Today I’m lamenting the pervasiveness of Nouvelle Cuisine in France, that artsy and architectural style of eating spread around the globe by the French, back when they were still in an inventive mood.
Nouvelle Cuisine was a revolution that changed the food world. It was creative and wonderful. It still has its place. But Nouvelle Cuisine became fashionable in the 60’s and 70’s, and the world keeps turning. With the exception of fancy, formal, expensive restaurants, the food world has moved on to more honest, straightforward food presentation, styling, portions, and cooking.
Except in France. Where Nouvelle and Haute Cuisine have now invaded those bastions of simple, French comfort food: the brasserie and bistro.
We don’t generally eat in starred restaurants, where Nouvelle Cuisine is more pervasive, and more appropriate.Mostly we hit the brasseries, cafés, and country restaurants. But lately even at these places, we now get food that is gussied up beyond recognition. My defining moment lately came when we ate at a cute local place, which calls itself a ‘café'. Someone ordered roast chicken. For me in France that conjures up a big fat crusty cuisse, skin golden brown, with an exuberant scoop of pommes dauphinoise, layers of potatoes with the cream oozing out all round. Doesn’t get any better than that.
What arrived instead: a tiny, shriveled skinless and boneless thing, a thin coat of sauce clinging to it, naked on a plate except for a dramatic swath of orange worthy of a modern artist (executed with pureed carrot jus), and one perfect violet pansy. Photo right, another example of a fashion-forward poulet. Merci, non.
Frenchman André Gayot rightly praises the the invention of French Nouvelle Cuisine, but he also says: “It would not be honest to eschew the exaggerations, abuses, and mistakes committed in good or bad faith in the name of Nouvelle Cuisine. In some establishments, the size of portions diminished in inverse proportion to that of the plate; the cooking time was reduced to zero; originality induced extravagance; some combinations were ridiculous”. Photo left: it's pretty, but does it tickle your tastebuds?
So I was thrilled to read in the New York Times that a well-known French chef (American born) named Daniel Rose, who has a reputation for shaking up the Paris food scene, has opened a new bistro in Paris which addresses this very problem. Called La Bourse et La Vie, Rose “applies his experience and skilled precision to the most comforting of French dishes: pot au feu, artichoke salad with foie gras, whole roasted chickens and steak-frites.” Rose says, “We’re doing a lot of the fundamental dishes that we learned about in cooking school but didn’t think were very interesting at the time,” Rose explains. “The reality is, these are the traditional recipes that many people travel to Paris for but which have become harder to find — or at least, hard to find executed with any care.” Photo right: digging in to a hearty Bresse chicken dish, anything but Nouvelle.
All the best to you, Monsieur Rose—-and let’s hope your new bistro shakes some sense into the French food scene!
In the COMMENTS: So many interesting comments from other expats who have made friends in France in various ways, don't miss them. And those of you who are curious about the healthcare system in France may want to read Mariella's comment.
FAVORITE READS: For you writers out there, or wannabe writers: does everyone know about NaNoWriMo? It's a quirky thing called National Novel Writing Month. The deal is, you write a novel, or any sort of book, in ONE MONTH (always November), along with a zillion other people as a support group. You "write with abandon", as they put it. Friends do it, families do it, sometimes even classrooms do it. It's a sort of marathon for those who like writing, even if you never publish your book. NPR did a great interview on All Things Considered with the founders. Some writers started it on a lark and it took off to become the largest writing event in the world.
Readers Carolyn & Ken Thompson launched a France-focused travel business in 2013, Your Key to Burgundy. It has been successful and they are launching a new website. Check it out if you're planning a trip to France.
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