It’s getting to be that time of year, when the looming change of the calendar entices writers, bloggers, marketing agencies and pundits to start talking about new trends in the world of food. In recent years, that’s meant Scandinavian cuisine, small plates, food trucks, modern Spanish cooking, Asian mash-ups, New World wines, craft beers and so on. Absent from those lists, and surely not destined for the ones you’ll see in coming weeks, is French cuisine — or even the idea of traveling to France for food. Yes, the country that basically started our food obsession is now decidedly untrendy. How did this happen?
To be sure, France hasn’t done itself any favors. While other countries have busily promoted their young culinary up-and-comers, the French seemed content resting on their laurels, continuing to focus on Michelin stars rather than the new rock stars of the kitchen. I found myself wondering about this recently, thinking that although restaurants like Chateaubriand and Frenchie have become well known in U.S. culinary circles, and that natural wines from the Loire Valley and throughout France are infiltrating wine lists at cutting-edge NYC restaurants, the buzz about France remained as flat as a bottle of weeks-old Perrier.
I was even told in recent weeks by a notable English critic and an Anglophile author that London’s restaurant scene has far surpassed Paris’s. Sacre bleu!
Meanwhile, I’d also noted that over the past two years, many of the major restaurant openings in New York City have been French, with big names like Carmellini, Torrisi and McNally offering their spins on the bistro or brasserie. All of this, I must admit, piqued my curiosity, which is why I spearheaded an effort to explore French food, drink and culture over the course of a devoted week, to see if we American food writers have somehow been overlooking an exciting, deep-benched cuisine in favor of shinier new things.
The results will play out starting now, with on-the-ground reports from Paris, Burgundy, Provence and Aquitaine (the region anchored by my new favorite up-and-coming city, Bordeaux). We’ll also look at French cuisine in several major U.S. cities, assess France’s wine regions in depth, and speak to some key players who span both cultures, starting today with Ludo Lefebvre, who we sat down with in Paris and who shares our point of view that French cuisine is strangely underrated today.
It’s been a team effort, with writer Rachel Signer traveling to the vineyards of Burgundy and its towns like Dijon to gather firsthand knowledge; contributing editor Matt Rodbard and I started our recent trips in Paris, then fanned off, with Matt heading southeast to Provence (Aix, Avignon and Marseille), while I went to Bordeaux, St. Emilion and Sauternes. This was an ambitious itinerary, but it still means that we left large swaths of the country uncovered, and while I would have liked to see what’s going on in Brittany, Alsace and of course Lyon — not to mention a little place called Champagne — I operated with the same underlying goal I’ve always maintained when visiting France — to leave myself reasons to return.
That said, I’d like to thank many of the people who made this endeavor come to life. First, the France Tourism Development Agency (Katherine Johnstone in particular) and its partners in the regions of Burgundy, Aquitaine and Provence came up big for us, introducing us to the dynamic chefs, winemakers, purveyors and writers who ended up playing such an important role in our stories for France Week. (France Tourism is on Facebook and Twitter, in case you’re interested.) We couldn’t have gotten there without Air France and Rail Europe. And in Paris, Design Hotels helped us out immensely. I’d also like to personally thank writer and radio host José Ruiz for turning me on to great food and wine in Bordeaux, and for tolerating my wavering French language skills in an interview for France Bleu Gironde; Céline Boute from the Aquitaine tourism board; and Gwenaëlle Towse-Vallet from the Bordeaux tourism board.
Matt Rodbard would like to thank a number of tourism and wine representatives from the various Departments for driving him around, waking him up when necessary and showing him the beating heart of Provence food and culture: Geraldine Dingwall in Aix, Laure Vaisserman, Michel Blanc and Valérie Gillet in Avignon, Emilie Bonnell, Rabiha Benaissa, Manon Chaussende and Christine Francia in Marseille and Cassis.
Rachel Signer would like to thank Danielle Hammon, Lizé Aaron and Becky Wasserman from Le Serbet, Etienne Madelin at Domaine Laroche in Chablis, and Christine Muller and Dominika Michot at Bourgogne Tourisme in Dijon.
A note on France Week: Food Republic will break in with relevant news stories and a few other features, but the majority of posts this week will focus on French cuisine, chefs, wine, travel — not to mention recipes for classic French dishes and a few new tricks. Thanks for reading, commenting and passing these stories on to your Francophile friends through social media.
Brought to you by our friends at the France Tourism Development Agency: