Wednesday, February 24, 2010


As an American living in Paris one question I seem to be asked relatively often, by French and non-French alike, is "oh, France, don't you love the food?" or "Isn't the food amazing?" To which, perhaps being a bit of a rebel inside but also not able to be dismissive and flattering, reply something like, yeah; it is ok-cheese, butter, magret de canard are great, but what about diversity? And then I go into a tirade about how Asian food has been bastardized here and how shameful that sushi restaurants put cheese on their menus in what must be a way to ease French culinary anxiety. My point being that yes, French appreciation for good, slow food is wonderful but it is too insular and living in this city after New York seems sleepy food-wise.

In the weekend Financial Times Arts & Leisure section was an article titled "Ripe for Revolution," about the Omnivore festival in Deauville this weekend, and it's founder, Luc Dubanchet, who started the monthly magazine of the same name with the goal of trying to shake up the French food world which he found boring, stuffy and complacent. The author of the article, Mike Steinberger, has written a book titled, "Au Revoir to all that:Food, Wine, and the End of France," (yikes!). Apparently I am not alone in my sentiments and it was fun to read about Dubanchet's horror for Michelin stars and Sarkozy's petition to place French cuisine as a UNESCO cultural treasure. As art, music and dance keep up with changing times, shouldn't food? Spain being the most oft cited having led the first decade of the 21st century in food.

Dubanchet says that it is time for his French compatriots to see that food is a global phenomenon and who cares about being number one. No doubt French chefs have talent and it would be fun to be at the festival this weekend to see the incredible offerings and perhaps it will lead to some revolutionary (we know the French love revolution), ideas in the kitchen.


expat said...

As a lover of la cuisine française your hope makes me apprehensive. The last great revolution was Nouvelle cuisine, as you may recall. Plates that looked like works of art -- half the food for twice the money.

Anonymous said...

French cuisine is the most over-rated food in the world. Yes, they do some things GREAT but the rest is often close to inedible. While living here the thing I miss most is decent, fresh and diverse food. I take any chance I get to travel to another country to get some decent food (London is a life saver). And yes, what they have done to Asian food here is an abomination. But hey, if you like carbs and fats this is heaven (seriously, the bread, pastries, cakes and cheese are the best, thanks for those extra 3 kg France!).

expat said...

Anon: If you have time, scan this mini-treatise on French regional cuisine.

I think that should take care of your complaint about diversity. Freshness is a matter of diligence, I think. Fresh food is certainly available but some householders and a few restaurant chefs might prefer the convenience of the congelateur. I truly doubt that you could demonstrate better freshness in London cuisine.

That leaves your wish for "decent" food. Personally, I find a boeuf bourguignon in Auxerre, a quenelles de brochet in Lyon, or a plateau de coquillages in Bouzigues more than merely decent. But that's just me, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Hi Expat,

I don't need to read an article on French regional cuisine; I LIVE in regional France and eat its cuisine every day.

I absolutely agree with your last paragraph, however, all those finer dinning dishes don't do me much good when I am searching for something decent to have for lunch everyday that isn't a baguette or a toasted sandwich or pizza that was made 5 hours earlier and has been sitting in the store display.

There are some very nice restaurants around that do hearty regional French food. But I don't judge a country's/city's food by its best restaurants, rather by the food you eat day to day and the content of their fruit and vegetable shops.

I am demonstrating my belief in the superiority of food in London (I'm not talking about traditional English cuisine, simply freshness, variety and quality) by going there next weekend for a food and drink break. I can't wait!

Special shout out to Bouzigues huitres... best I've ever tasted, and cheap!

pilar chapin said...

Thanks for your comments. I had a feeling that there would be strong reactions to this subject--and perhaps we can all agree that for whatever reasons the subject of French food causes very strong opinions either way--whereas most other cuisines do not...So, at least the dialogue is passionate and that makes for good reading and eating!

Adam said...

I happen to agree somewhat with your sentiments, but there does seem to be a rather large contradiction in the post. French cuisine is criticised for not having evolved with new cultural influences, but then you also criticise the French for adapting Asian cooking to suit their tastes.

So what is your opinion? Should food stay 'authentic' and not adapt (like Asian food), or should it be something that should evolve and take on new influences?

pilar chapin said...

Hmm, I see your point with that contradiction and will look at brochettes fromage in a different light now, but I think where I was trying to go with that statement is that on the one hand it would be great in a world capital city that the diversity of other cultures should be more present (food wise) whether in their own restaurants or in French run restaurants-(not specifically fusion, which has its own bad connotations), but also, as these guys in the article were saying, lets move away a bit from the old guard critique of food/ambiance and shake things up a bit-- chateaubriand being a good example, in my opinion. I just spent a few days in Dublin and had some of the best meals I have eaten in awhile--it was a great surprise..

Daniel said...


I don't think you can compare new-york with paris. New-york is probably the most world city the most cosmopolitan one in the world so there must be all the diversity.

Yet, maybe you didn't go to the right restaurant. Go for japanese restaurant in rue Sainte Anne in paris. Go for real chinese restaurant in the paris chinatown if you want untouched diversity.

Diversity is also a point of view. Europeans can feel that asian food lack diversity because they eat rice at every meal.

In france we say "tout est bon dans le cochon" all is good in pig. So with all the parts of the pig, there is a lot of diversity and on the other hand it's still pig.

I agree with Adam you are contradictory. You argue against french people trying to protect the purity of their cuisine, and argue against asian people adapting their cuisine to France.

Anonymous said...

oh come on... here we go again with the NYC expat in Paris...
Go out!!! step out of the 6th arrdt you'll see that we have vietnamese, african, lebanese, syrian, etc etc restaurants all over the capital!!

And what about philadelphia cheese on sushi !! I've seen that many times in the States.

pilar chapin said...

Ha! As much as I like making the occasional generic stereotypes myself, to this last comment I must respond/defend by saying you are totally off base and if you read both my responses to other relevant comments if not my blog I guess you would see where in fact I am coming from. In any event; I don't think Paris is so precious she can't take a few licks once in a while and my small time opinion was generated from an english journalist about french critics, so tho I am yes, a former NYC resident and my comparisons were perhaps rash between the two cities, this dialogue is not coming from nowhere. Please don't take it personally.

Syd said...

I am from Sydney, Australia. While it is a big city I don't think it can compare to New York and Paris. The food there is infinitely better than in Paris (and the rest of France). This isn't about New York being better, but about how French food does not match the quality and authentic diversity of foods in other big cities, despite the over-blown reputation.

Aralena said...

It never ceases to amaze me how people get so defensive about Paris, France, and/or anything related to either.

I completely get where you're coming from on the frustration with complacency on the part of the French denizens of their national cuisine. I'm from California, and from San Francisco to Los Angeles, creativity and freshness is the name of the game, whether you're talking Mexican, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, or - gasp! - even French! But you can also quite easily find a restaurant that keeps it authentic, and not watered down so that the non-initiated can handle it.

Perhaps because the notion of an "American" cuisine is so vague, we've taken the opportunity to have fun with what other cultures have cemented. It could even be an analogy for our differing immigration policy: France demands assimilation, US more of an integration. Or, "you don't have to leave your headscarf at the door."

There is no contradiction in wanting to see creativity in French cuisine without unpalatable adulteration of others. Cheese in a Bento box is disgusting.

(wow, what a rant!)

Anonymous said...

hey, if you dont like it, then dont stay. if you like moaning all the time, then stay. but dont inflict it on the rest of us.