When it comes to fine dining, French cuisine has always been high on the lists of regard. Food has always been one of the cornerstones of this nation’s identity, and as such, it is regarded both in France and outside of it with pride and a high attention to excellence. Of course, the spot at the top has always been hazardous; every ten years or so, it feels as some major news outlet publishes a piece on the death of French cuisine. Such attacks have gone back more than 100 years, but in recent years, it seems as if France has decided to take these charges more seriously.
In 2003, the New York Times made the statement that the crown of fine modern gastronomy belonged not to the French, but instead to the Spanish. The article noted that chef Ferran Adria as the world’s foremost culinary presence with regards to gastronomy. Since that time, France has started gearing up for a new image, a new approach, and a surefire course back to the top.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has spearheaded a plan revolving around the concept of gastrodiplomacy to reassert France’s position as the global unchallenged culinary master. This twenty point plan began last year, and at this point, many of the disparate parts are in play.
France’s interest in remaining on top is understandable. In addition to a pride in a culinary reputation that goes back hundreds of years, there is also the fact that France is considered the food capital of the world. France’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, and the tourism in France has always revolved around food, whether the visitor is interested in the haute cuisine of Paris or the simple and heartier meals favored in the French countryside.
In recent years, France’s reputation as a culinary marvel has suffered. International travelers certainly still flock to the country, but there is a recurring trend where people dismiss French food as overdone or increasingly mass-marketed. The sentiment seems to be that the same old tricks are growing quite dull, and that with the exception of a few out of the way bistros and restaurants, France’s food no longer impresses.
Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy are the faces of Fabius’s plan to turn that position around. They are two star chefs that are incredibly invested in the resumption of France’s culinary glory, and they are implementing impressive changes to further their goals.
Ducasse and Savoy have put together a long list of suggestions for the improvement of French cuisine, both at home and abroad. For example, they are both strongly in favor of limiting the number of dishes in a meal to three, allowing chefs to concentrate on the quality and originality of the meal. On top of that, a focus on a smaller number of dishes would allow increased usage of local fresh ingredients.
More controversially, they have advocated for the lifting tight restrictions on wine producting and on advertisements regarding to alcohol. These restrictions have always been seen as part of the government’s interests in keeping quality high, but Savoy and Ducasse find the limitations stifling, reducing the industry’s creativity and expansion.
On the other hand, they also advocate the idea of increasing regulations on restaurant foods that brands themselves as “home-made.” The label should mean something, and it will discourage the restaurant’s use of prepackaged and vacuum-frozen items.
One portion of Savoy and Ducasse’s plan also intends to reward the chefs who earn the coveted Michelin award with a star-studded media event. The focus is always on rewarding excellence, making excellence easier to achieve, and creating procedures that make cutting corners a bit more difficult.
It is true that France has seen a decline in some international arenas. In 2014, there were no French restaurants in the top ten of the 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Only five French restaurants made the list at all. While Savoy and Ducasse dismissed the rankings as being weighed in favor of their opponents, it does seem significant that France’s ranking has never been quite this low.
Another part of France’s interest in recreating its culinary excellence abroad is the Good France project, known as the Goût de France. On March 19, 2015, at locations scattered across five continents, 1000 chefs are planned to serve meals that celebrate the rich variety and impressive tastes of French cuisine.
This dinner, served by more than 1000 chefs, will seek to create meals that capture the spirit of French cooking. The fascinating thing about this project is that it does not limit itself to fine dining. These 1000 chefs are set to capture every aspect of French cuisine, from the most pricey tables to the most humble yet satisfying bistro dining.
The hopes for the Good France project are varied. It is intended of course to promote France itself as a tourist location, garnering international attention and putting it squarely in the culinary limelight. It is intended to forward the idea that French food, far from being a relic of a different time, has come forward as a contemporary tradition as well. Instead of sticking to a set menu, chefs participating in this event are encouraged to add their own local culinary culture to the mix as well.
Finally, the Good France project is designed to promote French cuisine as being being responsible, healthy and innovative. There is a message implicit that French food is not meant for only a set of gastronomic experts or for the people who can afford it. Instead, there is very much an interest in this food being seen as widely accessible, beneficial for the eater, and kind to the planet. In short, it is intended to forward some of France’s most positive values towards a world
France’s plan to increase their standing on the international stage is one that is only gaining traction as 2015 continues. With a strong start in internal reforms and the excitement of the Good France project coming up soon, there is a great deal of potential in the future for French cuisine!