On the first day of autumn and throughout the upcoming week-end, 3000 events will take place in France to celebrate French cuisine for theFete de la Gastronomie!
French people love to eat and they eat very well. Why else would every region in France have its own cuisine based on local products, and the best ones at that?
Gastronomy is an important part of our French culture, our history and our society. This is probably one of the reasons why French cuisine, thanks to its traditional meals, was declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2010. It’s now officially amongst humanity’s most cherished cultural treasures alongside Peking opera, Spanish flamenco dancing, Italian treasures and, let’s not forget, our own 35 other monuments and sites…..
In fact, cuisine, or gastronomy, in France is ultimately about honour and passion.
Have you heard about François Vatel? He was the great organiser of marvelous banquets under the reign of Louis XIV and he committed suicide in 1671 during a reception because the fish delivery was late. Pretty drastic, but that’s how important it was! Since then, French cuisine has gone through a great evolution.
During the French Revolution of 1789, Nobility had to flee the country, leaving their cooking chefs jobless. So they opened restaurants which drew great success.
In the following century, an important gastronomic literature appeared and was circulated throughout the world. French cooks were recognised as being some of the best and other chefs flocked to see and learn from them.
The French culinary traditions reached their peak at the end of the 18th century with Antonin Carême, the ‘King of the cooks’. His tiered cake pastry had become a staple of any cuisine.
But at the beginning of the 20th century ‘The Emperor of the cooks’, as Guillaume II from Germany called him, was Auguste Escoffier. He was the chef of some of the famous hotels such as The Savoy and The Carlton in London, or The Ritz in Paris and New York. He modernised and codified Antonin Careme’s cuisine and developed the concept of brigade which established the assignment of the kitchen tasks.
In 1973, a new culinary movement emerged: La Nouvelle Cuisine.
Henri Gault and Christian Millau were the first to use this expression which caught the attention of the chefs who wanted to use new culinary methods. This new cuisine was more inventive and somewhat lighter. The methods completely changed and a new range of dishes appeared.
The Michelin Starred Chef Raymond Olivier presented a television programme for 14 years which contributed to the propagation of the ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ across France but it is Paul Bocuse, who was designated as the Cook of the Century, who was the first to make its influence cross French borders. Have you noticed that each century in France has its own emblematic cook?
This new cuisine has seen some controversy because it was considered by some people as a betrayal of Auguste Escoffier’s cuisine. Paul Bocuse affirms that it’s actually a true return to his values, and it is also said that Bocuse presented the latest generation of French chefs as cooks of “the new cuisine”!
So is “new cuisine” here to stay or have the young chefs given us something different?
Throughout the years, gastronomy has become more accessible to women. Hélène Darroze is a perfect example of that. She started with the ambition of becoming a hotel manager but she was noticed by Alain Ducasse in Monte-Carlo who told her that the cooking world had a place for her. And that’s what she did. She is today extremely successful, especially in the UK.
It can also be said that the UK is a great place for French chefs like Raymond Blanc, Pascal Aussignac, Michel Roux Jr, Joël Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, Daniel Boulud, Bruno Loubet, the latest one being Olivier Dabbous, without forgetting French Cuisines’ influence on British chefs. I can tell you that I recognise a lot of my family recipes in Jamie Oliver’s TV programmes! Thanks Jamie (but I don’t agree about the 30mn timing!)
But, don’t worry. France is also listening to and learning from foreign movements such as Heston Blumenthal’s cuisine moleculaire! Certainly posh, but not exactly ready to go as a daily meal option ….Remember, everything is based on the products – the best products only from each region – and the secrets tricks from each family.
I have a dear friend who is the editor of a food magazine and tries to convince me that English food is all about discovery, Spanish more about originality… OK, OK, not too bad. El Bulli, Noma, The Fat Duck may not be in France, but let’s not forget that no country has as many Michelin starred chefs as us, and our strength is based both on tradition and innovation!
So are you convinced? Do you have any addresses of auberges, bistrots to recommend? What about your experiences? Please let us know, and if you tried the recipes we posted on our blog these last few weeks, how did you enjoy them?