Some dream about it. Some who have enjoyed it say it’s a lifetime experience they will never forget. Others are ready to pay the price to learn its secrets…. “French cuisine”: two little words that are meant to be bound together; after all, “cuisine” is a French word which appeals to lovers of good food.
But what is today’s French cuisine ?
At a time when the world’s attention focuses on globalization and standardization, one would think French cuisine has lost its soul. Yet, it is still critically acclaimed throughout the world for being stunning and unique. Why is it so?
French cuisine is, above all, the amazing result of a two-thousand-year-old history. It is the vivid legacy of a long tradition inherited from foreign cultures.Since France sits at the far end of the European continent, it has been invaded many times by waves of conquerors. Should we blame the Romans for invading France? Certainly not. Other than a magnificent civilization, they introduced the Gauls to bread, wine, olive oil and to many other timeless and breathtaking treasures which inspired Provencal recipes. Later on, as they were settling in Normandy, the Vikings introduced the Northern part of France to the use of dairy products and to the habit of eating fish. When she became the Queen of France, Catherine de Medici brought along her favorite cooks who would forever leave their distinctive mark on French cuisine. The Russians, who stayed in Paris after Napoleon’s defeat, left outstanding gifts such as Beef Stroganoff or salmon koulibiac which ultimately became part of the French cooking tradition.
At the same time the French were integrating culinary habits from other countries, they also found inspiration in their own conquests. Crusaders came back from the Middle East with spices, including the delicate saffron which grows so well in the southern part of France and is included in so many delicious dishes. In the 18c, Mr. Parmentier was captured by the Prussians, and when he came back to France, he became the fervent promoter of the potato. Thanks to all these contributions, French cuisine is what it is today: incredibly rich and diversified.
Until a few years ago, France was known for its rural character, a reason why each region succeeded so well in preserving its specialties for so many centuries. Though France is smaller than Texas, exploring each region is like travelling to another country. From one region to another, everything, including food and recipes, is different. Every region, every village or small town has preserved its own specialties that were inherited from its ancestors.
Multifaceted, inspirational, inventive: these are three words which characterize the best French cuisine. Rustic courses, now back in fashion, live side by side with sophisticated and elaborate recipes. The desire to draw from other countries - today many great chefs find inspiration in Japanese cuisine - after adapting foreign recipes to French tastes, is a commonality to all great cooks: on any restaurant menu, home cooking and country dishes proudly stand next to the stylish and creative nouvelle cuisine. French cuisine is a successful blend of all this.
Last but not least, there are two other things that distinguish French cooking from all others: fresh produce is a key word to understanding French cuisine and the word plaisir (pleasure) is synonymous with the art of French cooking. Famous chefs as well as housewives will tell you that the starting point for good food is fresh and healthy produce. The French remain deeply attached to outdoor markets where they can find local and seasonal produce. The more natural the better. The final goal is to emphasize natural flavors without overwhelming them. Sauces? Yes, within reason. Additives? No way. A Frenchman would rather die than cook with corn syrup! French cuisine has always been and is still conceived to please all the senses: taste buds, nose, and eyes as well. French cuisine is also a visual art.
For six days, God created the world. On the seventh day, He decided that one country would host the best cooking in the world. And he picked France…. French cuisine is both an art de vivre and a divine blessing.