When it comes to food, the stereotype of the snotty French Maitre d' and the French chef doing weird things to snails and organ meats still remains strong -- there's even a whiff of backlash in this thread, as though by defending the French you're a little bit of an egghead. Or maybe oeuff-head. And, while Americans remain a bit anti-elitist about French food (which, in stereotyope, is always seen as Escoffier and never as Grand-mere) our mertitocracy is rewarding restaurants whose merits tend more towards our cultural strengths -- efficiency, standardization, a kind of faux mulitculturalism, creating wealth -- and less towards what most of us would think of as culinary excellence.

I was limping through Gard's local daily, Midi-Libre, trying to improve my bad French and get a feel for where I'd be vacationing (every time I buy a crappy bottle of Red Bicyclette wine from the limited selection bodega around the corner from my house, I tell myself that I'm doing it for the wine-growers of Gard, whose plight was an ongoing feature) and two local restauranteurs who'd just earned their first Michelin stars were on the front page. I can guarantee that the only way a chef would make the front page of an American daily would be to shoot someone. Outside the food section, we read about our restaurants on the business page, where earnings, not food, are the concern.

Different countries. Different cultures. When it comes to food, I'll take the French as not just different, but better.

+++++

One more bit of ramble before we go. (Not "rumble" this time, Tim. Rumble is better, btw). A possibly illuminating and possibly irrelevent juxtaposition of anecdotes regarding politics, culture and food.

France: Francois Mitterand having a final meal days before his death, illegally eating endangered ortolans because they're apparently and extraordinary gourmet treat for the elite, while he and his companions covered their heads with napkins to (I've heard it two ways) hide their faces from the camera while they committed a criminal act or to ensure that all the aroma from the extraordinary delicacies made it from the plate to their noses.

U.S.: George Bush ostentatiously eating pork rinds for the cameras to prove that despite Yale, he's just a good ol' boy.

I love it, and must go soon, but it is funny that you are arguing that a person from France is in error concerning French Food and its superiority to other food.

Bush would probably just smile, turn and walk away if you called him an intellectual, or if you intimated that his position is some sort of legacy that he just walked in and took over due to birthright. That "misunderestimation" thing is a very effective strategy. That is, if you want to think strategically. And anybody with the education, GPA higher than Kerry's, and the guts to see the issues this country has had to face through - well they deserve retirement when the time comes. But they do not deserve abuse. I think both the Bush's enjoy pork rinds, and I can relate to that on a visceral level - as do many citizens of France who like a bit of pig fat every now and then. The senior delivered a wonderful eulogy to a former President, then walked out and got a hip replaced. I don't care who you are, you don't do hip replacement surgery unless you are suffering with the one you have.

Full disclosure - I am a Libertarian and do not have a dog in this silly fight that I see played out day in and day out. That being said, I vote, in any manner I please. Very rarely do I vote Libertarian, as that is just too institutionlized for my taste.

I think the French are great, personally. I just don't think the rest of the world needs to grovel. There is a lot of fine food in the world, tucked away in wonderful corners, and some days Escoffier just doesn't fit the mood and climate.


Edited by annecros (log)

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What are ya drinkin' Old Foodie?

Phew! I couldn't have drunk enough of anything to keep up with that debate - Thank Goodness for our hemispheric time difference which ensured it was all resolved and back to food while I was blissfully sleeping.

Now, over my early morning cuppa I feel obliged to ponder my current favourite theory of the three degrees of separation that separate any particular person and a specific food item.

Adlai Stevenson and rhubarb, perhaps?

Janet


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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