History of French Cuisine from Conventional to Extraordinary
History of French Cuisine from Conventional to Extraordinary
Derived from the French language, bon appetit has been a familiar saying known around the world. Meaning good appetite or enjoy your meal, bon appetit exemplifies the French culture. The French have been known for centuries of elegant and exquisite cuisine especially gourmet desserts. Located in Western Europe between Italy and Spain, France has been a hotspot of enriched ancient culture. France flourished into a tourist location which ignited a change in France’s commercial kitchens. Chefs were obliged to create dishes that appealed to a growing audience.
French cuisine has evolved extensively over the centuries. However, centuries of bliss and creativity was dampened with years of anguish and turmoil, when Germany occupied France during the Second World War. France’s once plentiful food supply quickly turned scarce. This forced cooks to utilize new substitutions for ingredients and start practical meal planning. The hardships the French cuisine faced during 1940-1944 simultaneously changed the French lifestyle. Modern French food now embodies simplicity yet class; rustic yet modern.
Once having everything then being stripped away to nothing, France needed to rebuild a cuisine embracing the past, present, and future. Therefore beginning from World War II to modern day, French cuisine has experienced many changes whereby impacting French culture. An adversary of Germany, France sustained a significant setback when Germany took control. Prior to the German occupation, French food was known has haute or grande cuisine. Traditional haute cuisine is highly noted all around the world. The food is well known due to the immense amount of preparation and presentation that goes into each dish.
Precision plays a crucial role in creating an exquisite haute meal (Franklin). However, haute cuisine ceased to exist under German occupation and subsequent food shortages. Lines were long in front of French shops as people hoped to purchase depleted foods and staple products. Burdened with these difficulties, the French government instituted food charts and tickets which were to be exchanged for French staples. Items such as butter, bread, and meat were being rationed. Traditional cuisine then became obsolete due to citizens skimping on spices and decorations.
Although the government tried to provide food subsidies, hunger still existed affecting the youth in urban areas. With the absence of standard foods normally seen in their diet, the French people searched for new European dietary substitutes (Beaufort). They ate unusual vegetables, such as Swedish turnip and Jerusalem artichoke. Products such as sugar were replaced by alternatives such as saccharin. In lieu of coffee, toasted barley mixed with chicory became the beverage of choice (“French Classics”). Scams and trickery got the best of people who were desperate for a meal during this time.
Some people utilized the black market. There people could sell food without government tickets. Resulting in the prices being extremely high. Counterfeit food tickets were also in circulation. Along with the black market there was also direct buying from farmers in the countryside. The above activities carried the risk of fines and punishments as they were strictly prohibited by the government. In remote country villages vegetable gardens, the availability of milk products, and illicit animal slaughtering provided better survival for the people verses those living in the large cities (Beaufort).
Wine played a key role during World War II as well. Wine is commonly consumed during festive occasions it has been utilized during war as well. Over the years, wine has made an unusual appearance on the battlefield. Commanders have allowed their troops to consume wine on the front lines hoping for an increase in performance and moral. During World War II, the combination of wine and war played out in a heartfelt way. The French army did everything in their power to keep their wine and their national identity out of the hands of the invading German forces (“Saving”).
Although, the German forces did invade France, the consumption of wine on the frontline gave hope to the French soldiers that traditional French culture was being preserved during and after the war. The liberation of France began on June 6th, 1944. The Allied forces put forth into to action their plan, D-Day which was the invasion of France. After World War II, tourism signaled a new beginning for French cuisine. Tourism introduced the demand for haute cuisine at a reasonable price. Japanese, Middle Easterners, British, Americans, and even French travelers were yearning for new food experiences.
French chefs were now determined to start a new style of cooking, one that would keep some traditional recipes but implement new ones. New cuisine was a counteraction to the classic haute cuisine (Franklin). New cuisine or Nouvelle was the answer that chefs from all parts of the world were looking for. Nouvelle cuisine had several characteristics. For example it was important that high quality and fresh products were utilized for cooking. The chefs would travel to markets every morning and look for the freshest products.
These new and improved cooks would not fathom the idea of using any product that was not absolutely fresh or needed preservatives. Chefs simplified menu cards deleting a long list of dishes. Smaller quantities and choices meant no leftovers guaranteeing freshness. Chefs were looking for quality and became more attracted by unfamiliar products. Foreign influences prevailed and chefs began to use exotic products from Asia, North Africa and Italy (“Nouvelle Cuisine”). In new cuisine recipes, fewer ingredients were used to enhance purity and light sauces substituted creamy, thick ones.
Flexible preparation methods and more experimentation with non-traditional flavors allowed new cuisine to become popular (Franklin). Fortunately, this new cooking style is said to be less fattening. Chefs used limited meat in new recipes which stems from the shortage of meat during World War II. It is perfect for those seeking a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, the new cuisine was prepared with lighter ingredients such as herbs, quality butter, lemon juice, and vinegar. This flexible and less expensive cuisine mainstreamed into restaurants and other eateries (Beaufort).
One byproduct of the new cuisine is the menu de degustation or tasting menu that was offered in many restaurants. Achieving notoriety, diners were eager to sample all of the dishes of the new cuisine. Each member in a group had the opportunity to order a different appetizer, main course, and dessert. Tasting menus gave the diners the convenience to experience many varieties. Another byproduct of new cuisine is the choice of a la carte. It is a menu in which the patron makes individual selections from various menu categories and each item is priced separately. Serving single portions was seen as a rare new talent to chefs (Olver).
The French culture was launched and savored by people around the world. World War II impacted French living for the better by reevaluating French values and introducing new French cuisine ideas. French cuisine influenced other cultures as well and many countries adapted new French cooking methods. Throughout the centuries, France was noted for its grandiose and eccentric lifestyle. Rich foods and lavish feasts were an integral part of the France culture. Chefs prepared French cuisine with the finest ingredients. Wine was served and enjoyed at every meal. Food was plentiful for all.
All of this changed rapidly with the German Invasion in 1940. A ravaged and war torn country left the French people forced to explore new and less expensive ways to provide meals solely for survival. Yet, despite the devastation and hardship the French citizens endured, they utilized these cost effective measures and the importation of ingredients into the development of the nouvelle cuisine. Tasting menus and ala carte menus, not to mention exquisite appetizers and desserts, created the ultimate dining experience enjoyed by patrons. Thus emerged the world renowned and delectable French cuisine that is so popular today.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 January 2017
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