September is Fête de la Gastronomie Time
You’ve enjoyed the Fête de Musique, now celebrated worldwide, so time to settle down to the 2012 edition of Fête de la Gastronomie, celebrating the food and wine of France as it should be, at table with family and friends.
La Fête de la Gastronomie is a national event aimed at celebrating French cuisine. The festival follows UNESCO’s addition of the French gastronomic meal to their prestigious list of World Intangible Heritages, which honours the conviviality surrounding traditional French meals.
For the festival’s second year the theme of the celebration is Local produce – tradition and creation.
Food lovers everywhere have been invited to honour and celebrate the diversity and creativity of France’s local cuisine. France’s local specialities carry a history and a freshness steeped in a rich, thriving cuisine whose roots are in its terroir and the traditions inspiring it — cooking after all is first and foremost a social and cultural activity.
In September 2012, events will take place around France and abroad all in celebration of French gastronomy.
Visit the website pictured below and select your locations in or outside of France for a list of all the tastiest events.
Meanwhile subtle changes are taking place in French eating habits and French chefs are not slow in adapting according to the festival’s website which highlights a significant revolution:
Is the immoveable French gastronomic meal as unshakeable as it seems?
The traditional French meal, with its starter, main course, possibly cheese and then dessert, has appeared to be an immoveable feast for a very long time – perhaps fifty, or maybe even a hundred years? But now it would seem that this rather rigid format might not be set in stone after all! Chefs are beginning to offer an all-or-nothing surprise menu, or little tastes of this and that along the way, telling us what we are going to eat rather than letting us choose …A wind of change is fluttering the pages of the gastronomic menu!
In France, meals are nothing if not traditional. If you need proof, look no further than the definition of the French gastronomic meal as it appears in the UNESCO World Heritage list: ‘The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert.’ And it’s true – almost all traditional French restaurant menus offer a selection of dishes under the headings ‘starter’, ‘main’, ‘dessert’.
But French cuisine has been pushing at these artificial boundaries for a while now, and its chefs are beginning to find them rather stifling. A number of them are increasingly exasperated by the traditional meat or fish dish ‘with garnish’, while their clients want to shake off the chains of the status quo, encouraging French chefs to reclaim their right to change culinary habits.
Once upon a time, a long, unchanging à la carte menu was synonymous with quality and choice, but now a large number of restaurants have reduced the range of dishes on offer, emphasising the importance of cooking with fresh, seasonal produce. It makes perfect sense, therefore, to write the day’s menu on a slate, which can be altered quickly if an ingredient is suddenly unavailable. But what clients have found harder to accept, is that a top quality restaurant should choose to communicate with blackboard and chalk!
Meanwhile, clients who used to find the obligatory three course meal somewhat claustrophobic have been delighted to discover that, in some restaurants, they can opt for two starters and a dessert without upsetting the waiter, something that would have been quite unthinkable just a few years ago.
And if you find it hard to make up your mind, some chefs are now inviting their clients to give them carte blanche and let them choose the menu – a calculated risk, after all, because if you close the menu at L’Epuisette, in Marseille, you can be pretty sure that Guillaume Sourrieu will only be cooking you the very best fish!
To cap it all, some chefs have gone a step further with the gastronomic revolution: not only do clients have no say in what they are going to eat, sometimes they don’t even know what it will be! At Sébastien Richard’s ‘La Table de Sébastien’, in Istres, or Alexandre Mazzia’s ‘Le Ventre de l’Architecte’, in Marseille, the menu is a complete surprise, and clients have no choice whatsoever – unless they suffer from a truly debilitating food allergy. Otherwise, forget it! You will be served seven light portions of food, the order dictated by product family – creations that are based on either vegetables, shellfish, meat, fish, cheese, fruit, or chocolate. More than a meal, restaurants like these offer something that closely resembles a magical mystery tour for the palate!
Less illustrious restaurants are beginning to follow the Spanish model, offering tapas, little tastes and dishes of this and that served all at once for everyone to share. When you think about it, this is a very similar approach to how banquets were served inFranceat the end of the 18th century. The meals seemed to comprise an indecent number of dishes, but they were not served one after the other. Waiters would put a number of dishes on the table at once and guests were expected to help themselves to what they wanted. The first batch of dishes would then be removed and replaced by another – there would be three to six services altogether as a rule. The 1st service, for instance, might have included soups, hors d’oeuvres, omelettes, poultry or fish galantines, and little pies. Next came the fish course (skate with black butter sauce or pike à la polonaise), then the roasts, and the 4th service would comprise vegetables and desserts.
So when the restaurant menu includes an ‘hors d’œuvres buffet’ or ‘tapas-style starter’, we’re a lot closer to 18th century France than we might think!
Acknowledgements for content and images: Franceguide.com – Official website of the French Government Tourist Office
[listly id=”1iQ” layout=”short”]
- French Food is Dead – Long Live La Cuisine Classique (ideas.time.com)
- France to lure gourmands with week-long food fest (canada.com)
- We could borrow a few good ideas from French gastronomic meals (balanceoffood.typepad.com)