French Food Essays

French Cuisine

Europe has amazing mixed qualities of food reflecting the etymological social mosaic in the continent. As a result of the wide variety that is caused by globalization process, it is quite difficult to establish origin of some of the foods since often, they date back to ancient times. There is the general notion that alludes to cooking styles of Europe and other Western nations which is European food incorporates that of Europe as well as non-indigenous cooking styles of North America, Latin America, Australasia and Oceania. Mostly, the term is used by East Asians for purposes of differentiating it from Asian cooking traditions and Asian food. On the other hand, when Westerners use it, it might imply particular cooking in Europe; in this context, it is the equivalent of continental food (David 16).

The styles of cooking used by the Western nations differ independently from each other as a result of the fact there are qualities that aid in recognizing them among styles of Asian and other countries. For instance, in contrast with conventional Asian cooking, meat is relatively cut into large sizes as a rule, the Westerners have training that is more profound on special serving systems particularly cutting of meat than Asian cooks. In the West, steak is one of the most common dish. Also, Western styles put significant accentuation on sauces as seasonings and fixings. In some cases, different sauces are used as backups in the event seasonings infiltrate the meat.

Despite the fact the potato has become the main starch plant in the European eating traditions, bread which is made from wheat flour has also become widely recognized along with dumplings, pastries and pasta (MacVeigh 11). Some of the Asian restaurants have invested a lot of time towards adopting diversity in their cuisine. This makes it possible for them to develop menus that feature a mixture of foods from Germany, France and English-speaking world. As such, from the start of the 1990s, Italian and Spanish dishes ended up being noticeable on these restaurants menus.

In Asia, the French mode of cooking has become very popular. Seemingly, recognized as one of the most refined on the planet (together with Chinese food), it was developed in the duration of hundreds of years of social and political changes. During ancient times, the French hosted extravagant feasts in celebration of leaders and they prepared fanciful foods like Guillaume Tirel. During the Revolution, the country experienced a move towards reduction of herbs and flavors. Celebrated French chef Auguste Escoffier later revolutionized the cooking methods in the country. Basque food, in addition produced incredible impact on cooking in southwest parts of France. The ingredients usually differ on basis of location. Numerous distinguishing territorial dishes have received recognition both locally and nationally. Most of the dishes that once were locally have flourished in diverse varieties over the territory in present times. Cheese and wine are also key ingredients in cooking assuming their numerous varieties and distinctions. (David 21).

French Cuisine and Its Local Impacts

Different parts in France offer unique dishes. While this is the case, most of them are celebrated throughout the globe and appreciated in all parts of the planet. Within their own specific location, one can uncover the diverse attributes that arise from the technique of preparation and the flavors, despite the possibility one can find all around France. Also in every place, they have their regular technique of choosing ingredients and cooking dishes. For example, tomatoes, different kinds of olive oil and herbs are important for Provence cuisine. Some other impacts of local cooking traditions are as listed below.

History and Economic Condition

The financial conditions, lifestyle and society obviously have framed local food conventions in unique ranges. The discovery of cheese was made in the mountainous regions since the regions experience persistent cold temperatures that cannot support traditional techniques of farming. When people talk about the economy, they usually discover that within restricted territories, cheese is known as the primary food processed in the mountains through use of animal products. Over some 100 years, the area of Burgundy investment success was amazing as a result of their uniqueness in raising cows which helped them in production of meat products and cream sauces.

Local Accessibility

It is a rule that fresh food is of high quality and included to the best dishes; obviously, France, the nation of gourmets realizes this fact. For example, the territories where herbs and fruits grow, they use them effectively as part of their dishes. In the same manner, inland zones are known not to consume a lot of ocean fish, yet, northwest beachfront places of France like Normandy and Brittany offer rich choice of ocean fish dishes (MacVeigh 21).

Neighboring Nations and Immigration

French ways of cooking and food have greatly been influenced to a certain extent by other countries. Close to Italian fringe, for example, it will not be any surprise to find dishes that are of Italian origin. As a result of migrations, individuals of North African descent living in Southern part of France have incorporated their unique dished to the local cuisine. What is more, after several wars, the German border has shifted back into Alsace zone and recently, discoveries were made that German wine and Sauerkraut become exceptionally famous in these regions (David 26).

In all areas of France it is common for the homes and restaurants to offer food that is a reflection of the rich history and culture in the country. On the other hand, it has been commented on related impacts that regard to cooking traditions and ingredients. Local ingredients and formulas appear to be the best and the most accessible in any district. In this case, the sort of nourishment one desires to appreciate is dependent mostly on the decision of where they choose to live or the place the visit while in France,

Some of these examples include:

  • Fresh water fish can be found in inland areas like Loire Valley while seafood is mostly favored in Mediterranean regions and close to Atlantic coast.
  • Agriculture is encouraged in the areas around the south due to the host atmosphere which is conducive for plant growth. The people in this region therefore consume lots of leafy food and fruits.
  • Germans in the northeast of France for instance Lorraine and Alsace prefer Sauerkraut and beer
  • Apples, sour cream and margarine are loved in northwest region of the nation.
  • Olive oil, herbs and tomatoes are used mostly by Mediterranean Frenchmen.

Territorial Cooking Styles

Normandy and Brittany

Brittany is very popular due to its crepes. These can either be appetizing or sweet. Galettes- an appetizing pancake consumed normally with ham, cheese and an egg as the fillings is made using Buckwheat flour.

Champagne

The North Champagne’s and Champagne’s fundamental commitment is evident, yet, being on Belgian outskirt, there are many likewise dishes of Flemish origin. The cooler temperature in the region also favors the growth of leeks, potatoes, watercress, endive, cabbages and leeks. Flamande is prepared by wrapping an endive in ham then serving it with white sauce. Carbonnade is the alternate exemplary dish, where the hamburger is progressively braised in onions and beer. A stew referred to as chaudree makes exceptional use of local fish. The city of Lille which is cosmopolitan in nature is a great producer of charcuterie and brew. Cake tastes exceptional with gaufres being around as the best known. Champagne is also recognized by the delectable paper-thin macaroon (MacVeigh 26).

Lorraine and Alsace

Both Lorraine and Alsace have been under Germany rule numerous times in the past and the impact of this is obvious if the number of neighborhood dishes are to be mentioned in which cabbage and cured pork are regular. Baeckeoffe is marinated meat that is skewed with vegetables. Choucroute alsacienne is salted cabbage which is seasoned with juniper berries then presented with pork knuckle, pork belly and hotdogs. On top of this, the locals revere in different kinds of appetizing tarts and pies which are known as tarte flambee or flammekuche, which is a small layer of baked food accompanied with pork belly, onion or cream (David 36).

The well-known food in Lorraine is Lorraine quiche. The dish, initially was cooked devoid of cheese, yet in most modern formulas, it is added and also includes ham, seafood and vegetables to the compulsory blend of eggs and cream.

Bordeaux and Burgundy

Bordeaux and Burgundy dishes make liberal use of well-known red and white wines. Burgundy is known for having the best hamburgers in France and it is also known for its boeuf bourguignon. On top of this, it is home to Dijon mustard which is likely to upgrade taste of numerous dishes. The most loved alternate lasting is chicken in red wine and in the region it is thought of as one of the grandest escargot in France. Bordeaux on the other hand is best described as a carnivore nation and entrecote marchand de vin-rib steak is its most praised food prepared with local rich shallots, bone marrow spread, herbs, wine and flavor. Sweet treats include canneles and the well-known worldwide marrons (MacVeigh 31).

The Basque Country, Gascony and Languedoc-Roussillon

These are areas found on the Spanish border and owing to use of different kinds of peppers, zesty sausages and tomatoes, their dishes impart numerous similitudes as those of Spain. Cassoulet (dish with meat and beans) is Languedoc’s mark dish; Roussilon too, with tapas-style china served in majority of the wine bars. Gascon china is usually prepared with heaps of salt, fat and meat. Garbure is a stew that is thick cooked with meats, flavors, vegetables and herbs. Basque Poulet is a stew of chicken prepared with tomatoes, white wine, peppers and onions. Additionally piperade is a Basque solace cooking-peppers, onions and tomatoes cooked with ham and eggs. The Bayonne ham, is usually served cut with bread (David 46).

The South of France and Provence

This region has a sublime climate to thank for its flavorsome and beautiful fortes such as ratatouille and green Nicosia. The region is one of the highly popular in France due to its high caliber of leafy foods and herbs. The local dishes include olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and large amounts of crisp herbs. It is not a location popular for meat food; though a winter staple is boeuf en daube-hamburger which is stewed with onions, red wine, herbs and vegetables. Its most popular dish is probably bouillabaisse, which is a generous fish soup that overflows with crab, mussels, shellfishes or lobster, served as the principle course and joined by rouille-a zesty mayonnaise that is prepared with olive oil, fish stock, warm bread, stew and garlic.

Commodities Utilized

Frenchmen make the assumption cooking sauces are an important part of culinary tradition. As such, they have an array of sauces produced:

  • Espagnole-brown sauce of stock
  • Veloutte-white cause of stock
  • Béchamel-milk and a roux
  • Tomate-Also referred to as tomatoe
  • Hollandaise-Also known as eggs

These sauces just form the basis of Careme’s collection of over 100 plus sauces. They are used for purposes of adding distinctive blend to flavorings of local sauces. French cuisine is never complete without the notice of its breads which include the baguette, pain rustique and fougase. Apart from water and bread, backups that are well known to a French dish include cheddar and wine. Unlike is the case in other nations, Frenchmen appreciate the fact wine is a usual part of the ordinary dinners and as such, it is deemed unreasonable to save it for extraordinary events. During daily suppers, standard wine is served despite the fact it is common the wine chosen should match ingredients used in the food.

Though cheddar is used in cooking, it is frequently served as a separate course after the main course and before dessert. Such a course often comprises of 3 or 4 separate cheeses. Sliced bread is often offered in the meantime. Different dishes are an indication that the French have a particular preference for crisp vegetables. Indeed, vegetables, which are a backup are treated as unreasonable nourishment; only the best vegetables are used such as leeks, courgette, carrots, haricots, potatoes and turnips. Peppers and aubergine are collected from the fields. Mixtures that are tomato based like herbs and sauces are also added in order to give flavors. The admiration of the Frenchmen regarding eggs is clear in numerous unique dishes. For instance, they like eggs when mixed with vegetables such as ratatouille or pureed spinach. In these dishes, the eggs have smooth leeks.

Chestnuts and mistletoe are also loved in Brittany and they are included in most suppers. For majority of Frenchmen cooking, is a process that is more inclined on the quality rather than quantity of food. Saffron, olives, lemon, virgin oil and garlic are all used for purposes of enhancing flavor. The styles used by the French in cooking are based on their sauces. The sauces mixtures are boundless since different kinds of ingredients are used within different blends. Dairy products such as cream also are popular. An assortment of herbs are also used in cooking such as marjoram, lavender, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, parsley, tarragon and rosemary (David 66).

Cooking Styles

Each district in France has its specific dissimilar conventions regarding ingredients and arrangement. Additionally, there are 3 general methodologies, which content with each other:

  • Classical French cooking which incorporates all established French dishes which are localized in different provinces. However, as a result of migration, they were introduced to other regions. Nourishment is filling and rich, with most of the dished with cream-based sauces. The most advanced and compelling French cooking tradition is Haute cuisine and it is rich in flavor as well. Dinners are often overwhelming, especially because of adding cream and expansive parts or several diminutive allotments.
  • Cuisine Nouvelle: It was in the 1970s that improvements were made to this style as a response to established school of cooking. The sustenance is lighter and less complex. Segments are also less rich and more diminutive; the substantial cream sauces of established methodology are often escaped. Cooking is also speedier and less expound, with additional accentuation made on occasional and local parts.
  • Cuisine du terroir-This concentrates on local fortes and in nature, it is provincial. Local sustenance and produce conventions are of great importance.

All these three customs are characteristic of France with each having its own supporters and representative master restaurants. Currently, cuisine Nouvelle is less prominent than it initially was while cuisine du Terroir has become more popular over the last couple of decades (MacVeigh 41).

Cooking Systems

  • Baking blind-This is a system that heats baking case before it is included in a filling, making the cake spongy
  • Baste-It dampens sustenance with fat
  • Braising-Includes burning the nourishment first at high temperatures in order to form delightful fluid
  • Beurre Manie-It is a cooking fluid system arrangement in which the equivalent partition of flour and margarine is mixed to glue and raced into stewing. This kind of cooking fluid is used for purposes of thickening.
  • Implantation-A strategy for concentration qualities by steeping them in hotter fluid
  • Flambéing-a dangerous procedure to some degree used to add essence to sustenance at the end of the cooking process.
  • Sautéing-Low fat system for quality cooking
  • Poaching-technique to stew nourishment and carry out delicate surface
  • Barbecuing-cooking style that uses steer warm. The sustenance is placed on metal grind leaving barbecue stamp.
  • Provencale-cooking system that uses olive oil tomato, mushroom, herbs and garlic.
  • En Papillotte-Cooking system in which nourishment is placed into collapsed pocket then heated in its own juice.

Equipment

  • A mandolin is used to cut vegetables into immaculate, uniform shapes, waffle cuts, incorporating cuts or julienne cuts. It is far better than a dish processor.
  • A Chinoise is strainer that is tapered used to make impeccably smooth sauces and soups.
  • A lame is a small device with an edge that is well sharpened towards one side, it is used for slicing cuts into bread before they are placed in the broiler.
  • A moving croissant cutter is used to slice the mixture into appropriate size and shape.

 

Works Cited

David, Elizabeth. Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer Cooking. Newton, Mass: Biscuit Books, 1998. Print.

MacVeigh, Jeremy. International Cuisine. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

As times changed, modernity affected French cuisine, and how people cooked and ate. People migrated to cities, supermarkets sprung up to make shopping more efficient, and imported goods became cheaper and easy to obtain. Along with the development of canned food, as private homes acquired refrigerators and freezers, frozen and pre-prepared foods became more appealing. As the world moved forward, people stopped having as much time to cook and eat: with both parents working, and working longer hours, facing heavy commutes, there was less (or no) time to go to the markets and cook.

France also became hospitable for fast-food restaurants, most notably McDonald’s. It is commonly reported that France is the fast-food chain’s second most profitable country in the world. (The one that Jose Bové heroically bulldozed back in 1999 to much cheering and adulation, is now just like all the other McDonald’s, serving les Big Macs and featuring a McDrive window, to pick up food while never leaving your car.) Most recently, the opening of Burger King in Paris saw long lines of people waiting up to two hours to chow down on le Whopper, and because of the crowds it was (perhaps derisively) dubbed by some foreign press as The Hottest Restaurant in Paris.

Outsiders are often perplexed by the popularity of fast-food chains in France, but they are convenient: They’re open all the time, between traditional meal times, when other restaurants are closed. Service is fast and efficient. Restrooms are sparkling clean and offer free WiFi. (Which, anyone who lives in Paris knows, is a godsend when your Internet service goes out at home.) And, as other countries, they allow families who don’t have a lot of money, to have the experience of going out to eat.

(If you have four kids and you make minimum wage – €1445/month in France – you’re priced out of most restaurants if you want a family night out. And while it’s often pointed out that folks could make a far more nutritious meal for their family at home for the same price, many want the experience – and enjoyment – of dining out in a restaurant. And McDonald’s is affordable.)

So what does that mean when defining French cuisine today? Similar to asking “What is American cuisine?”– there isn’t an easy answer. The foods most-often associated with America are hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza – foods that originated outside of America. Nowadays we have farm-to-table restaurants cooking products from local markets and specifically sourced, creating dishes that show off the food to its best advantage. I am not sure if the mix of foods served in America could be easily classified as “American food.” I haven’t seen nettle focaccia or kale pesto on any menus in Italy. But they have roots in Italian cooking. Is chocolate pudding, a take on crème pâtissière au chocolat, French cuisine? Is that sherbet you just churned up Arabic cookery? Someone recently told me that the Italians invented coffee, which I think people from Africa, or the Middle East, might have something to say about. The lines on who owns what, or where things come from, are regularly blurred.

Many of the foods in America have been brought by immigrants and are now considered part of our culture and cuisine. Some foods we enjoyed abroad (and through cookbooks), have become popular in America because they fit our lifestyle and taste. Today in Paris, and across France, restaurants – and tastes – reflect a similar mix. There are sushi bars, French bakeries, Chinese take-outs, bistros, American fast food restaurants, bento boxes, Michelin three-star restaurants, couscous restaurants, burger joints, and in almost any neighborhood or village, you’ll find meat spinning on a broche, carved up to make le sandwich Grec (gyro). While they may not sound like “French cuisine,” they are among the foods that the French eat today. The reality is that France is experiencing (and, in many instances, resisting) globalization, evolving as cities, and the world, invariably do.

The New York Times recently published an article, Can Anyone Save French Food? The story featured only one French chef (who had trained in England and America), which irked a number of people. I didn’t mind because I credit many of the people featured for jump-starting this next wave of cooking in France. It is in our nature, as Americans, to be open to change and to be more fluid and entrepreneurial in our approach. (Entrepreneur is indeed a French word and there are French people who are entrepreneurial. But on the whole, it’s a quality very closely associated with Americans and other cultures.) Being relatively new cultures, Americans and Australians (and others) don’t have the same history and fixed ideas that the French have cultivated for centuries.

Non-Frenchmen – myself included – don’t often comprehend the cultural differences, which include attitudes toward bureaucracy, strikes, customer service, education, etiquette, and immigration. But change is approached, and success is defined differently, in France, and there are many fixed ideas that are hard to move away from. (Roughly one-third of French people want to be fonctionnaires, or bureaucrats, who work for the government.) That many people don’t really want to do anything but continue on with the way things are, may take a few generations, as we’re seeing now with the younger crop of French chefs, who are willing to strike out and do something different on their own.

I found the article, or at least the idea of people cooking very good food in Paris, optimistic and positive. Not just because I am friendly with some of the people featured, but because I like and admire them for what they are doing. I don’t really care what country a chef is born in; I like foods from everywhere, no matter who is cooking it, from the men stretching flatbreads in a flour-dusted Lebanese bakery to a determined young man cooking in a remote part of Sweden. But you don’t have to be Italian to cook good Italian food, nor do you have to be Spanish to prepare a fine Spanish meal. If a cook happens to be Australian and cooking good food in Paris, or a French chef is cooking inspired food in Berkeley – well, I’m all for it.

Though it’s true there have been some lulls and missteps in French cooking I’m not sure it needs to be “saved.” People ask me why Parisian chefs are still using foam, and maybe I am just being close-minded, but I don’t think that mushrooms and chocolate go together. For lunch the past Saturday I had a knock-your-socks off dish of fresh peas, sheeps’ milk yogurt, tiny leaves of sautéed Swiss chard, and some herbs I’d never heard of, accompanied by the best (French) rosé wine I’ve ever had. It was prepared by the talented Canadian chef at 6 Paul Bert. The freshness of the vegetables reminded me of the simple mound of vegetables that wowed me at Le Meurice, cooked by a French chef. Those restaurants are completely different from each other, but they use French products, served in France. So maybe it’s time to stop striving so much to classify foods according to which country it’s cooked in, and just say that they’re making good food. And maybe it’s just becoming less and less possible to define a cuisine by the country where it’s being cooked.

I think the conversation might be better served if it can move away from asking (or arguing) if French cuisine is in need of rescuing, or can it be saved. People in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat, tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française.

Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.

Rather than saying this talk about the changes in French cuisine are anti-French, I find the reality just the opposite. I’ve seen a refreshing openness over the last five years in Paris to new cuisines, and ideas are coming from inside – and outside – the country, by a mix of French-born chefs and cooks, and folks coming from elsewhere. I am optimistic when I see that the lines at the producteurs stands are the longest at my market. And people flock from across the city to go to the vibrant Batignolles and Sunday Raspail markets, which feature organic fruits and vegetables, and sustainably raised meats and fish.

Interest in natural wines has exploded. Such young, talented French people as Henri from Glazed, who is churning out wickedly good ice cream with unusual flavors, Nicolas Berger crafting bean-to-bar chocolate at La Manufacture de Chocolat, and Nico doling out dripped coffee, roasted up the hill from his café, Hollybelly in Belleville. The dining room staff at such places as Caillebotte, Septime, 6 Paul Bert, and Bones are showing how friendly and knowledgeable French service can be. The sweet young woman at West Country Girl, who always give me double bisous (cheek kisses) when we stop in for dinner, (which may have something to do with the cheesecake I brought her a while back), before racing back to the kitchen to flip the hot crêpes simmering on her griddles. I’m not sure if you could say these folks are saving French cuisine. Or if what they’re doing is even French. But I hope whatever they’re cooking up, they’re saving some of it for me.

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