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.
Please choose a color:
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.”–inThe Physiology of Taste
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? 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.
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 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.
Quand les poules auront des dents. / Literally, “when chickens have teeth,” meaning that will never happen.
Bresse chicken or poulet de Bresse has had an A.O.C. since 1957, which defines the way in which they are raised as well as the geographic zone in which they can be raised.
It is a French breed known as Bresse-Gauloise. The feathers are generally white, and they have a red, crenelated comb. They have blue feet and a white beard. About a million chickens are sent to market every year.
Poulet de Bresse and other poultry from Bresse — including guinea fowl, capon, hen and even turkey — is raised under strictly defined conditions, but it is not organic. They are free range and have a grass-based diet, but also eat worms and mollusks. Final fattening is with cereals and milk products in wooden cages. Bresse poultry cannot be slaughtered under 5 months of age if they are to bear the A.O.C.
Boeuf à la bourguignonne, also referred to as beef or boeuf bourguignon, is a French classic from the Burgundy wine region of France. It is made with red Burgundy wine, and simmered for hours. It makes up part of what the French refer to as “plats cuisinés“, or slow-cooked dishes.
This recipe is quite easy to make, and should serve about 8 people. Plan to make it well in advance, since it is best when it is left to marinate for 24 hours and cook slowly several hours on the day of serving. It is the perfect dish for dinner parties or potlucks, and is one of the best leftovers around.
Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe
Click here for metric-Imperial-U.S. recipe converter