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Why don’t we go to French restaurants anymore?
“I thought that was an 80’s thing” – 18-year-old dude.
“I literally live in France and never been to a French resto” - International student studying in Paris.
“I eat French several times a week” – A guy who is not talking about food.
(art by Pascal Kirchmair)
Lately Paul Bocuse, Guy Savoy ,Joel Robuchon and many others are starting to pass from old legends to overlooked relics, as World’s 50 Best take the lead as most influential culinary guide.
French cuisine dominated by far the integrity of the 20th century, becoming the most prestigious food one could ever eat, from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, entire salaries were spent on Bordeaux’s finest wines and Parisian succulent “chef d’oeuvres”. French chefs wore proudly their white vests and chef hats aka: “Toques”, parading in all kinds of magazines and newspapers. The already overflowing French pride peaked a never seen before summit. But sooner than thought, in the early 2000’s a very clever Spanish man changed the course of Gastronomy for good. Ferran Adrià took the world by surprise with “El Bulli”. What once was a casual coastal tourist restaurant, up north of Barcelona, became the mecca of modernist cuisine. With experience, time, and extreme ingenuity, Ferran created what some may call (wrongly) “Molecular cuisine”, even tough cooking has always been molecular since cavemen ages. And wham! Just like that we got hooked on a full new food wave. Manipulating and sculpting, like artists that took themselves for scientists, restaurant dishes took wild unrecognizable forms, even optical illusions became a thing. However the unctuous, hearty, rich flavours of beef demiglace and sauces “liées” ( french culinary term to a liquid saucy) with roux and exorbitant amounts of butter were left aside, reserved evermore to traditional family gathering dinners. Now everyone wanted to taste the modern interpretation of the “soupe à l’ognion revisité” or “the spherified olive”.
Meanwhile, the Michelin guide was deciding the next Chef successors. Worlds 50 best, saw the gap and seized the opportunity clinically. They crowned their new princes : Ferran Adria, René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura whom took the spotlight becoming more than even famous chefs but international superstars. The purists of course were not happy, and pulled as many strings as they could, but it was too late, the boat was already tilted. You see, most of the top referent French chefs were already entering their mid-60’s, descending from strict military like formations, they never developed the capacity to fully renew themselves, and leaving behind their old luggage. Even more they struggled in finding a stable place for the increasing sustainable and vegetarian demand. For them good cooking was giant platters of meat, braised in brown butter and with and extra bearnaise sauce to top it off.
As we started entering the mid 2000’s teens, meat and dairy saw their prices sky rocket especially in developed countries , don’t get me wrong its not like people aren’t eating meat anymore , just ordering a whole chicken at a restaurant became à “bourgeois thing” or at least strictly reserved to special occasions. At the same time Asian cuisine continued to knock on our back door, and this time we welcomed it like a lost friend. Viet, Japanese, Chinese and many more took over with super competitive prices and that sweet saltiness that can keep you eating as if there were no tomorrow. Honestly, who doesn’t love that sweet n sour chicken from the Chinese place next door, mouth-watering, that’s all. And when we went out for a finer treat, international and country themed restaurants made every new dinner a memorable experience. So of course why would you still go and spend double on some old “ soupe a l’ognion”.
Some years kept on passing by, and right before covid time, on January 15th 2020 Mister. Paul Bocuse‘s staple restaurant “L’auberge” triple decorated by Michelin for over 3 decades lost a star. Making it official: the end of the era of the big French boys. Little time after Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy followed on the loss list. Michelin finally decided that preserving fine traditional cuisine was not enough to be at the top of the world. You have to be constantly creative in every single aspect from your dish to your trash, to how “engagé” you are with the latest trends. At last “La Cuisine Francaise” was outdated at all levels, gastronomic starred 12 coursers to fast brunch snacks, we all prefer avocado toast to croque monsieur now.
That is why we haven’t eaten in a French restaurant in the last years, we prefer guanciale to lardons and PHÔ to pot au feu. But do not misunderstand me, French restaurants may be out of the game, but their heritage and class will always be anchored in cuisines from all around the world, for once we can say maybe French food is multicultural? Cause you know that Vietnamese soup PHÔ actually stands for “pot au feu”( French corned beef ). Showbiz is onto the multicultural and international party, so if you want some old traditional stuff it’s going to be on you, and your wallet. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles mon ami.
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