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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Les rosbifs sont arrivés!

Delia and Jamie are about to hit bookstores in France. But can they teach the French anything - and will anyone listen?

Stuart Jeffries

Thursday January 10, 2002

'Qu'est-ce que c'est, ce bordel? " says Jean-Marc. Which roughly translates as: "What the bloody **** is that?" He's looking at my copy of Delia Smith's How to Cook from the neighbouring seat as we fly from Stansted. I'm on my way to Paris, where I hope to find out what the French think about the looming British culinary invasion. Does the world's most gastronomically accomplished nation think it has anything to learn from Delia and Jamie - both of whom are shortly to be published in French?

We're barely at cruising altitude, but already this Frenchman sees fit to give me his unsolicited opinion. Jean-Marc Bouvier, a 25-year-old sous-chef at a bistro in the Marais district of Paris, is returning to work after an extended weekend of clubbing in London. He has little time for our Delia - the cookery writer so cherished by the British that the Collins English Dictionary recently decided to ennoble her as a noun. "She is a big nothing, you know," says Jean-Marc. "But I guess for you English she has her uses. You need any help you can get." I resist the urge to punch Jean-Marc repeatedly in his insufferable Gallic mush. "But for us French, we don't need a lesson in how to cook. We can cook. Ours is a nation where we live to eat; in Britain, it is not so clear why you live - to watch Frenchmen play football maybe."

Perhaps. But, in one of those blissful if rare moments in life, I tell Jean-Marc that the French, in fact, are going to get a cookery lesson from Delia. French publishers Hachette will later this month publish a collection of Delia's best under the title La Cuisine Facile d'aujourd'hui: 150 recettes indispensable pour apprendre à cuisiner (Easy cooking for today: 150 essential recipes to help you learn how to cook). Next week, with much éclat, le jeune chef superstar Jamie Oliver is to descend on Paris for the launch of La Cuisine de Jamie. Later in the year, Rick Stein's BBC book of fish recipes will hit French bookshops like a halibut on a fishmonger's slab. There's even talk of Nigella's books getting a French outing.

What does Jean-Marc think of that? For a moment, my French companion is silenced.

"It's absurd," he says, flicking through Delia's ouvrage with a poisson mort expression on his face. "We know how to cook eggs, we know how to make béchamel sauce - we invented the great sauces! We don't need her help. And what is this Welsh Rubbish?" He's teasing. The recipe is actually entitled Welsh Rarebit Jacket Potatoes. Most of Jean-Marc's compatriots share his view that British food is, at best, a joke. They treat it, if at all, as a subject for patronising academic papers. In the Revue Ethnologie Française in 1997, for instance, Sophie Chevalier wrote that British cuisine had been "décapitée" (beheaded) because of the pressures of industrialisation.

Chevalier argued that British cooking now rests on a bizarre paradox - on the one hand a culinary discourse that is extremely prolix and on the other a national cuisine that is very crude. By which she meant that there are too many cookery writers spoiling the British broth. And, eating a foul English-made muffin at 20,000 feet, it seems she has a point.

In France, there are relatively few cookery books but - so the story goes - everybody knows how to cook. Theirs is an oral culture - mothers show their daughters, and quite often their sons, what to do, and they do it better than anybody else. Over a delightful lunchtime dish of raie à la dieppoise and tarte tatin at Le Firmament, a brasserie that briskly services a demanding clientele of hungry office workers in the Rue Quatre Septembre in the second arrondissement, opinion was divided over whether the French need British help. "It's true that things are getting worse," says Alain Miller, a banker, from behind his forlorn moustache. "Yes, we will always rule the world in terms of haute cuisine. But at home, people don't eat well any more. It's the same as what happened in the Anglo-Saxon countries. You work, you don't have time to cook, or live well. It's sad." "It may be sad," says the jovial patron of Le Firmament, "but we don't need lessons from the English. From the Italians, maybe. But not from you north Europeans." Withering glances come my way over the pichets of Chinon.

This shouldn't be a good moment for the British culinary invasion of France. On the rare occasions the French think of what we eat in that benighted, rain-soaked dot north of Calais they think it is probably contaminated by la fièvre aphteuse (foot and mouth disease) or la vache folle (mad cow disease), or at best prepared by people who have barely mastered comment séparer le blanc du jaune (how to separate egg whites from the yolks).

In this context, what does Stephen Bateman, the Englishman who is a director at the renowned French publishing house Hachette, think he is up to? How can he publish Jamie, Delia and Rick in France with a straight face? "I think of myself as rather like Arsene Wenger or Gerard Houllier. Just as they have surrounded themselves with French talent while they are managing football teams in England, so I am surrounding myself with British talent here."

This would be a good analogy if, as in British football, there had been a dearth of local talent that required an influx of foreigners. But Hachette's cookery list already includes a galaxy of Michelin star-spangled titans of gastronomy such as Alain Senderens, Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse, Jacques and Laurent Pourcel and Georges Blanc.

Why, then, does Bateman need a scruffy herbert with a mockney accent and a prim English proselytiser of suburban values to swell his ranks? "Well, first of all, I think you need to appreciate that we're publishing Jamie and Delia for very different reasons. Jamie is a genuine chef, a 26-year-old kid with lots of energy and a fresh approach to cooking. He's really going to appeal to the kids and to young married couples who want to have fun with food. The French aren't used to that: they're used to Reblochon's cooking technique - taking 20 hours to make a sauce. I think he's going to be a great hit here because he stresses simplicity and freshness, which are two culinary virtues the French are discovering."

And the French are discovering: Jamie's TV programmes have been shown on the French cable network Cuisine TV for the past eight months and have established a cult following. His shows are dubbed into lively French yoofspeak, which has been a tricky task, since there is no obvious Gallic equivalent for "pukka".

"Delia is rather different," adds Bateman. "We're not stressing her as a personality, but her book addresses a real problem in France as in Britain: people don't have the cooking skills any more. She offers a sure, safe approach to cooking and the French want that." From a Briton? "Why not? I get a lot of snobbery. The French are very xenophobic and up their own arses about food. But the UK is the biggest producer of cook books by far in the world. We've got a lot to offer, and the French are recognising this."

Up to a point. But the fact that the new editor of that French citadel, the Michelin guide to the best restaurants, is British has been greeted in France with eye-rolling and ironic remarks. "Ils sont partout, les rosbifs!"

This is a theme taken up by one of France's most elegant chefs, Guy Martin, of Le Grand Véfour restaurant, which is lodged among the arcades of the Palais Royal in Paris. We are sitting at a table in one of the most beautiful rooms in the city, bristling with painted allegories under glass, carved boiserie ceilings and fragile Directoire chairs. The restaurant is one of the pillars of French culinary excellence: it dates from 1812, and its celebrated diners have included Napoleon, Victor Hugo, Cocteau, and Colette. The 44-year-old Savoyard head chef now holds the top Michelin ranking of three stars.

What does this titan of French gastronomy think of the British invasion at the heart of his cherished native culture? "C'est formidable, vraiment formidable. Tant mieux pour eux," he says, "et, peut-etre, tant mieux pour nous. [Good for them and, perhaps, good for us.] In France, lots of cookery books have been published from other countries, especially Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. Very few from Britain, and we should be open to them. I am not at all sure about these TV chefs because it's a bit vulgar, but I like the idea of the British, who have no great gastronomic tradition, opening themselves up to foreign influences in a way that we French, for whatever reason, have not. And then making a new cuisine from that. I like the idea that you are not hopeless. I go to London a lot, but, honestly, not for the food. Maybe I need to have my eyes opened."

Martin looks through Delia's book. "What strikes me immediately is not so much the recipes, but the photography is wonderful. And that's important - so you can get a sense of the freshness, of the sensuality of food. It makes you want to cook them. Look at those eggs. Putain! I want to cook them now! But there's nothing especially exciting here; simple, functional, yes, but not art."

This reaction is arguably understandable. There is nothing in Delia's philosophy as elegant as Martin's entrée, cuisses des grenouilles blondes dorées panais et moelle persillade, nothing approaching his parmentier de queue de boeuf aux truffes, not to mention his trademark vegetable desserts such as tourte des artichauts et légumes confit, sorbet aux amandes amères. He leafs through Jamie's book. "Very simple. Very fresh. I think this is very straightforward. Le kedgeree, eh? That's what, an Indian thing? What is this 'baked potatoes'? Ah, yes? We have the same thing here. We call it La Robe de champs. It's important to get the basic, simple cooking right. And he seems to do it.

"I had never heard of these people before you showed me their books. Delia Smith seems as though she could help the housewives. Because that is a huge problem - in France there are two cultures, the town and the country. In the country, say in the villages around Lyon, there is still the tradition of people learning how to cook at home. But in the cities, especially Paris, very few people know what to do. They go to Picard (the French equivalent of Iceland), which is terrible. I think Delia and this naked guy might help with that problem."

274 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
*OFM investigation

Have the French lost their appetite?

The gallic way of lunch is in decline, victim to BSE, American fast food and the changing pace of life. Even the truffle has been declared an endangered species. Stuart Jeffries asks what can be done to save a nation whose cultural identity is symbolised by the knife, fork and spoon
Read recipes by Alain Passard and Paul Bocuse here

Stuart Jeffries

Sunday June 10, 2001

The most striking thing about the restaurant was the toilet. 'You go out through the side door,' said the waiter, handing me a key on a chain threaded through a pig's huge shin bone, 'turn left down the alley, left at the end and it's the door on your right. Don't forget to lock up when you're done.'

So here I was in Lyons, France's gastronomic capital, starting my dining experience with a trip to an outside toilet. As I dried my hands in the courtyard, I looked in through the window of the tiny kitchen. The chef was putting the finishing touches to my main course. 'Smells good,' I offered. The chef came over and leaned on the windowsill. 'I'm afraid it won't have any foot and mouth disease,' he said, detecting an English accent. 'And I can't promise any mad cow disease either. But, otherwise, we'll try to make you feel at home.'

La Mère Jean is one of the small bistros endemic to France's second city called bouchons. The bars are zinc, the benches wooden, tables communal, service friendly and the right elbow of the bloke sitting next to you performs a rhythmic dance on your windpipe as he saws his way through the intestines of his andouillette (tripe) sausage.

You couldn't get much more traditional or less pretentious than this place. I ordered the 83 franc menu, consisting of the ubiquitous salade lyonnaise (frissée leaves with chopped bacon, mustardy dressing, croutons and a poached egg on top), followed by homely, soothing boudins (black puddings) with nicely baked apples (not at all mushy). To follow there was a choice of various cheeses or tarts. We also had un pot lyonnais, a 46 centilitre bottle of local red wine. My partner ordered something else, but to be honest I was too busy enjoying my meal to remember what it was.

In all the yards of column inches devoted to French food - to petulant superchefs, to the blight that is raspberry coulis, whether nouvelle cuisine is better than la cuisine de grande-mère, on which slope in the Haute-Savoie and precisely how high up one should go to gather the moss for mousse de mousse - a very fundamental thing gets lost: you can eat very well and cheaply in France. It's a phenomenon that barely exists in Britain, for all Gordon Ramsay's Michelin stars and Terence Conran's gastrodromes.

And when French people eat cheaply and well, they do so in places like this: small, efficient, smoky, with short menus that are about as adventurous as Arsenal's mid-Nineties back four and just as solid. The best time to come is at lunch when every corner bistro will be competing furiously for trade. The French still like to sit down for lunch, even though they may now eschew the four-course meals of legend.

The typical French lunchtime experience is outlined in Camus's novel L'Etranger. The book's anti-hero, Meursault, may be a man alienated from society, but he incarnates one principle beloved by the French: he has a big lunch with wine and then goes home for a nap before starting work again. How formidably un-British, how civilised. Now French businessmen and women hardly have time for a post-prandial snooze, but still the cry 'A table!' is a national imperative and sitting in a restaurant and eating a solid lunch is still regarded as important.

True, my first sight of Lyonnais eating was herds of young kids walking along pedestrianised streets jamming filled baguettes into their faces - as they do in every French city. But, while le fast food - McDonald's, le chien chaud (hot dog), le pizza quick and the rest exist, they do so on a smaller scale than elsewhere in western Europe. This is because the French care about food more than anywhere else on the continent, with the possible exception of Italy.

The man next to me with the wounding elbow and sliced sausage put down his knife and fork and fixed me with a look. 'Firemen in France eat a lot of tripe,' he said, which in any language is one challenging gambit. 'Do they in Britain?' You know what, strange stranger? I'm afraid I don't know.

But this man - Roland Pechenard, 67, a retired librarian - was soon playing the White Rabbit, luring me like Alice in Wonderland down the holes of his obsessions. If there's anything the French like more than eating, it's talking. So, if you can get a Frenchman talking about eating, it will be hard to make him stop.

What has gone wrong with French food, I asked, thinking of teen street eaters, as well as recent food health scares. 'It's very simple: we have lost our soul. Or, rather, many people have and, without a great effort, I can't see us getting it back. In France, food has been about spiritual things - a connection with le terroir (the region), sitting down with friends and family and eating together, eating and drinking the good things of the earth. But these things are dying. Something called the TV dinner has been invented, you know,' he confided ominously.

And M. Pechenard's view is widely shared in France today, as France seems to collapse into the Anglo-Saxon model of eating - food scoffed on the hoof or in front of the box. For Britons, food has hardly ever been a medium of spiritual communion or creative excellence: even in the sixteenth century, according to Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography, fast food was popular, with walkers strolling along eating roasted larks before throwing the bones in the street.

France, with a more profound and long-lasting rural tradition, is different. It has had a recurring desire to express its national identity through cooking and eating well, and - more than anything else - a culinary heritage that has for centuries commanded international respect rather than derision for its cuisine. But now it is agonising over its food in a way unimaginable in Britain.

The apparent drift towards fast food may be bad enough, but a spate of food recent health scares in France have provoked what commentators call a national psychose. France has been battered recently by revelations about mad cows, oysters contaminated as a result of oil spills off the Brittany coast, chickens tainted with dioxins, calves fed on sewage, foie gras and sausages infected with listeria, pigs and sheep contaminated with foot and mouth disease. No wonder Le Monde asked recently whether anything was safe on the French plate any more. But it was the vache folle (mad cow disease) outbreak in November last year that drove France to distraction - a very different reaction compared to Britain. In France it was not just health, but a nation's very identity at stake. Thanks to exports of contaminated animal feeds from France's British chums, it was no longer safe to eat steak tartare, faux filet, boeuf bourgignon - those very staples of French cuisine. Beef sales fell by nearly 50 per cent, and opportunistic ostrich breeders cleaned up.

But the biggest blow came just before Christmas, when one of the demi-gods of French cuisine, Alain Passard, announced he was going to serve only vegetarian food at his Paris restaurant. This was too much for many French to stomach. Vegetarianism was an Anglo-Saxon vice, wasn't it? French cuisine was irredeemably meaty, wasn't it? Who can forget burly Frenchman Gérard Dépardieu in the film telling waif-like New Yorker Andie MacDowell that her vegetarian diet was 'bird food'? Certainly not barrel-stomached French people.

Could it be true? Could French food be in such dire straits that a three-star Michelin chef was going to serve bird food at his £100-a-head L'Arpège restaurant in Paris's snooty seventh arrondissement?

Of course, it wasn't as simple as that. Passard, 44, like many other French chefs, was concerned by 'the turn our food is taking'.

'I can no longer stand the idea that we humans have turned herbivore ruminants into carnivores,' he said. 'Personally, it is many years since I have eaten meat,' he says.

Like fellow three-star chef Guy Martin of of Grand Véfour, in Palais Royal, central Paris, he withdrew beef from his menus as a result of BSE fears. 'Even if the risk is only one in a million, we do not have the right to make our customers run it,' said Martin.

And Passard was also worried about the riskiness of seafood. 'I won't put fish or shellfish on my menu in the future,' he said. 'I don't want to be constrained by what's on my menu to have to offer lobster from Rungis [the central French food wholesale market outside Paris]. If you had seen some of the stuff on sale there, you'd understand.'

But Passard's decision to go vegetarian is motivated more by aesthetic than health concerns. He claims that he is like a painter who has expressed himself fully in oils and now wants to find fresh inspiration by using watercolours. 'I can't get excited about a lump of barbecue meat,' he says. Vegetables are so much more colourful, more perfumed. You can play with the harmony of colours, everything is luminous.

'And it has been some time since I have been able to find any culinary inspiration in animal products. I want to become the first three-star chef to use only vegetables, a driving force in the field of vegetable and flower cuisine.'

But if Passard's defection to the ranks of the herbivores was distressing for traditionalist gourmands, worse was to come earlier this year. The most delicate, expensive, treasured truffle on earth, known as the black diamond, was disappearing, according to breathless news reports that swept France. At the turn of the century, around 1,000 tonnes of the pungent delicacy were harvested annually, mainly in the southwest of France. This year, because of climate change, just 25 tonnes are expected to be sniffed out from the soil around oak trees where they grow. 6

In response, Jean Glavany, France's agriculture minister, signed a truffle convention with the Federation Française des Trufficulteurs (Truffle Producers' Federation).

The signatories pledged to carry out truffle research and encourage truffle development as part of a seven-year truffle plan. Only in France.

A febrile statement from the agriculture ministry said the truffle was an integral part of French national culture and must be protected. La gloire de la belle France, not to put to fine a point on it, was at stake.

Beef, foie gras, pork, lamb, shellfish, truffles - soon, cynical voices muttered, even the great Gallic escargot would be unsafe to eat. It has been a distressing time for the French. But, in the midst of this national psychose, one man has stood firm. A very French man. He has the moustache of the Gallic cartoon hero Asterix, the pipe of a bucolic peasant, a sheep farm deep in the French countryside, and - most importantly of all - a critique of the impact of industrialised agriculture and soulless Anglo-Saxon food on French cuisine at his very fingertips.

His name? Jose Bové. The anti-globalisation campaigner and co-founder of the radical small farmers' union the Confederation Paysanne, captured the imagination of the French people from all political persuasions with a cunning blend of radical politics and nostalgic mythologising of France - and also with a media-savvy manner that made him the envy of many a politician.

Bové, 48, became a national icon two years ago for destroying a McDonald's restaurant in Millau in southwestern France not far from the farm on the Larzac plateau where he makes Roquefort cheese from his sheep's milk.

Bové said that he and some like-minded friends had laid waste to their local McDonald's because it sold 'la malbouffe americaine' - or crap American food. Since then he and some fellow paysannes have destroyed a field of genetically modified crops in the Camargue in southern France on the same grounds. He has been convicted for both offences, but still his symbolic acts garnered great popular support. Here was someone who was prepared to wave two fingers at those American barbarians who were filling French kids with burgers.

What offended Bové and his friends was what upset my dinner companion: the soullessness of le fast food, the rootlessness of a food industry that doesn't have its feet sunk deep in le terroir. 'For 20 years now, we've been fighting for a peasant, non-polluting agriculture,' Bové says. 'Today, for the first time, there's a national consensus about bad food. People realise we need a different international logic than the economic, social and environmental dumping of modern agriculture.'

Bové's words spoke to what remained of the Gallic soul, to a people who, in their minds at least, have never really left the soil (even though they may live in Parisian apartments without a blade of grass for a mile in any direction). His message made him a national symbol in France. Not for nothing has this media star not given up his Asterix moustache and peasant's pipe - he is trying to communicate a vision of an older, better way of living than the McMorning special. Yes, living: in other countries they eat to live; in France, so Bové's seductive message has it, we live to eat.

His is a France of wonderful cheeses, thumping great red wines and starry skies seen from rolling fields, and every French person (and lots of British people too) wants to live in that kind of country. Especially if you're a Parisian commuter living out the soul-destroying 'Métro, boulot, dodo' (Tube, job, sleep) lifestyle.

'We have remained a culture where the time spent at the table is not just for consuming food,' says Bové. 'It's a social and family moment. There is a frightening statistic from America that the average time a family sits at the table is six minutes. That hasn't happened here yet.'

It hasn't - quite. But as France becomes more like everywhere else, so the time spent à table has fallen. This isn't entirely due to globalisation, but rather due to urbanisation: in cities, work and travel demands militate against long, leisurely meals.

But there's another reason why the French are less often to be found à table than they were. In the Fifties and Sixties, there was a reaction against the deadening weight of the French domestic gastronomic tradition. In those decades, French children rebelled against their parents, and women in particular rebelled against being chained to the kitchen.

Then France was a notorious as a nation of over-eaters: every time the French sat down for a meal, there would be three or even four courses, and the grand bouffe at lunchtime was usually followed by a solid meal in the evening. By the time he was 50, your average, stocky, overfed, overwatered Frenchman would have had a crise de foie (liver problems) and boast the portly frame of Napoleon without a corset.

In his book France in the New Century, John Ardagh suggests that this tradition lasted as long as it did because: 'The Frenchman clung to good eating partly as a compensation and a constant in a shifting world: it did not turn sour and betray him as so much else did.'

A typical French dish during the Fifties and Sixties might be something like timbale des homards, served at the top Parisian restaurant Lucas Carton. Here's the recipe. First, catch three lobsters. Season them with salt, pepper and curry. Sauté them in mirepoix - chopped onions and carrots - and then simmer with cognac, port, double cream and fish stock for 20 minutes. Next, take out the lobsters, keep them warm and reduce the cooking liquid. Add two egg yolks and 150 grams of sweet butter. To finish, phone the emergency services and ask if there's a mobile cardiac unit in the neighbourhood. Tell them to come quickly, it's urgent. Something had to happen to change this unhealthy regime. And two things did. First, young French people at the time expressed less of an interest in cooking. There were fewer servants, women worked more and, anyway, who wanted to eat six courses a day? Health-conscious eating became more popular, as did fast food.

Second, there was a gastronomic coup d'état in France at the start of the Seventies. It was called nouvelle cuisine, and was the first French gastronomic revolution since Escoffier in the nineteenth century. Auguste Escoffier invented the French haute cuisine and extolled its virtues throughout Europe. But what did it consist of? The New Yorker's former Paris correspondent, Adam Gopnik, in his new book Paris to the Moon, explains Escoffier's culinary principles thus: 'Take something; do something to it; then do something else to it. It was cooking that rested, above all, on the idea of the master sauce. A lump of protein was cooked in a pan, and what was left in the pan was "deglazed" with wine or stock, ornamented with butter or cream, and then poured back over the protein.'

Escoffier's invention was an appropriation of what French peasant women had been doing for centuries. The legendary peasant woman kept a pot-au-feu or bouillon pot on her hearth and, myth has it, threw into it whatever she had around to stew for the day's meal. Escoffier was just a poncy version of that.

Nouvelle cuisine ditched these sacred principles. Nowadays, true, nouvelle cuisine has been made ridiculous, signifying small portions on big plates, inevitably involving raspberry coulis and fanned kiwi fruit. At the time, though, nouvelle cuisine was a breath of fresh air. Almost simultaneously in the early Seventies, three Parisian chefs - Michel Guérard, Paul Bocuse, and Alain Senderens - ditched the derided 'do-something-to-it-then-do-something-else-to-it' basis of classic cooking and started to emphasise fresh ingredients, to welcome oriental ingredients and techniques and to prize lightness. 'Gastronomy,' said Bocuse, 'like any other art cannot stand still, it must renew itself.'

The new boss at the Lucas Carton in the early Seventies, Alain Senderens, took timbale des homards off the menu and offered such dishes as cooked oysters and leeks with foie gras served with cabbage or apple. No longer could the shortcomings of a meal be disguised with sauces: nouvelle cuisine required wonderfully fresh ingredients and a great deal of culinary skill. The cardiac paramedics didn't have to be on standby any more.

What's more, nouvelle cuisine didn't turn its back on French tradition; rather it renewed it. It had two rhetorics, according to Gopnik: 'The rhetoric of the terroirs emphasised the allegiance of new cooking to French soil; the rhetoric of spices emphasised its openness to the world beyond the hexagon.'

Thirty years on and French people still eat better than their British counterparts, for all the perceived complacency of French restaurants and the extraordinary failure of Gallic cuisine at all but the most elevated levels to embrace that of France's former colonies. (Couscous is massively popular in France, as much as chicken tikka massala in Britain, but Algerian techniques have hardly dented insular French cooking.) They eat frozen food, yes, but less than their British counterparts. The country's thriving street markets show that the French care more about eating fresh food than their neighbours across the Channel. Look at a street map of any large French city: dotted everywhere are little baskets signifying markets, and these remain the places to go for fresh food, interesting cheeses and extremely satisfying sausages.

Along the river Saone in Lyons on a grey Tuesday morning, such a street market was in full swing, with all the chatting, sniffing and nibbling on sample bits of cheese that that implies. The young Algerians who ran a fruit stall had the rambunctious patter that goes on in Walthamstow market, but unlike their E17 counterparts, they had something worth shouting about: they had seven different kinds of orange on offer.

'We're always going to do well in France,' said Omar Groas. 'Fresh food is prized. People take a pride in buying good, fresh ingredients and simple food. You have to put up with the arguments - shoppers get very angry if the produce isn't up to scratch and tell you so, but you have to respect that attitude.

'And I'll tell you something else. The way things are going with all these meat crises - mad cows, mad pigs and all the rest - us fruit and veg sellers are in the right line of work.'

This is heartening, but still more pleasing is the fact that France is undergoing a gentle counter-revolution in its food. Dotted around Paris at the moment are several so-called boutique restaurants which serve food and drink all from the particular French terroirs. They're the sort of places that Jose Bové would approve of, since they fight back against globalisation, against fast food, and against stressed people who won't sit down for an hour to enjoy a good meal.

My favourite restaurant in Paris just now is one of these boutique restaurants, called Le Domaine de Lintillac in the Rue Saint-Augustin. It also has branches in Lille, Brussels and Liège. Everything that you can eat or drink here is from the same little terroir - the gutsy Cahors wine, the tender magret de canard with pommes sarladaises, even our old friends the boudins aux chagaines. The lights are dim, the tables full, and the talk of the Périgourdine waiters concerns either food or rugby - those twin traditions of south western France.

Each table is equipped with a toaster so you can make your own toast on which you can spread five types of foie gras and five types of pâtés all prepared by a commune in the southwest of France. Perhaps it's not Alain Passard's kind of restaurant then, and not one that is especially adventurous, but it's a place where French cuisine is trying to hold on to its soul before it loses it completely.

According to Jean Guillot, a self-styled artisan-farmer, who runs the operation from the south-west of France: 'We have a passion for our Périgourdine cuisine. Le Domaine de Lintillac consists of some farmers and gaveurs [which probably translates best as force-feeders] of geese and ducks, an abattoir, an artisanal conserverie where the foie gras is prepared, where confits de canard and the cassoulets are made. It's a simple cuisine whose secret is the quality of raw materials we work with.' Le Domaine de Lintillac's slogan is 'De la basse-coeur à votre assiette. Aucun intermediare.' (Roughly: 'From the farmyard to your plate - no intermediaries.')

This is the Bové myth incarnate: a non-polluting small-scale agriculture with a deep commitment to the mystique of la France profonde, supplying the good things of the earth to the table. France has always indulged in this national self-mythologising - the terroir, for winemakers as for culinary artisans such as Jean Guillot, is the heart and soul of France. But myths influence reality: these terroir-based restaurants pack in a young clientele hungry for food that nourishes their Gallic self-image.

Over coffee in La Mère Jean in Lyons, I told M. Pechenard about Le Domaine de Lintillac. 'That's how it should be,' he said with a Gallic shrug. 'And there are a few places that do what they should. It's as though the sky overhead is darker but there are a few bright spots. All I hope is that the spots don't go out.'

274 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Alain Passard and Paul Bocuse's recipes

Read 'Have the French lost their appetite?' here

Sunday June 10, 2001
The Observer

Alain Passard's Strawberries infused with hibiscus leaves

Serves 4

400g strawberries
zest of an orange
zest of a lemon
1/2 a vanilla pod
3 peppercorns
150g of sugar
1 litre of water
80g hibiscus flowers

In a heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to the boil. Add the orange and lemon zests, as well as the pepper and the vanilla. Let it boil until you get a syrup. Take off heat, add the hibiscus flowers, then return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to the boil again. Allow to cool in the fridge.

Wash the strawberries remove the stalks and hull, then cut them into pieces and place in bowls. Pour the hibiscus syrup through a conical strainer, soaking the strawberries. Serve.

Alain Passard, 44, whose £100 a head Arpège restaurant in Paris's seventh arrondissement was awarded the Michelin guide's ultimate accolade in 1996, said he was concerned by 'the turn our food is taking' and would devote his menu to vegetables, with the odd bit of poultry, from this spring. There is still the odd meat dish on the menu, and the Guardian's Matthew Fort only saw fit to give the restaurant 15/20 on a recent visit. Find more recipes by Alain Passard at

Paul Bocuse's vichyssoise

Serves six

1 kg leeks
500g potatoes (bintje)
80 g of butter
2 litres of water
30 centilitres single cream
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of parsley
10 sprigs of chives
salt, pepper

Peel the leeks, wash them carefully, only keeping the white parts. Peel the potatoes, wash them, cut them into large cubes. Slice the white parts of the leeks thinly. Melt the butter in a large casserole and add to it the sliced leeks, let them soften under a gentle hear without letting them change colour. Add the potatoes and mix well. Pour in the water, add salt, pepper, parsley and thyme. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 35 minutes. Drain the leeks and potatoes. Remove the parsley and the thyme. Keep a little of the cooking water.

Put the vegetables in a mixing bowl and reduce them to a purée. Pour the purée back into the casserole with a ladle of cooking water and the cream. Cook under a medium heat, bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Let the purée cool before putting into a fridge for two hours. Just before serving, check the seasoning. Pour the vichyssoise into bowls and sprinkle with chopped chives.

Paul Bocuse, 74, was one of the great nouvelle cuisine revolutionaries. Now he's an old-style emperor of Gallic cuisine, and runs the Michelin three star restaurant Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, a luxurious place with flamboyant decor just north of Lyon. For more recipes by and information about Paul Bocuse go to
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