There has been much discussion over the past 10 or 20 years about the death of French cuisine. I wonder if that’s not partially because we have incorporated so many of French cuisine’s techniques into our own haute cuisine that we are no longer conscious of it being French. For instance, when we go to cooking school, we learn the mother sauces, which are undeniably French.
That’s a great question, Jonell. I think there’s more than one factor at play here, and I’ve not thought about this until just now, but let me try to respond (albeit off the top of my head) . . .
Going back in time for a moment, French cuisine was regarded as the pinnacle of exquisite dining – certainly in the Western World, if not across the entire globe. Sure, Italy had great food, as did China, but France was “it.” Then, along came Nouvelle Cuisine and everything changed: no longer was the world of French food sacrosanct; no longer were “classic” French recipes etched in stone; no longer were they even “classic”!
Following this somewhat revolutionary development, the rise in the quality of, and exposure to, Japanese cuisine – largely unknown to much of the world, and those who “knew” it often thought it was limited to sushi! – spread across the planet. So, too, did “fusion,” the rise of locavore and farm-to-table cooking, and the rise of Spanish cuisine, both “traditional” and “molecular” (as with El Bulli).
Hell, even England has great food and Michelin-starred restaurants (that aren’t even French).
So, is French cuisine dead? No. But it no longer stands alone at the pinnacle of Cuisine with a capital “C.” Rather, it shares its still-lofty position with cuisines of many other nations. You speak of the mother sauces, and – yes – that still holds true. But the incredibly diverse options and exceptionally high quality choices one has when it comes to dining/eating, mean that other cuisines have “upped their game,” so to speak. It’s not that French cuisine has “fallen,” so much as other casinos have “risen” to join it. People are seeking out restaurants which focus on cuisines from all over the world, rather than just France (and Italy and China). Spain, Portugal – even Nordic cuisine – is the frequent topic of conversations and restaurant visits. So, too, places like Peru!
Cuisine is global, today. But any serious chef and home cook STILL needs to understand the basics, and much of that is rooted in French cuisine.
No. It’s not dead. It’s merely no longer alone.
That’s a excellent reply.
And it isn’t static.
Is any cuisine “static”? Truly? I don’t think I ever did . . .
But some cuisines are “classic,” and that is a different matter entirely.
Well, yes. There are static cuisines. They are usually cuisines that were imported into another country at one point in time, and never changed, while the “mother country” cuisine evolved with time. Take the Cantonese dreck that much of the USA eats, or the Thai restaurant that has the same menu since nineteen-eighty-something.
As to the original premise, I’m living in a nearly post-ethnic delineation of food. And most of it has a bit of France sprinkled in it.
I would respectfully, but strongly, disagree.
The “Cantonese dreck,” as you put it, is not true Cantonese cuisine. Were one to call it that, one might as well claim that “chop suey” is Cantonese . . . after all, it can be found on the menus of many Cantonese-style restaurants in the US.
In the context of this discussion, the OP asked “Is French cuisine dead?”
So I am coming from the perspective that we are speaking of classic French cuisine, and it is from that perspective that I approach this conversation. Indeed, it is that perspective that framed my initial response.
The French cuisine of today – of the 21st century – is not the classic French cuisine of François Pierre La Varenne or Marie-Antoine Carême, nor is it that of Auguste Escoffier. And yet that classic cuisine continues to exist, and can be found in any number of places. But the modern French cuisine of today is completely different . . . and yet, one can indeed trace its roots back.
So, too, the cuisine of (e.g.) Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which pays homage to the classics of Olde English cuisine, is a far cry from the truly high quality, delicious food that can be found in the modern British gastropub – say, at The Harwood Arms.
And, of course, there are still the classic dishes of Canton (as well as those from China’s other cuisines), as well as modern riffs that can be traced back to its origins . . . etc., etc., etc.
I also don’t agree with this. If I were to judge the status of French cuisine by the 20 places offering a very substandard version of it in my area of Brooklyn, I would have to conclude that it’s also dead/stagnant (& usually terribly prepared) as well. Your conclusions about Cantonese & Thai foods should not be based on comparison to the admittedly large number of places serving “static” versions of what was offered many years ago in the home country, but by comparison to the places doing more solid cooking and pushing their heritage’s edges. They exist. Of course, just as I sometimes want the traditional French cooking that’s static and not “improved” upon for generations (as long as its done well), I similarly also want to have access to non-modernized Cantonese & Thai and am glad that some places still exist that offer this non-cutting edge stuff.