We are all well aware of what is taking place in Paris and have deep concern for the people of France and for all free people who are directly or indirectly impacted by terrorist activity worldwide. Some have brought to light that the acts of terror in Paris have received extensive attention, while other pockets of inhumane activity throughout the world seem to be covered with less zeal. Every infringement on people’s right to live in peace is abhorred by those who understand the importance of this freedom, but when these acts of horror are imposed on our friends and family it is human nature to pay extra attention. Such is the case with the French people, who through much of history have been friends of the U.S. and the rest of the free world.
“Sitting in a park in Paris, France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream that some of us had”
As I watch the non-stop coverage of the unfolding story in Paris, I find myself reflecting on that friend relationship that I share with France and on a larger scale that all professional cooks and chefs share at some level.
Cooks sometimes give only passing thought to the influence that France has on what we do for a career. French is, to a larger degree than any other, the language of the kitchen. The processes that we use to prepare food, the technique that we strive to develop, the names affiliated with equipment and many ingredients, are in French. The organization that we emulate in most professional kitchens had its origin in the kitchens of Escoffier, Careme, and Pointe; and the titles of cooks and chefs in various positions are part of that brigade that Escoffier confirmed in his operations from France to Monte Carlo, London and eventually the United States. How we dine in formal restaurants was clearly defined in French operations on the Champs-Elysees or the special hotels with chefs from Crème to Ducasse at the helm, and the style of service by course (service a ‘la russe) designed by Escoffier and Cesar Ritz. This style is prevalent in white tablecloth restaurants and the most comfortable family style bistro in every neighborhood from New York to California. The restaurant industry may have substantial influences from other European and Asian countries, but it would be difficult to argue about the deep seeded French mentorship that is evident.
Reflecting on my own experiences with France, I always begin with the mystique of the country itself and the wonder of Paris. It is a magnificent place with incredible architecture, a history that is evident on every corner of every street, and striking landmarks, museums, works of art, landscapes, and style that are intoxicating.
But once you get past the physical beauty of this place, it is the people, the food, and the cultural influence of France that are such shining stars. France is a perfect example of what freedom means to those who relish the concept. The freedom to live as you choose, the freedom to express oneself in numerous ways, the freedom to enjoy life and all people with whom you come in contact with, the freedom to determine your own course of work, the freedom to learn, and the freedom to express opinions without fear of recourse. It is this freedom that aligns France with the people of the United States, and it is likely this expression of freedom that draws anger from others who see this environment as contrary to their way of life. It was France, our friend, who presented the U.S. with the most striking symbol of freedom – the Statue of Liberty, which welcomes everyone to our nation and stands tall as a symbol of what makes both our countries so special. This is the common core of the French people and the people of the United States.
There are symbols of freedom that have historically defined France as central to democratic life: World War I came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, one of the most vivid symbols of the end of WWII was the parade of troops through the Arc de Triomphe, and the rising point of Tour Eiffel splits the sky with a symbol of possibility just as poignant as the Statue of Liberty. All this being said, it still comes down to the people of France and how they carry out their lives that makes them such a strong symbol of everything that we hold close as important.
My times in France are marked with incredible people and food experiences (the two are inseparable). Yes, Paris is exceptional in this regard, but if you peel back the layers of perception regarding pretentious dining, you find that food, wine, and neighborhoods in France are defined by simple, consistent, fun and unpretentious restaurants. The neighborhood restaurant in Paris remains a model for others to admire and follow. Since Paris is such a populated city, the apartments where people live tend to be small and efficient. Kitchens are closet size with very little space for storage and cooking. As a result, the French depend on neighborhood farmers markets for food that is purchased daily and brasseries or bistros on nearly every corner that serve the residents of a city block or two. It is the markets and the restaurants where the people of Paris interact and build the warmth of community.
Sitting at an outside table in a French brasserie, enjoying a perfectly made cup of coffee with a croissant or crusty baguette and watching the people of Paris go about their lives should be on everyone’s bucket list. Paris is a destination experience for people from all over the world, an experience that defines a life of freedom.
To a cook or a chef, a visit to Paris brings to mind a visit to Poilane Bakery – home to probably the finest bread in the world; the chance to visit and maybe dine at restaurants like Arpege, or L’Atelier, or a chance to meet Robuchon or Ducasse and walk through some of the meccas of cuisine that define quality dining throughout the world. It is just as important to visit those community bistros and brasseries for steak frites, or mussels, frog legs Provençale, or a country pate. Stopping into a local vendor and picking up a baguette, regional cheese, some incredible charcuterie, and a bottle of Cote du Rhone and bringing your cache to a park bench overlooking the Eiffel Tower represents one of those special, memorable moments in a cook’s life.
That is Paris, but beyond this magnificent city are the people of the country. The farmers, vintners, potters, bakers, restaurateurs, and shop owners who are just as knowledgeable, just as passionate, and just as committed to great food and wine as the most sophisticated patron in the heart of Paris. Appreciation of food is universal in France, it goes beyond socio-economic differences, and it is an integral part of the culture of France. Ah….the importance of breaking bread should never be overlooked.
I have enjoyed the privilege of walking the vineyards of France and touching grapes that were destined to become exceptional wine. I have worked alongside many dedicated and passionate French cooks and chefs who found their calling in the kitchen. I have broken bread with philosophical French farmers and wine makers while discussing politics, art, music, religion and food, and laughing so hard that I could barely catch my breath. I have fond memories of bicycling through the French countryside and stopping for a picnic of local bread, cheese and wine with the rolling hills and valleys of central Burgundy as a backdrop. I visited the museum of Escoffier and touched the desk where he wrote memorable menus for the hotel kitchens that he orchestrated. There were incredible moments when I sat on a bench in Musee D’Orsay while studying paintings by Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh – these works of art just a few feet away. I have dined in some incredible restaurants that are worldwide destinations and even more quaint little bistros in villages with no more than a few hundred residents – the food was just as memorable. Most importantly, I have had the pleasure to have fantastic meals prepared by friends in their homes as we relished the freedoms that we share.
France is a special place; a place of friends, a place where all lives are treasured, a place where people understand that eventually good will win over evil.
Vive la France! Solidarity.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC