Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Fall of French Cuisine or the Fall of Michelin Three Star Restaurants?

A very interesting review of Au Revoir to All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine by Michael Steinberger in the London Review of Books. Most of the discussion is about fine dining, and frankly flying to France for a $400 dinner is not something I'll be doing unless I suddenly strike it rich... but it's still really fascinating, and I thought these stats about French home cooking were noteworthy:
The statistics tell much of the story: in 1960, there were 200,000 cafés in France, now there are about 30,000, an average of two closing every day; the French home meal a generation ago took 88 minutes to prepare, now it’s 38 minutes; the great majority of French cheeses were unpasteurised in the 1950s, now only 10 per cent are made from raw milk; French family-owned wineries and farms have been going out of business at an alarming rate, and the proportion of the labour force employed in agriculture has dropped from 20 per cent in the 1960s to about 5 per cent today.

The "time in the kitchen" trend mirrors what's happened in American households... though it's 27 minutes from about 60 for us. According to the review, Michael Steinberger apparently thinks the crisis in French fine dining is due to entirely too much equality and social justice in France... not enough hedge fund managers I guess. It may be my political leanings, but I'm a bit skeptical of Reaganomics and Thatcherism being responsible for the foodie revolutions in the US and UK... but it seems like any "Death of French Cuisine" book really has to engage the Le Fooding movement doesn't it? Presumably Steinberger has no interest in a restaurant without three Michelin stars, but for the rest of us it seems important to note that there is a movement highly capable French chefs trying to bring three star food to the masses for reasonable prices... especially when the foodie revolutions that have occurred elsewhere aren't really about $400 dinners.