What’s the Matter with French Chefs?

In 2003, August 10th, to be exact, the New York Times fired off its first salvo in an attack on French cuisine and French chefs in an article by Arthur Lubow, called “ A Laboratory of Taste” that essentially declared French cuisine dead and French chefs comatose, rigid or at best, indifferent to worldly trends. El Bulli and Ferran Adrià were declared the new Kings. This week, November 27, 2008, to be exact, inevitably the other shoe dropped, when their mini-Times, aka IHT, published an article by Michael Johnson, entitled “Want a good French meal? Don’t go to France.” For “simple, honest cooking” he says look elsewhere, including the USA. I read it, threw it out (that is, recycled it in the yellow bin) and dismissed it as just another attempt on the part of the print media to save themselves from the Internet tsunami. But then a wonderful friend, a real France-based food critic for decades asked me today: “Did you see the badly written story……?” and I could no longer ignore it. What is it that the Times thinks it’s doing? Selling print papers, generating controversy, kicking the French chefs in the shins (as my friend suggested they indeed do need)? Let’s look at several facts: 1. When Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, the Pourcels, etc., I could go on, open a place in NY, Los Vegas, Dubai or Tokyo, people are stomping all over themselves as at Walmart, to get in? Why? Because it’s a bargain, because this is new stuff, because they can’t get into El Bulli? Sorry, no. 2. When the French chefs, notably guys like Gilles Choukroun, William Ledeuil, Daniel Rose ( I know, he was born in Chicago), again I could go on, travel to Japan or Spain for inspiration they don’t come home with empty creative or real bags, they’re ready to translate stuff into everyday practice. 3. The leading French culinary press pubs, which many critics don’t look at, like Omnivore and Le Fooding are already “kicking the French chefs in the shins.“ 4. I dare folks to name a few restaurants such as Jadis, la Table d’Eugene and Spring or older ones such as Ze Kitchen Galerie in New York, LA or elsewhere that deliver innovative meals for under 100 € a couple, including service, wine and coffee. So, to return to my title, there’s nothing the matter with French chefs, if you know which ones to frequent. Two nails do not a coffin make. These thoughts were prompted by my friend’s email and my lunch at the Ducassian protogé, David Rathegber‘s 2 course plus amuse bouche, wine and coffee spread for 28 € at: L’Assiette 181, rue du Château, 14th (Metro: Pernety) T: 01 43 22 64 86 Closed Mondays and Tuesdays Lunch menu 25 €, evening menu 50 €, a la carte: 25-40 €. Blog: John Talbott’s Paris ©John Talbott 2008
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