The Demise of French Cooking

The Demise of French Cooking

The Demise of French Cooking

When I was taught to cook professionally I learned classical French cuisine. 

Sous Vide” was a method of cooking that didn't require a machine like it does today and the French, who thought that English cooking was stodgy and tasteless, were the benchmark. “Escoffier” wrote the book, the Roux brothers were at the top of the game and everyone wanted to be the next Raymond Blanc.
We all wanted to cook like the French.


I was, and still am, proud to have been taught in this traditional way; the old school way, the correct way with no cowboy habits, you got to learn those later “in industry”. It wasn't an easy industry to be a trainee in, and anyone who has read “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain will attest to that. A lot of today’s best chefs have come from the very same background.


It was good then but today the food industry is an even more exciting place to be. So, why then, the demise in French cooking? 

There are tons of talented chefs from all nationalities and the culinary world has moved on to new heights. Fads, trends and diets of the past are gone and cuisine is at a new level. Today’s food is fun, attractive, inventive and downright tasty; well mostly anyway. Chefs are proud to be associated with this revived industry and many are finally being well paid for it.


One thing that hasn't changed after all this time is the French attitude to food and the overall feeling they are the cat’s ass when it comes to the kitchen. They still think English food is tasteless and that Brits can’t cook and I am often responded to with a shrug and a smirk (that means “you can’t cook”) when I tell a French person I’m a chef. That slightly irks me, so I play the Sommelier card, and that shuts them up!


You can still find French restaurants with classically trained chefs serving traditional cuisine but it’s fair to say that in most cities and towns in France the quality of the food is, to say the least, average. 
It pains me to say that, living in France and being a chef, and I am generalising from my experiences but unless you are lucky enough to find a good restaurant your dining experience is often average.

More times than I can mention I have been served a sauce that came from a carton, a pre-packaged frozen dessert or a sub-standard scraggy piece of meat, at an inflated price of course.


I must point out that I don’t live in the culinary capitol of France but still, come on people it’s killing me. You can’t kid a kidder and I know a pre-made sauce when I taste one!
They’ll swear blind that they made it from scratch and the other day I had some duck confit in a restaurant that tasted exactly like it came out of a tin. When I asked the waiter if it was home made he made a point of telling me, with much arm waving and passionate facial expressions, exactly how much time it took to prepare and cook. “Yeah” I thought “open the can and shove it in the oven, 10 minutes.” 

The Demise of French Cooking


In almost every market and supermarket in France you can find an array of misshapen, colourful and wonderfully alluring produce which when cooked provides everything you thought it would. Pre-packaged food is a minority and microwave dishes are a new thing.


So it’s a shame that with all the beautiful fresh produce out there many businesses don’t seem to find the time to use it. 
I understand that times are tough but it still shouldn't be an excuse for serving up crap dishes for big money. 


Last week we were invited over to a French neighbours house for dinner. We had a wonderful evening with beautiful fresh food cooked perfectly. We had Duck breast with a Roquefort sauce, Lyonnaise potatoes and tinned vegetables. 
Yep, you got it, tinned veg! I couldn't figure it out, why tinned freaking veg? 


The markets right now are adorned with root veg of all kinds and of course in France there’s lettuce all year round that actually tastes of something, so why tinned? I couldn't ask. 
It’s taken 4 years to get an invite and asking about the soggy veg would bar me for life. I couldn't mention the instant coffee at the end either.


It’s not the first time that’s happened, the tinned veg thing. It’s happened more than a few times and I still can’t figure it out. I thought the French were all mange tout and haricot verts but something is seriously amiss in the veg department and it isn't just limited to the restaurant trade. It seems that this is a countrywide phenomenon that was carefully hidden from me when I first started out. 


There is a plethora of choice in the UK right now food-wise, and because eating out is popular, the quality is excellent. The reported stodgy, tasteless English food has gone, traditional dishes have been revived and are oozing with freshness and flavour at a cost that won’t see you bankrupt.


In Europe, Spain has amazing food and I’ve never eaten just an average meal there (I can only vouch for the northern parts lately). In Italy last month I ate incredible dishes at equally incredibly low prices and was never dissatisfied with the quality.

The Demise of French Cooking


So what is it with the French? Have they lost their nerve against the big boys, are they resting on their “our food is great so why change it” laurels or is it the shorter work-week making them too lazy to peel fresh veg?


I go out of my way to get fresh ingredients and serve fresh vegetables at every meal to my guests. The only rule I have is that if I can’t make it better and cheaper than I can buy it, I don’t. For example, the local tart, Gateau Basque, it’s fantastic but I can’t make it better or cheaper than the local Boulangerie so I buy it. It tastes great and it’s not out of a tin.


Perhaps French chefs of today aren’t as talented as the “old guard” once were.
Possibly, but there are many factors compounding the quality issue in France, along with the national stubbornness to accept change.


Unfortunately, for the most part, some of the answer lies out of the food industry and with the government. The financial price restaurant owners have to pay in regular and employment taxes is horrendous and one of the first things that goes out of the window because of this is training and expensive (read “good”) staff. 
In these businesses profit margins are so slim that they would simply fold without shortcuts that, unfortunately, has led to diminished quality. 


There are lots of very talented and willing chefs in France, which is a tragedy in a nation so passionate about food and with such culinary history.


So, I used to want to cook like the French but now I’m not so sure, it may be a thing of the past. I think a lot of countries out cook France and they need to get back in the culinary seat. 


French Cooking….Really?

Drink This: 

Brandy - This is still great and you can always cook with it.....from time to time!

French Brandy

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