I’m in a really good mood today. Objectively I shouldn’t be. Our Paris apartment looks like it was hit by a major orage (storm) which in a way it was. Why? A rash New Year’s resolution (maybe we’d had too much champagne): We decided to get two small bathrooms and our bedroom renovated. After six weeks of dust and pounding and barely being able to get at my computer, I’ve decided I should have had my head examined before embarking on this little life adventure. I’d feel much better if I’d decided to write about it like Peter Mayle did about his house in Provence and laugh all the way to the bank. But I didn’t – and I’m not laughing or experiencing any particular “joie de vivre” about the pickle we’re in.
So what managed to put me in a good mood? Very simply, an interview on last night’s news in which 9-star French chef Alain Ducasse announced that he and a bevy of fellow top chefs have created a label for restaurants serving food cooked on their premises by the cook.
Now this may sound self-evident. I mean, if you go to a restaurant, it’s because you want to eat food made by a the cook. Unfortunately, even in France, the country of gastronomy par excellence, restaurant food has fallen into the hands of “managers”. I write about this in “Joie de Vivre” and I quote: “One out of two restaurants in France no longer serves food made in the kitchen.” That boeuf bourguignon you are eagerly digging into more often than not has been delivered to the restaurant in vaccum packed containers and re-heated (you may be faked out: the kitchen “manager” will sprinkle on a bit of parsley to make it look homemade).
Since I was fortunate enough to have a French mother-in-law who made one of the best boeuf bourguignons I’ve ever eaten, I can tell the difference between the real thing and second best – and have, more often than I like. And not just boeuf bourguignon. In restaurants French fries (frites) are invariably frozen, salads come not from fields, but plastic bags, and sauces from tubes or cans.
Years ago baguettes were bad – the outside was either too cooked or not enough and the inside was like cotton. Someone “up there” decided that customers should be able to differentiate between real bakeries where the bread was baked on the spot, and places that merely sold bread that was deposited there. Only the former can call themselves “boulangeries“. I don’t know if it’s a result but the quality of bread in France has improved immensely since the epoch of the Bad Baguette.
I’m sure that is what will happen with this current movement. I’ll get back to you on what the label says and looks like so you’ll know what to look for. As tourists, you should be able to eat the best of what France has to offer. In the meantime, chapeau (hat’s off!) to France’s top chefs for putting the cooks back in the kitchen.