The fallout from Japan as Mecca
- mangeur Jan 29, 2010 04:27 PM
In the past several years, there has been a noticeable tilt toward Japanese influence in French food. No chef worth his salt fails to go on an eating journey to Japan. From the point of view of my own palette, sometimes these work,almost as often they do not. But more to the point, I find myself mourning the demise of local and regionally classic cooking.
Can you give some examples?
I have probably found the opposite, France is very traditional and the majority of restaurants continue to serve the classics bistro/brasserie/restaurant repertoire. Compare this to Spain and there is a greater Japanese influence in some places, but still I see the food as still predominantly Spanish. Here in Sydney we have some very good examples of Japanese/French fusion chefs (Tetsuya for example) and there is far more evidence of a Japanese influence than I ever saw in France, although it still doesn't swamp the options.
I know there are a few restaurants in Paris that have or had a Japanese chef but I haven't noticed any overall increase of Japanese influence either. On a side note, I cannot stand fusion cuisine and would go out of my way to avoid it except I am actually a fan of Alan Wong. It works (at least for me) because in his case, it reflects his background as a Chinese-Japanese American chef who grew up in Hawaii and regional cuisine in Hawaii evolved by fusing many ethic elements because of history as opposed to trends.
In fusion food in general, there is most of the time what I call a "colonial" approach -- taking commodities without regard for the whole culture. But food is part of culture -- it has a spirit, an environment, cultural and historical roots. Borrowing gimmicks or ingredients and then claiming to be "fusion" is just a marketing recipe.
At the same time, it actually is the essence of French cuisine to integrate exotic ways and ingredients -- integrating spices and vegetables from the new world, food ways from the Italian renaissance, etc. In that sense, Roellinger was quintessentially French exactly in that he was travelling three months a year and was totally inspired by cookings from all over the world, but applied in a sensible way to his main ingredients -- fish and vegs from Bretagne.
Of course the same thing happens with Roellinger as happened with Adria, Loiseau, Robuchon, Guérard or even Wagner: lots of mediocre cooks started imitating their ways, without being convincing at all.
So what I miss is not necessarily local and regional cooking. It's the authenticity, the quest for chefs to serve what they really like and understand instead of trying to make a point. I have no idea if it is worse now than it was before. I suspect that, in any discipline, the proportion of really good, authentic guys is never very high, and the majority are imitators.
Many restaurants in France, esp those inventive néo-bistros, have shown a very positive Japanese-Chinese-Thai influence. However this influence is not overwhelming, and at least not even enough to qualify the cuisine as fusion. Me thinks French cuisine in France remains very French.
"I find myself mourning the demise of local and regionally classic cooking. "
I find the contrary, with all the emphasis on terroir in recent years...
Classic cooking, that's another issue. The trend is toward inventivity everywhere, which means anything but classic. Even in Spain I started to crave classic dishes because I got so moleculared-out sometimes. Foam foam foam, give me a break.
Last summer in a small town in the Loire, LAVARDIN, I had a classic beurre blanc sauce with my fish in the pretty riverside bistro Le Relais d'Antan, and realized how long I had not had a velvet-smooth beurre blanc sauce like that in a retaurant, and how much I missed it and didn't know I missed it.
Well, there certainly are both a lot of Japanese places opening each month and a lot of chefs influenced by Asian cuisine, but today for instance, my friend and I noted that the much heralded (with good reason) and reasonable Bouchon et l'Assiette in the 17th was reflecting the Southwest not the East (eg it was Basque-influenced not Asian-affected), despite the chefs' (yes there are two) journeys through the great houses of Frechon, Drouant, Michel Serran, & Dutournier.