The French and What They Eat

By Friday, August 28, 2015 Permalink 0

You might wonder how a country girl from Kentucky who grew up on fried chicken, creamed corn, biscuits, cornbread, and church supper fruit pies could be qualified to tell others about boeuf à la bourguignonnecassouletchoucroute or coq au vin. Yes, I’m writing a book we’ll call The French and What They Eat, since the title hasn’t yet been finalized. I’ll tell you the story in the book — from a general store/cream station/feedstore in a spot in the road in Kentucky where the loafers discussed whether it was better to put a bag of peanuts into a Coca Cola or an RC to the City of Light called Paris and Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School, eventually cooking, eating and drinking my way around France.

“What to Eat in France,” a series of regional French recipes with a story and a bit of history, is laying the groundwork for this book. If you’d like to follow the series on a regular basis, sign up for the newsletter in the right-hand column.

What’s the difference between a gourmand and a gourmet?

By Tuesday, November 24, 2015 Permalink 0

Et pevent estre diz en francois gloutons et gourmans./ And can be said in French gluttons and gourmands.Nicolas Oresme, fourteenth century

Les gourmands font leurs fosses avec leurs dents. / Gluttons dig their graves with their own teeth.–Henri Estienne, sixteenth century

Gourmandism is an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste. It is the enemy of overindulgence; any man who eats too much or grows drunk risks being expelled from the army of disciples.”–Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1825)

The meaning of gourmand is now certainly closer to gourmet than it is to glutton, but our evidence shows clearly that gourmand and gourmet are still words with distinct meanings in the bulk of their use, and are likely to remain so.Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, 1994

by Jonell Galloway

In English, there is confusion about the term gourmand. Technically, it means “one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking,” just like in French, but it is often used as a synonym for gourmet. Being a French speaker, I cringe every time I hear it used to mean “a connoisseur of food and drink.”

Yes, I’m a purist, and perhaps I’ve lived in France too long to find this acceptable, because being a gourmand has a pejorative connotation in French. It means someone who enjoys too much of a good thing and can’t quite control his appetites. It means “glutton”. It’s quite all right to be a gourmand of books or theatre, but not of food, as paradoxical as that may seem.

All major Western religions deem gluttony a sin. It is one of the Seven Cardinal Sins, with moderation being the virtue.

Gourmandizing means overeating or eating immodestly; it means eating like a refined pig or stuffing oneself with good food and drink.

Gourmand is extended to other sensual pursuits as well. You can have gourmandes lips; I’ll let you imagine the meaning of that. One can also be too gourmand about money, i.e. like in a little too much.

Then comes the question of whether gluttony includes pleasure, because gourmandise does, despite its negative connotation, contain an element of pleasure. Gourmands eat too much, but they do so with pleasure.

Gourmandise may be a sin in the eyes of religion, but thanks to Brillat-Savarin, probably France’s greatest gastronomic writer ever, it recovered its sense of finesse in his “meditations,” and he spent a good deal of time looking for evidence that it was a sin. He found none, he said. All the etymologists and theologians had gotten it wrong. He concluded that gourmandise is in reality a passionate, reasoned, regular preference for objects that please the taste buds. It is, he said, the enemy of excess and is only to be encouraged. That’s one writer’s opinion.

Some say the word gourmand probably comes from the Burgundian gorman, but that’s not clear. Gourmet is different, despite the fact that it may well have the same root, groumet, meaning “servant or valet in charge of wines,” from the Middle English grom, meaning boy or valet (as in groom). Somehow along the way gourmand took on the meaning friand, often linked to glouton, meaning “greedy.” A gourmet is a person who cultivates a discriminating palate and knows how to appreciate both good food and wine. In French, its synonyms are gastronome, expert, connoisseur, or master. In English and used as an adjective, gourmet often means “fancy” food. It does not carry with it the connotation of excess or lack of self-control, either in French nor in English.

It’s interesting to look at the origins of words, and they do change meaning over time, as we have seen, and when they are borrowed by other languages. Whether this is technically the case in English with regard to gourmet and gourmand is still questionable however, because one often sees the word gourmand used in lieu of gourmet.

Twitter Chat with David Downie

By Tuesday, November 24, 2015 Permalink 0

Twitter Chat with David Downie about A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, his latest book

To participate, go into the twitter box at the top right marked “Search Twitter.” Type in ‪#‎PassionParisTwitterChat‬. Our Twitter handles are @RamblingEpicure, @DavidDDownie or @JonellGalloway and you should find the questions and chats. Click the leftward arrow under a tweet to take part in that conversation or to ask a question. When there have been long discussions, click View Conversation under the Tweet.

People predestined to gourmandism are in general of medium height; they have round or square faces, bright eyes, small foreheads, short noses, full lips and rounded chins…..People to whom Nature has denied the capacity for such enjoyment, on the other hand, have long faces, noses, and eyes; no matter what their height, they seem to have a general air of elongation about them. They have flat dark hair, and above all lack healthy weight; it is undoubtedly they who invented trousers, to hide their thin shanks.”–in The Physiology of Taste

— Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

What to Eat in France: Gratin Dauphinois

By Thursday, November 19, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Authentic Gratin Dauphinois, or Real Gratin Potatoes with Cream and Garlic

by Jonell Galloway

Gratin dauphinois, which consists of thinly sliced potatoes cooked slowly with cream and garlic, seems a simple enough dish. Purists and traditionalists say there’s no cheese and no egg, despite the fact that Escoffier himself used them, and that’s what makes it difficult to achieve.

Michelin star chef Michel Rostang, who was born and raised in the region, doesn’t use them and claims that’s the only authentic way to make it. In fact, if you add cheese and nutmeg, it becomes a gratin savoyard. The real secret is in the choice of ingredients and the patience it takes to make it. A good gratin should melt in the mouth, yet the top should be crunchy.

The Dauphiné was an ancient province of France, located in the southeast, corresponding roughly to the départements of Isère, Drôme, and Hautes-Alpes plus a bit of the Rhône and the Italian Alps.

Is haute cuisine still relevant?

By Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Permalink 0

Is French cuisine dead? Not even close.

by Jonell Galloway

Is haute cuisine still relevant? Yes. What’s happening with it and does it still matter?

In 2009, Michael Steinberger, in his book Au Revoir to All That, declared that the ostensible decline of Michelin-starred restaurants mirrors the decline of France. While it is true that French cuisine, in particular the haute cuisine of the gastronomic palaces, may be threatened by high overheads and a weak economy, it would be wrong and premature to announce its demise. Profit margins are slim in high-end, labor-intensive restaurants, and labor laws are strict. The over-indulgence of the grandes tables of the past with their thousands of bottles of ancient claret in the cellar has been compromised by taxes on stock and thirty-nine hour work weeks that simply don’t work in the restaurant business, even if it’s four hours more than in other sectors.

Despite all that, French cuisine is still alive and kicking, and the number of Michelin star restaurants increases every year: today France has 26 three-star restaurants, four more than in 2000, and 80 two-star restaurants, ten more than in 2000, according to the Financial Times. In 2015, there are 25 per cent more one-star restaurants. These palaces remain quintessentially French in their food, service and organization. Simplified versions of these chefs’ dishes are published in cooking magazines and imitated in millions of homes around France, making it relevant even in middle class households. French families may not eat in such establishments often, but they will save and go to them once a year for a special occasion. This French devotion to their food traditions will ensure its survival.

What to Eat in France: Crêpes Vonnassiennes

By Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Crêpes Vonnassiennes, Vonnas-style Potato Pancakes

by Jonell Galloway

Vonnas in the east of France is the home of the legendary Michelin-star chef Georges Blanc. He is best known for his Bresse chicken with cream and mushrooms. Traditionally, this chicken is eaten with potato pancakes. This recipe is inspired by Blanc’s mother, La Mère Blanc, who ran his restaurant before him. He learned to cook at her apron strings.

Vonnas is in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, known for poulet de Bresse chickens and poultry, frogs, Reblochon and Beaufort cheese, as well as gratin dauphinois, made with raw potatoes, thick cream and garlic, and pork products, plentiful in the bouchons, small restaurants found in Lyon.

What’s the Difference in Haute Cuisine and French Cuisine?

By Sunday, November 15, 2015 Permalink 0

There are many kinds of French cuisine. It is not limited to the haute cuisine accessible only to the rich.

by Jonell Galloway

What many of us think of as “French cuisine” is actually haute cuisine, the cuisine that evolved from the aristocratic cuisine of the royalty. This cuisine was centered mainly in Paris and Versailles. Regional cuisine as we know it today did not even exist at the time, since regions didn’t exist until after the Revolution. Until the Revolution, there were provinces and feudal “kingdoms,” abolished afterward. Cuisine bourgeoise, the cooking of the upper middle classes and later middle classes, developed after the Revolution, and gradually filtered down to the broader population.

Regions didn’t formally exist by name until 1890, so there was little meaning attached to the word “region”. One cooked and ate what was available, what one grew and raised and that varied widely. Even the gruel was made with different grains in different regions. Regions only formed an identity after this. Knowledge of regional cuisines increased as travel became easier and accessible to all, especially after the generalization of cars.

French cuisine has always consisted of two tiers: haute cuisine and regional cuisine. Elements of haute cuisine — the cuisine that we inherited from the courts and later the affluent bourgeoisie, the cuisine that elevated sauce-making to an art form — have over the centuries infiltrated the cuisine of the regions, and regional cuisine is the lifeline and wherein lies the future.

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