Blog Series 1: Is French Cuisine Fading Away From the Culinary World?

Today I’m going to go over another issue in French cuisine- Is French Cuisine losing its stand in the culinary world? French food, which had an international influence in the 20th century, was commonly agreed to be the best food in the world. France, as an imperial power, was exporting its culture around the globe. However, today, French cuisine is now facing a lot of problems that people doubts whether it can still retain a good performer as it could before. In other words, they claim that French cuisine is dead.

For me, this issue is deserved our attention because French cuisine is considered as an art of cooking that is well known within the culinary world for many centuries. The issue that French cuisine is under threat is not just a single problem of maintaining the tradition of a nationality but also the preservation of a featured art of the world.

Imagine a day that everyone ignored French food. No French restaurants could be found on the streets. French food became extincted in this world. The next generation did not even know what foie gras, souffle, escargots…are. People talked about France as a country of fashion, elegance…but not about the famous and exquisite dishes anymore. What would you feel? For me, I would say I will feel a little dead inside.

French cuisine has led the food industry and was described as “a magical art of beautiful presentation and innovative flavors”. It is famous with the tasty wines, rich and buttery fat foie gras, bold and rich blue cheese. Due to the exquisite gourmet, French cuisine is labeled as “haute cuisine” of the 18th century and got many supports from every restaurants-goers. However, when we are going to the 21st century, people started ignoring and not appreciate it anymore. Therefore, I have to say that, French food didn’t die; the culture that supported it killed it.

Everyone surely knows about the traditional cuisine, which has brought French cuisine to a highest level of the culinary world. France has long been a country with a reputation for some of the best food in the world. However, when the “nouvelle” cuisine, which replaced the old styled one, has created; many critics said that it is not a revolution but only a reformation. They also claim that the “nouvelle” cuisine is pulling down the level for French cuisine in the culinary stage.

As I informed in my “Introduction of French Cuisine” blog, French food was commonly agreed to be the best food in the world. France, as an imperial power, was exporting its culture around the globe. As early as the 1960s, a new generation of French chefs has produced simpler, less heavy dishes than the traditional flour-based gravies and overcooked, stodgy ingredients that were known as “nouvelle cuisine”. According to Larousse Gastronomique by Barbara Bibel, nouvelle cuisine is a movement in cookery started in 1972 by two food critics, H. Gault and C. Millau, with the aim of encouraging a simpler and more natural presentation of food. Nouvelle cuisine was not just a change in style; it was a class difference as well. The old cuisine, even in its grandest form, was essentially an elaboration or elevation of home cooking: the so-called cuisine bourgeoise that was the cornerstone of all French cuisine. Its revolution gave rise to nouvelle cuisine, and it was immensely popular until the 1980s. But it has since changed form and many of the earlier excesses have dropped away. Some people say that nouvelle cuisine is dead, but in reality, it is just the use of the phrase that has died out. Its principles have been taken up and woven into other styles of cooking and presentation.

There are essentially two sides of this French cuisine debate. One side is people who support classic French cuisine and believe that “nouvelle” cuisine is killing the real French food. They state that, real French food has died.

The other side is the young generation who keeps trying to improve and revolutionize French food. They believe that classic French food is too prudish and expensive, which is an unnecessary spent force for the restaurant-goers. Representing for this side, we have Le Fooding, a movement begun in 1999, by two young Parisian men, in an effort to revolutionize the way French people think about food. According to the article “Death to the French food snob”, “[Le Fooding] put a premium on food that is new and unconventional and populist. They include pizza and some forms of fast food (like Chipotle)”. Although that Le Fooding and the young generation did a good move on the globalization of food culture in general, however, many people think that they should spend more force on a culturally specific food revolution.

This is a controversial issue because people need to address which is the right way for French cuisine to follow: classic, or innovation.  Personally, I do not think that the new cuisine is good and effective, which the reason that has killed the real French food. Yes, for me, the real French food has died. It is hurtful to say that because I never want this cuisine will be down one day. It is true that I love French food but, it does not mean I will blindly support it even when it went bad.  For this reason and others alike, I believe that French cuisine should be back to the way it was, classical but still valuable.

Works Cited

Bibel, Barbara. “Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia.” Booklist 106.9/10 (2010): 122. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 July 2013.

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Revised: The Foie Gras Controversy

Whenever we talk about the national dishes of France, we cannot overlook one of their most famous and exquisite dishes, which is Foie Gras. Foie Gras is a traditional French dish that is well known within the culinary world for many centuries. However, nowadays, this elegant and upscale dish is facing a lot of controversy. In this blog, I will talk about the history behind Foie Gras and about its production method, which is the main leading cause of controversy and why it was banned in California.

What is Foie Gras? Simply, Foie Gras is the dish of duck or goose liver that has specially fattened by force-feeding corn with a gavage (a feeding tube). Its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike the taste of a regular duck or goose liver.

For me, foie gras is one of the most delicious foods we are having. Not only that, it’s one of the most nutrient-rich foods, full of fat-soluble vitamins that protect us from degenerative diseases. It’s also a very traditional food that has been around for many centuries. For these reasons, I always support foie gras even when “California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill in 2004, requiring that Sonoma shut down the operation or convert it to another use by 2012 due to demonstrable animal cruelty by force-feeding” because of involving into a controversial issue on animal abuse.

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“The outcry from those who would ban foie gras completely is centered on the gavage method of feeding, which prohibitionists’ claim is inhumane”. However, I think the people who against foie gras should know at least some BASIC facts about the foie gras method. Here are the two important facts they should know before considering foie gras as animal cruelty. The first fact is “ducks have no gag reflex and their esophagi have a tough lining, so they can swallow huge fish or other prey without pain”. For this reason, there is nothing that called animal abuse in this case because the birds have a “remarkable ability to expand the mouth and stretch the esophagus to swallow large prey”. The next fact is that “independent vets and scientists conclude that gavage causes ducks no harm”. The letter of Dr. Bartholf to Chicago City Council has clearly stated that foie gras is a “non-pathological and non-harmful product”. Therefore, it is not right to say that the gavage method of feeding is inhumane.

An unamed patron gets into a heated exchange with protestors outside the restaurant who he said are disturbing his dinner.   Protesters gathered in front of Baywolf restaurant  in Oakland, CA to protest their special "Farewell to Foie Gras" dinner Sunday Feb. 26th, 2012 Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Banning foie gras has received a lot of objections from many French restaurant included some famous chefs. “More than 100 of California’s best-known chefs have joined forces to fight the nation’s first state law banning the sale of foie gras”. Patterson, one of many chefs opposed to the ban, says that, “It’s a stupid law. It’s a big waste of time and a big waste of money. If we want to change how we eat in this country, there are a thousand other ways, like school lunches.” By saying that, Patterson has given me an issue in this foie gras ban. It is not the issue about whether it’s a waste of time or money. The issue is about the American value of freedom, which includes the right of people to choose what to eat. Why we have to change how we eat in this freedom country? We value our right to choose what we say, watch, worship and eat. We deserve the freedom to eat what is lawfully produced.

Customer Sarah Jones of San Francisco takes a flier from a protester in front of Alexander's Steakhouse.  Alexander's Steakhouse held their last farewell to foie gras dinner and fundraiser in San Francisco, CA Saturday June 30th, 2012. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

The article: “Foie gras battle: restaurateurs vs. activists” has claimed that, “Foie gras, or enlarged duck liver, is considered a delicacy at Melisse, one of the top-rated restaurants in Southern California”. Josiah Citrin, Melisse owner and chef says that, “It is definitely one of the most popular things we serve here”. Banning foie gras was a big hit to the restaurants’ business in California. More than a hundred restaurants in CA have taken it off the menu. According to the article “Foie gras ban proves confusing, hard to enforce”, on the last night for the selling foie gras, the orders of the Pasta Shop restaurant in Oakland, CA amounted to roughly $4,500, similar to what they sell around the holidays. I concluded that the foie gras demand of California gourmet is still really strong and they are willing to pay a big amount of money just to have a good dish foie gras. For this reason, we can tell how effective banning foie gras has caused to the loss of restaurant industry. With this in mind, when the French restaurant business was harmed, the California economy would be strongly affected.

The Ratatouille Effect

RATATOUILLE!
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this word? A french dish? A Disney animated film? Or perhaps you never heard of it?
For those of you that do not know what it is, well then you’re in luck! In this blog post, I am going to introduce you guys to this delicious vegetable dish, which by the way inspired the animated Disney film called “Ratatouille” as well.ImageRatatouille is a traditional French stewed vegetable dish made with “summer vegetables” such as eggplant, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, garlic, bell peppers and other various herbs. The dish can be served with a side dish or an appetizer along with chunks of crusty bread or rice. The history of ratatouille began in Nice, France. Originally, the dish was considered to be “a meal for poor farmers or peasants, and was usually prepared in the summer with fresh vegetables.” We are now in the perfect summer time, the time when all of the vegetables are readying themselves for their farmers’ market close-up, so the timing couldn’t be better to get a delicious dish of ratatouille ourselves. Here is an easy instructional video on how to make ratatouille if you guys are interested in.

Unlike the souffle and foie gras dishes I have talked in my previous blog posts, ratatouille does not require expensive ingredients or exquisite methods during its preparation and is very easy to make! Its flavor is very natural and is very healthy due to its freshness. In my opinion, simplistic and easy-to-make foods such as ratatouille are sometimes better than expensive foods such as souffle or foie gras.

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In 2007, this dish has become really famous that brought “Ratatouille” to the forefront of the American population the name refers to a French dish. Thanks to Disney- Pixar films Ratatouille becomes a household word as they weave a story of a little rat that has always wanted to be a chef. In my opinion, this is the best movie that teach you a lot of meaningful thing in this world as well as introduce you the art of french cooking. For me, it is absolutely better than the other meaningless Disney movies like “Sleeping Beauty” or “Snow White”. If you haven’t watch it, don’t hesitate to do.

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The little rat is cooking

The movie has bring a great affect to the culinary world as well as the people who watched it. The article “’Ratatouille’ effect: Mom, can we have French tonight” shows the strong effect that the “Ratatouille” movie has impacted on the French restaurant’s chain. As the author claims, “this could be the greatest thing to happen to French food since young Gaston LeNotre got his first Easy-Bake Oven”. The movie about a rat that can cook successfully arouse the viewer the essence of French cuisine. The number of guest of French restaurants has increased significantly after the film was released. The issue at stake in the source is the fine dining nowadays hasn’t been appreciated as it was before. The fast food industry is surpassing establishments with table service therefore the effect of this movie is “the greatest thing to happen to French food”. Morover, a restaurant has been pulling in young customers, too, by way of a “Ratatouille” cooking class for youngsters.”We made five or six recipes from the movie,” he says. “It was fun for us.” Overall, the movie has successfully made the viewers want to experience a real gourmet-French restaurant and tour the kitchen.

Foie Gras and Its Controversy.

Whenever we talk about the national dishes of France, we cannot overlook one of their most famous and exquisite dish,which is Foie Gras. Foie Gras is a traditional French dish that is well known within the culinary world for many centuries. However, nowadays, this elegant and upscale dish is facing a lot of controversy. In this blog, I will talk about the history behind Foie Gras and about its production method, which is the main leading cause of controversy and why it was banned in California.

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Many people may ask what Foie Gras is. Simply, Foie Gras is the dish of duck or goose liver. The name actually means “fatty liver” in French. To have a good foie gras dish, the duck or goose has to be specially fattened by force-feeding corn with a gavage (a feeding tube). Its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike the taste of a regular duck or goose liver. I still remember the feeling when I tasted my first foie gras. It felt like the piece of liver was melting in my mouth, really bold and buttery.

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Many people will be surprised that this popular French dish was actually originated in Egypt. The article “History of Foie gras” says that, “the ancient Egyptians noticed their geese would eat large amounts of food during the winter, which resulted in their livers expanding…Ancient drawing show Egyptian farmers force-feeding the geese, a pictorial testament of the early origins of foie gras production”. It’s really interesting, isn’t it? I never thought that this fancy dish of an elegant Eastern country like France was originally from one mystery country of the Middle East. I have to admit that the ancient Egyptian was really intelligent for inventing the foie gras production to create our current premium fare. One more interesting thing in foie gras history is that The King of France, Louis XVI, once proclaimed Foie Gras as “The Dish of Kings”

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However, foie gras is now involved into a controversial issue because to get the fattened liver, people have to force the gooses to eat more food than they would eat in the wild. They consider its production as animal abuse. The Humane Society of the US and the Animal Legal Defense Fund stated that foie gras production methods are cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. However, this is a really famous traditional French dish so there are many objections to this issue. Stopping producing foie gras means that they are erasing a national dish of France. I think in this foie gras issue, people would disagree because the production method is cruel and inhumane, but they need to agree that this is a national dish with great traditional values.

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Unfortunately, foie gras has been banned in California since July 1st, 2012. Banning foie gras has received a lot of objections from many French restaurant included some famous chefs. The article: “Foie gras battle: restaurateurs vs. activists” has claimed that, “Foie gras, or enlarged duck liver, is considered a delicacy at Melisse, one of the top-rated restaurants in Southern California”. Josiah Citrin, Melisse owner and chef says that, “It is definitely one of the most popular things we serve here”. Banning foie gras was a big hit to the restaurants’ business in California. More than a hundred restaurants in CA have taken it off the menu. When I do the research about it, I saw a lot of questions about the places to have foie gras in CA after the banning process. I concluded that the foie gras demand of California gourmet is still really strong and they are willing to pay a big amount of money just to have a good dish foie gras. For this reason, we can tell how great of the loss banning foie gras has caused to the restaurant industry. With this in mind, when the French restaurant business was harmed, the California economy would be strongly affected.

Revised: MasterChef and the Souffle Challenge

Have you ever heard of a show called “MasterChef?”
If you’re a fan of the “Hell’s Kitchen”, you probably know what I’m talking about. The MasterChef is a reality show where amateur home-cooks compete in the world’s biggest cooking competition in America.

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MasterChef’s superstar judging triad features Graham Elliot, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich.

A few days ago, I watched the third season of MasterChef (last year), and was really impressed by the 18th episode with the Souffle Challenge. To succeed in this challenge, the two candidates, Frank and Josh, had to cook three different souffles: one cheddar cheese, one dark chocolate, along with one raspberry. They were given only 60 minutes to accomplish the task. While I was watching this unfold, all I could think of was “this is impossible!” For amateur home-cooks, baking multiple types of souffles in a time frame of only an hour is very overwhelming.

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Dark chocolate souffle with whipped cream on top.

So, what is the origin of “souffle?” Souffle is a French dish, which was invented by Antonin Carâme in the early 1820s. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a soufflé as “a light dish, either sweet or savory, made by mixing materials with white of egg beaten up to a froth, and heating the mixture in an oven until it puffs up.” The word soufflé comes from French, and indicates that the dish is “puffed up”. When you see the pictures, you will understand why it is called “soufflé“.

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Cheddar cheese souffles.

According to the article,”Antonin Careme’s Souffle Rothschild”, the history of souffle has over gone through many periods to achieve our current souffle. “Initially, Carême made his soufflés in stiff pastry casings that were not eaten. Their straight sides were the inspiration for our current soufflé dishes.” My thought after reading the recipe for souffle considers this is a concept rather a specific dish, and timing is all the matter. Through the article, I came across some interesting information on souffles. Did you know that the soufflé is usually the most expensive dish on the dessert menu but takes the least money to make? It is because everybody are intimidated by making them at home. Even though it is considered as a very sophisticated dish, yet, in case any of you would like to test your culinary skills, it is worth a try.

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Raspberry Souffle.

I was really impressed by the article “The Art of Perfecting the Souffle” of Carrie Weichbrodt. In her article, she clearly shows us the tips to back a perfect souffle. She firstly talked about the way to “impede the formation of air bubbles and puff’ by using a copper bowl. I think this tips is really useful because not many people know about it and they rarely talk about it on any recipes or cookbook. She stated that, “The secret to a successful soufflé is in whipping the egg whites” then carefully shows us step-by-step to get a perfect souffle. I love the way she connected science into cuisine like “the proteins in the whites will expand better when warm”,”as the foam begins to form, the proteins stretch, so add an acid to stabilize this chemical state change”. Being a chef, cooking tasty food is not enough. They need to be knowledgeable to make healthy and well-balanced food also. After reading her article, I feel that she has put all her heart and soul into the method for the love of cooking. She finally persuade me that ““The guests wait for the soufflé, not the soufflé for the guests.”

For any of you that have read the souffle method, you will find out how exquisite to bake a souffle and it explains why I said it’s impossible for the souffle challenge in the Masterchef. However, both Frank and Josh all finished the souffles with their incredibly minimal cooking times. They did it, so why are you hesitating to try? I promise, if you follow the exact recipe and have the courage to attempt it, you’ll surprise yourself.

MasterChef and the Souffle Challenge

Have you ever heard of a show called “MasterChef?”
If you’re a fan of the “Hell’s Kitchen”, you probably know what I’m talking about. The MasterChef is a reality show where amateur home-cooks compete in the world’s biggest cooking competition in America. Leader of the Master Chef superstar judging triad is the British chef Gordon Ramsay who I believe is the hardest judge. Besides Gordon, it’s Joe Bastianich, an American vintner and restaurateur, and Graham Elliot, the poster boy for the new-age chef.

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MasterChef’s superstar judging triad features Graham Elliot, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich.

A few days ago, I watched the third season of MasterChef (last year), and was really impressed by the 18th episode with the Souffle Challenge. According to the “MasterChef: The Ultimate Cookbook” book, “the Souffle Challenge was one of the most difficult pressure tests ever in MasterChef”. To succeed in this challenge, the two candidates, Frank and Josh, had to cook a cheddar cheese souffle for Gordon, a dark chocolate souffle for Graham, along with a raspberry souffle for Joe. They were given only 60 minutes to accomplish the task. While I was watching this unfold, all I could think of was “this is impossible!” For amateur home-cooks, baking multiple types of souffles in a time frame of only an hour is very overwhelming.

mare_milk_chocolate_souffles_with_nougat_whip_v

Dark chocolate souffle with whipped cream on top.

Souffle is a French dish, which was invented by Antonin Carâme in the early 1820s. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a soufflé as “a light dish, either sweet or savoury, made by mixing materials with white of egg beaten up to a froth, and heating the mixture in an oven until it puffs up.” The word soufflé comes from French, and indicates that the dish is “puffed up”. When you see the pictures, you will understand why it is called “soufflé“.

mla103078_1207_souffle_xl

Cheddar cheese souffles.

According to the article,”Antonin Careme’s Souffle Rothschild”, the history of souffle started all the way back to the Middle Ages when cooks started incorporating whisked egg whites into a variety of dishes. Soufflés can be made in all shapes of containers but traditionally, they bake it in a ramekin. The history of souffle has over gone through many periods to achieve our current souffle. “Initially, Carême made his soufflés in stiff pastry casings that were not eaten. Their straight sides were the inspiration for our current soufflé dishes.” My thought after reading the recipe for souffle considers this is a concept rather a specific dish, and timing is all the matter. Through the article, I came across some interesting information on souffles. Even though it is considered as a very sophisticated dish, yet, in case any of you would like to test your culinary skills, it is worth a try.

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Raspberry Souffle.

I have started a research about some good places to have the perfect souffles in San Francisco. Unfortunately, none of theses places are cheap (you know, french cuisine). The price for a good souffle is around $30-$40. They come with multiple flavors that you can choose, and the price is different also. Here is the souffle menu of a French Cafe in Grant St.

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It’s interesting that souffle can be an entree also. How many of you are willing to pay $60 for a lobster souffle?

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For any of you that have read the souffle method, you will find out how exquisite to bake a souffle and it explains why I said it’s impossible for the souffle challenge in the Masterchef. However, both of them all finished the souffles with their incredibly minimal cooking times. They did it, so why are you hesitating to try? I promise, if you follow the exact recipe and have the courage to attempt it, you’ll surprise yourself.

Introduction to French Cuisine

 

 

French-Food-Culture

Whenever we talk about French cuisine in America, the picture of those elegant restaurants with fancy food automatically come up to our mind. According to the article “Introduction to French Food and French Cooking” of Rebecca Franklin, France is a country that has an abundant and exquisite culinary art. The French are really gourmet and take seriously about eating.

French cuisine is famous about wines, cheeses and dishes such as snails and fat foie gras. I’ve eaten fat foie gras once in a French restaurant in America but to be honest, it was awful. Comparing to the foie gras I have tried in France, it is a huge difference. This led me to the conclusion that real French dishes are not easy to make. The article informs us, each region has its very own uniqueness. Eastern has crepes, Saumur wine and cider. Northern has champagne with famous brands such as Veuve Cliquot, Roederer, Heidseik, Moët & Chandon, Laurent-Perrier… The central of France has many kinds of cheese, cognac and Sancerre white wine. Since the Southwest is famous with fatty foie gras and Bordeaux wine brands. Particularly, Paris is very famous for coffee and cafes. In the Paris travel article “Best Traditional Paris Cafes and Brasseries”, the author says that, “There is nothing more French, or more specifically– Parisian– than taking a few moments out of your day to sit with an espresso in one of the city’s thousands of cafes”. Coffee here comes in species diversity as well as serving form. The charming and romantic cafes have become an important part that build up a beautiful picture of a vintage but yet elegant Paris.

household-guide-coffee-house-cafe-de-floreA coffee shop in Paris

A short history of French Cuisine in Franklin’s article also helps us to understand more about this country’s story. Since the Mid-15th century, French cuisine has led the food industry and was described as “a magical art of beautiful presentation and innovative flavors”. I believe, the refined techniques in making delicious cheese and wine has bring French cuisine to the level of mastering the art of  cooking.

wine-cheese-3The most important food pairing of all-Wine and Cheese

Because of all the exquisite gourmet, French cuisine is labeled as “haute cuisine” of the 21st century. In french, “haute” means “high”, a “haute cuisine” refers to a high class, gourmet restaurant, which is also luxury and expensive, obviously.

In 1970s, the revolution of “nouvelle cuisine” has bring french cuisine to a new direction. Despite of using the heavy cuisine with the strong traditional flavors, the “nouvelle cuisine” gives us fresh, and light flavors but clarify on the pure taste. And this is what we can experience in modern French restaurants nowadays.

Overall, French cuisine has already been branded for its French arts, a part of the meal in a restaurant where they compare the experience feels like enjoying a theater. The French cuisine has undergone several stages to achieve the level of mastering the art of cooking. Therefore, in order to enjoy the essence of this great, the cost for one meal is relatively high but it is worth for what we get. For this reason, do not hesitate to enjoy the refreshing feeling in the dawn with a cup of hot coffee and a French style croissant! Bonjour and bon appétit!

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