Whether French food is still the best cuisine in this day and age is debatable, but there are undeniable factors of the great influence it has had on the food and restaurants of today.
French cuisine has built its reputation on its regional diversity, with the varied local produce being influenced by the climate and the country’s proximity to other countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain. It should also be noted that French cooking involves basic culinary techniques that can be used in every other cooking style.
As with everything else, there have been growing trends within French kitchens as well. Classic and haute cuisine, based on traditional recipes, gave way to a new trend in the 1970s - Nouvelle cuisine. This was considered to be a marriage of health-conscious California and traditional France - flavourful food with a light-handed healthy approach. In recent years, Nouvelle cuisine has begrudgingly given way to an even newer trend called ‘Molecular gastronomy’, or ‘Techno-emotional cuisine’, which is based on the the art and practice of cooking using scientific methods to create new and unusual dishes. Like many trends, nouvelle and molecular cuisine began to be widely misunderstood and misrepresented. People were served bland, low-calorie tiny portions and were told it was nouvelle cuisine. Chefs began to experiment and diversify, creating pretentious combinations of lobster with a duck sauce and sardines with diced pineapple and a raspberry coulis! To move away from the negative reputation of nouvelle cuisine, restaurants began to use words such as ‘inventive’, ‘creative’, and ‘fusion’, but to no avail. Molecular gastronomy is slowly following the same excesses as nouvelle cuisine with the fathers of this type of cooking - Spain’s Ferrán Adrià of Él Bulli, and Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck (England) claiming that they should "get rid of the scientific jargon and get back to the basics," recently criticising the overuse of foams and mousses and over-the-top combinations and creations.
Heston Blumenthal had to close his three Michelin star restaurant because over 400 people claimed to be food poisoned after dining there due to his excessive experimentation! To quote one Frenchman: "Great cooking should be more than a novelty. It’s fun to try egg and bacon ice-cream, olive oil flavoured foam and liquid nitrogen. It’s fun, like it’s fun to eat cotton candy! But will I ever crave it like I do a classic Soup a L´Oignon or a delicious and tender Beef Bourguignon?"
The author is a Le Cordon Bleu and Joel Robuchon trained chef who is now the chef and owner of Bistro Rouge in Los Boliches. Telephone: 952476429