I come from Lyon, the French capital of former France (Gaulles), of the French Resistance, of silk, of the printing industry and of cinema…well, it was pretty much the capital of everything until Paris came along. But above all it was and still is the capital of French gastronomy, so I am bound to write about French cuisine.
‘Lyon a table’, illustration from ‘La Vie Lyonnaise’ by Emmanuel Vingtrinier, 1898 (colour litho), Jean Coulon (fl.1898) / Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images
Cookery and food are a great part of the French culture as the tradition of gathering around a good meal of several courses dates back to the Middle-Ages, even though there were some differences back then, such as the fact that the dishes were served all at once and there was no silverware…
Going to the restaurant with my friends is one of my many passions along with travelling, but there is always this state of mind, this way of considering food that I never quite find anywhere else in the world, even though you obviously can find great restaurants abroad.
The Corner of the Table, 1904 (oil on canvas), Paul Chabas (1869-1937) / Musee des Beaux-Arts, Tourcoing, France / Bridgeman Images
However, I have to admit that today the average meal and everyday cooking among the French population includes precooked meals and junk products, like in any other developed country. To me, generally speaking, the Italians are better at cooking simple, fresh, everyday dishes. Besides, French cuisine actually embraced some Italian influences with the arrival of Catherine de Medici as Queen of France in the 16th century.
During the 19th-20th centuries, the French chefs Carême, Montagné and Escoffier were the ones that shaped the modern French cuisine as we know it.
Designs for food decoration from ‘Le Cuisinier parisien’ by Antoine Careme, published 1842 (engraving) (b/w photo), Marie-Antoine Careme (1784-1833) (after) / Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images
Nowadays, the famous chefs are Paul Bocuse, Christian Têtedoie, Alain Ducasse, the Troisgros family, Anne-Sophie Pic, Jean-Francois Piège, Frédéric Anton and many more. They are renowned worldwide and usually use the services of great sommeliers to choose the best wines that will be served with the different courses.
So, to finish on a patriotic tone – I am French after all – let’s say French cuisine is the best! Proof is the French can’t get enough of cuisine: we are one of the few countries where people, while eating, actually continue to speak about food and the next meal they are going to have.