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National Emergency ?

message posted 04-Jun-07 18:09:22
FOR the French, it ranks as a national emergency. Their top chef is warning of a culinary apocalypse in which restaurants run out of decent ingredients .

It might not make it on to the agenda of the G8 summit, but a mixture of environmental degradation, economic success and spreading gourmandise has produced so much competition for the best products that they may soon run out, warns Pierre Gagnaire, one of the pioneers of modern, experimental cooking.

“Today everyone wants roughly the same thing,” said Gagnaire, who has restaurants in Paris, Hong Kong and London. “Supplies are getting scarce. I am deeply worried.”

Within a few years, warned the chef, it may no longer be possible to buy fish that is not “farmed”. Demand for wild fish will rise, driving up prices to the extent that it becomes unaffordable. Some restaurants may be forced to close down.

It is the same for certain vegetables and fruits whose habitats are being destroyed. “Within a few years they may be impossible to find,” said Gagnaire in an interview at Le Balzac, his Paris establishment that has been ranked among the top three restaurants in the world after El Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.

In an age of instant profit, he said, it was becoming more and more difficult to be confident about the quality of foie gras and truffles. When it came to beef, the chef had anxieties about growth hormones and mad cow disease.

“The cost of raising a nice pig or a nice cow has gone up so much,” he said, “that some people want their animals to grow quicker. Instinctively I feel worried about the intrinsic quality of products.”

Restaurants may have to adapt their menus, he predicted, offering only a handful of dishes. Alain Passard, another top Parisian chef, may have set the example a few years before by announcing that he would no longer cook meat at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Arpège. In Gagnaire’s view, however, even fish was potentially dodgy. “Freshwater fish, shrimps, turbot, we just cannot find the quality any more.”

Gagnaire is one of several Michelin-starred chefs who have lent their names to restaurants around the world as demand for fine dining has exploded, particularly in the tiger economies of Asia.

Sketch, his restaurant in London, has been ranked among the world’s top 20. “The English like to detest the French,” he joked, “but they are beginning to like me.”

Gagnaire is reputed to have demolished the conventions of classical French cooking by introducing jarring juxtapositions of flavours, tastes and ingredients and applying scientific methods to cooking.

Like Jamie Oliver, the British television chef, he has taken a prominent stand against junk food, attacking the advertising industry for making poor quality food seem fashionable.

“You shouldn’t have to go to a three-star restaurant to get good food,” he said.

Simple economics would seem to conspire against that. At Le Balzac, a main course such as roasted salmon – wild, of course, from Alaska – can cost up to £150.

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