Is French Food Dead or Dying?

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Is French Food Dead or Dying?
I’d like to use this last summer in France to illustrate some lessons about French cuisine. It was prompted by two meals, at the first of which a guy said I was “too tough” on French restaurants and chefs and at the second, he noted I was “too soft.” Huh? The prevailing wind (parodying what Captain Renault said in Casablanca) is not blowing from Vichy but that French cuisine is dead, dying, tired or in need of a “kick in the shins” as one friend put it.  This sentiment stems from the rag Restaurant’s best 100 places and certain American “experts” who think the happening places are now in Catalonia, Napa and Copenhagen, not the hexagon, and everyone here should hold their hands up, surrender and succumb. Well, hold on, are things as bad as Steingarten and Lubow and the jury at Restaurant magazine suggest? Since the year 2010 commenced, and if you’ll allow me a month’s leeway, the following have burst onto the scene: Concert de Cuisine, Frenchie, and the Café Cartouche; need I name more? The two weeks before I conceived of this essay, Colette and I have also had the most interesting farm-to-table vegetables and chicken parts ever; the most interesting meal of small plates accompanied by a “simple” bouillon we’ve ever had. Now neither of these came out of the blue and neither from French-born folks but rather two guys born elsewhere who perfected their trades here. #1 was Asafumi Yamashita, who has been growing stuff for years, first bonsais, then food for Japanese restaurants in Paris and finally three-star veggies for three-star chefs – Pierre Gagnaire, William Ledeuil, Pascal Barbot, Éric Briffard (le Cinq), Laurent Delarbre, (Tour d’Argent), Eiichi Edakuni (Guilo Guilo). And #2 was Daniel Rose, who’s no stranger to the blogosphere or New York Times or world of buzz and word of mouth. In each case, they started as one-man shows: Yamashita with his wife Naomi and child Anna and 6 growing sheds and one 14-body chicken coop and the other with a fashion-student waitress, now of course having expanded to a cast of thousands. And in each case the common elements are simple and simple to see: –          A genius and unprepossessing guy at the helm –          A passion for fresh, good and sometimes little-used components –          An effusive but modest personality –          Verve –          A willingness to change, get feedback and move –          An ability to go it alone because of an impressive IQ, fresh ideas and a sense of what’s right and what will work So, is French cuisine dead or on life support? If you’re as tone deaf as a lot of Frenchfolk who think the likes of Tom Keller or Alice Waters can only turn out hamburgers, fries and hot dogs. If you’re an American who parachutes in once a year and thinks French cuisine is best exemplified by the Costes’ glitz, l’Ami Louis’s tired formula or the Palace Hotel’s barmen’s trendy new cocktails – your points of reference are pretty limited. No, if you dig deeper, look around and smell the flowers you’ll see the likes of Yamashita and Rose who thrive in French soil.   The restos discussed here are : Le Kolo aka La table d’hôte de Naomi et Asafumi Yamashita Chemin des Trois Poiriers – 78130 Chapet (Yvelines) T: 01.30.91.98.75 6-10 courses at lunch = 35 €; at dinner 50 € Chambre d’hôte, 150 € a night for two with dinner and breakfast Spring 6, rue Bailleul in the 1st (Metro: Louvre-Rivoli) T: not connected yet, for reservations: 01.45.96.05.72 Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Wednesday-Saturday Lunch bouillon 38 € (pigeon) and a 6-course dinner menu 64 €.   ©by John Talbott 2010 If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe.
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