Is French cuisine dead? Not even close.
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.