Did you know there is no single word in the French language for healthy? ‘En bonne santé’ doesn’t quite cut the mustard does it, in terms of reinforcing healthy eating? But who really cares anyway, as another French Week is upon us again? And while it’s not all about the food… for me it is!
Herself a noted chef, Julia Child referred to cooking in France as being, “a serious art form and a national sport,’ and a pastime of which Jean Anthelme Brillart-Savarin professed to be acutely aware of as he boasted, ‘Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es,’ or in language I do understand, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” He has though, been beaten to that by my fridge magnet which says that, “If you are what you eat, I’m cheap, quick and easy!”
Just hearing someone say “Bon Appetit,’ is out of the ordinary, isn’t it? It implies that something special, in a culinary manner is about to happen, and it ramps up the anticipation doesn’t it? It just immediately perks up the senses as you realise that the cook, or chef, has probably invested a little more into the food.
In fact, French food was probably as much of a cottage type form of cuisine, away from the bright lights and affluence of the indecently wealthy until Auguste Escoffier came along with his particular brand of haute cuisine, which remains highly influential among chefs and restaurants all over the world, today.
Known familiarly by his local press as ‘roi des cuisiniers et cuisiniers de rois,’ or ‘King of chefs, and chef of kings,’ the restaurateur, chef, writer, and kitchen manager simplified and modernised the earlier initiatives of Marie-Antoine Careme during his time at the exclusive Ritz and Savoy Hotels, and laid down the law in respect of the recipes for the five mother sauces: béchamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise, and sauce tomat.
Under Escoffier, soups became fashionable as the Frenchman explained, “Of all the items on the menu soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention.” He was a devout believer that, “the stock was the most important part of a soup,” and to be honest Monsieur, you had me at ‘Bouillabaisse!’ This seafood extravaganza is stunning in France, and ordinary elsewhere, epitomising the care factor for, and structure of the dish, in its own environment.
He was the man who was adamant that jellies were essential to “cold deserts, which, however perfect in itself, is nothing without its accompanying jelly,” and who brought glamour to the table in the form of the Dame Nellie Melba inspired, ‘Peche Melba,’ and the strawberry delight, ‘fraises Sara Bernhardt.’
The crunchy Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame, boiled meat, emmental or gruyere cheese and (with the latter) egg, breakfast pain de mie brioche creations, breathe new life into breakfast, since their appearance 100 years ago. Baked or fried, with or without béchamel sauce, they are every man’s sinful eating! The Dutch tried to imitate it with their ‘tosti,’ the Greeks with a ‘tost,’ the Brits with a ‘toastie,’ and the Americans with a ‘Monte Cristo,’ but the crown continues to rest easily in France.
During this week, you should experience what I have in French cuisine, only you won’t have to travel to Paris, for the French Ambassador to Oman, HE Renaud Salins, has inspired a French Week of such diversity it may well be a ‘fete extraordinaire,’ and yes, it’s more sophisticated than just food with commerce, industry and fashion also featuring.
Let words like cassoulet, bourguignon, confit, escargot, coq au vin, gratin dauphinois, ganache, and crepe roll onto, and off your tongue this week, but don’t come between me and any ‘quenelles’ for these shrimp, lobster and leek sausages are to die for, … or else!