To be clear, I do not hate French food or french cooking – I want to say this at the outset. If you are interested in food or cooking to any degree, you have to at least acknowledge, if not revel in, the history of French cooking and its impact on the way we eat today.
I do, or rather did, have reservations however about the position French cuisine holds in relation to other varieties and styles of food. For me, I have often thought of it as a boring, elitist, verging on poncey, style of cooking, with safe flavour combinations and a played-out list of core ingredients. As is clear from my Instagram page, I am a big fan of a variety of cuisines, but particularly Thai, Middle-Eastern and Mexican food. For me, these cuisines are exciting, with bold and novel ingredients and dishes that are well balanced. The spectrum of flavours encapsulated within a Tom Yum soup or a Chicken Mole is broad, and the dishes ‘sing’ as a result.
I have always seen French cooking as the antithesis to the aforementioned cooking styles. Rich, heavy foods, laden with butter, cream or wine have been dominating our cookbooks and TV cooking shows for years, and as I result, I had written it off as a style of cooking I could get much from.
There are a couple of experiences I have had recently that have changed my way of thinking on this matter. I have been fortunate enough to spend some time in France this summer, and have eaten in a couple of restaurants that are so French its almost comic. I’m talking old bicycles on the wall, magnums of Burgundian red wine gathering dust, staircases that are almost falling down and waiters and waitresses who look at you like you’re the scum of the earth upon hearing a whiff of an English accent.
It made me think about what the equivalent restaurant in Britain would look like. I’ve decided it would either be a tea room in Windsor serving Victoria sponge on gingham table-clothes, or a greasy spoon cafe in Hounslow with mis-matching mugs and dirty aprons. However you picture the quintessentially British food scene, for us Brits, it doesn’t evoke a sense of pride or seem like something we would want to advertise to others. This is in contrast to France, where the stereotyped, clichéd French dining experience is, from my experience at least, celebrated.
After seeing this, I’ve begun to re-consider my opinion on French food itself. What I previously saw as clichéd dishes became an obvious expression of national identity and heritage. This heritage is something I have seen (and loved) in Italian cooking, but hadn’t associated with France or French cooking. Somehow, I’ve always seen the stubbornness expressed by an Italian Nonna or chef when considering cream in a carbona as charming and authentic, in comparison to the French attitude towards their national dishes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that French cooking, and the accompanying pomp and history, isn’t quite so bad after all… shock horror. While I still think there are far more exciting flavours and cuisines out there, and still think there is a huge bias towards French cooking when considering ‘fine dining’, I now recognise that French cooking has its place in our day to day cooking, alongside all of the other aforementioned cuisines. After all of that, it did seem slightly more revelatory in my head than written down…
Where do you stand on French cooking? What are your favourite cuisines? Are there any that you would like to see me explore or cook more from? Head over to @OTCooks_Eats on Instagram and drop me a message – I’d love to hear from you!