Sunday, July 05, 2009

Them Frenchies ...

Michael Steinberger says French cuisine "is an ossified relic, weighed down by time-worn conventions and overshadowed in many eyes by more innovative cookery in countries such as Spain."

No wonder, as the Toronto Globe and Mail reports, he can't find a French publisher to distribute his new book, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine and the End of France.

Speaking as someone who's visited France, I don't think there'll ever be a time when it's impossible to sample classic and/or provincial French cuisine in and near Paris. That said, I think it's funny that Mr. Steinberger's French-cuisine-is-dying thesis is based on France's statist economic policies and French cultural chauvinism, indeed.

More from the Globe and Mail ...

[French] [v]ineyards are going broke, dozens of restaurants are closing each day, artisanal cheeses are disappearing. Even Camembert, one of the country's signature cheeses, is under siege.

"Every year you have thousands of cafés, brasseries and bistros shutter," says Mr. Steinberger, who was in Toronto last week to promote his book. "You've seen an entire food culture in eclipse."

The French blame globalization and the rise of chains such as McDonald's, which now counts France as its second-most profitable market after the United States.

Mr. Steinberger isn't buying it. "Globalization is their catch-all for everything that's wrong with France," he says, but the problem is at home – an "inside job."

Domestic wine consumption has plunged, Mr. Steinberger argues, and decades of a lagging economy and high unemployment mean the average French family just doesn't have the money to eat out regularly at bistros and higher-end restaurants. McDonald's is all they can afford.

On top of that, the country's high taxes and oppressive labour laws make it next to impossible to make a profit running a restaurant, Mr. Steinberger says.

As a result, chefs with ambition have looked abroad to more fertile markets such as New York and London – where almost half a million French have become what Mr. Steinberger calls "economic refugees."

"French cuisine has stagnated because France has stagnated for the last 30 years," he contends.

No comments: