I simply love the way my lover serves food. Be it a picnic or some dishes I have cooked, it’s the way he arranges it all on the platters and the way he uncorks the champagne and the wines. He’s a heavy weight businessman but that does not diminish his grasp of that French art of dealing with food. He’s French, of course and it seems that Frenchmen know all about cooking and serving food. I don’t mean ‘The French’ entirely. I mean French men. The only two French women who ever cooked anything when they stayed with me in London had one dish each in their repertoire. One did Croque Monsieur when her boyfriend visited. The other did Moule Marinere when I introduced her to a Francophile ex of mine. The moule were superb, as were the bottles of Pouille Fume he brought, the whole lot, served before a blazing log fire in my Montagu Square salon. The love affair lasted a few weeks. Perhaps the one dish introduction needed some additions? One should not rest on one’s culinary laurels!
But back to the men, much the best part of the deal. The best French Chefs, in France or abroad, are well known to be creative, temperamental and exacting. But although a few females have been trying to erode their solid ranks, they remain dominant in the kitchen. Two French Chefs were friends of mine in London. They worked at prestigious embassies but moonlighted to make me a three course buffet for a concert and soirée I produced for 100 people. They did a great job and the ticket holders were ecstatic about everything from the ambience to, yes the concert, and of course the food. When, I was asked, would I do another one?
Since then I’ve moved to Paris, where I have to say I find not all French know that much about food or wine. Perhaps they take for granted the fact that even the simplest brasserie or café can rustle up a delicious omelette or steak and frites. Even though the standard is declining as costs rise, these compare favourably with many London equivalents. Some French seem not to expect a foreigner to know anything about food or wine. But I was taught French dining rules as a child. Besides, there is more good wine and more good French cuisine available at good restaurants in London than in France except at the very top establishments. I’m not saying that the food lacks quality at places like Laurent where President Hollande and his First Umbrella Carrier, the Rottweiler, (yes its still raining all the time) dine occasionally--a few steps from the Elysée’s back gate. I simply think that the Michelin star system is over rated: each time I’ve eaten at a Michelin starred place, I find the more the stars, the worse the food. Crème seems to be the main ingredient, plus salt overdose, and vegetables are mere slivers of decoration. One invariable feels sick later.
But eating at top restaurants is not the point. France is acknowledged as the home of great cuisine. Due to this, gourmets from all over the world fly in to discover how to shop, cook and serve great French dishes and wines. Hence, there are cooking schools all over France where these devotees train as adepts. French people also attend cooking schools in Paris, often in the lunch breaks.
French cooking was apparently imported from Italy by the ghastly Catherine de Medici, bride of Henry I (of France) along with high heels. She did a good job on marketing both.
Paris boasts several cooking schools, one of which, ‘Cook’n with Class’ in Montmartre attracts an international clientele who are taught by English speaking Chefs. This school will have a stand at the France Exhibition at Earl’s Court the coming weekend of Jan 18th-20th.
Other stands at the Exhibit include estate agencies, financiers and property renovators. Their stands may have been booked before the election of Francois Hollande last May as President for five years and the killer taxes he has since imposed on foreign property owners plus their incomes, or indeed on the wealthy French. One of the latter is Gerard Depardieu the actor who has invested heavily in restaurants, one of which my lover and I patronise for its excellent simplicity. His decision to become a resident of Russia makes him one of the more celebrated examples of a wealth drain of billions that has occurred since Hollande’s anti- wealth policies came into effect last October. In October-November 2012 France’s exchequer suffered a net loss of 53bn euros as individuals and businesses decamped; plus money supply has been falling at an accelerating rate since Hollande’s investiture. Bankruptcies are rising and the private sector is in revolt.
I grieve for French enterprises whose representation at the London Exhibition demonstrates such hope that France with all its wonderful amenities for leisure will attract foreigners as property owners, investors, tourists and foodies. Alas, while the cooking skills will remain, they may reap more profit for their talented cooks and restaurateurs outside France rather than at home.