To look at French fine dining with disdain and to dismiss it merely because of its unmistakable meagre portions is to have completely misunderstood it. Agreed, those impassioned French chefs often adopt a ‘more fluff than stuff’ approach to food, however, to label France’s most famous cultural offering — its haute gastronomie — as pretentious, incomprehensible and miniscule is, in my opinion, a complete travesty. In order to truly understand the finesse, sophistication and elegance of French haute cuisine , it is imperative to look beyond quantity. It’s time to tip those caviar pearls onto your fork, embrace those bits of vegetable foam, dig into the meat jelly and savour those reductions or jus.
If you are a novice to this refined genre of cuisine, then it’s time to shed your inhibitions. One must look at presentation, menu concept, service standards and the overall finesse of the culinary experience. Where else, but in France, would you see the act of placing a ‘cloched’ entree plate before a diner carried out with the perfection, finesse and precision of a choreographed dance. Where else, but in France, would you see soupcons of sauce dribbled delicately over elegantly placed bits of meat and artistically sliced vegetables, all presented elaborately like some sort of artistic masterpiece.
What, then, you might ask, makes the French the global leaders of fine fining since time immemorial? At the base lies an unmatched culinary heritage that has been impeccably preserved and executed with military precision. However, modern French fine dining has evolved into something way beyond what’s on your plate. It is an all encompassing experience that enhances all your sense. At the end of your lavish repast, when you say “L’addition, s’il vous plait!” you are not only paying for the food…You are paying for the hours of thought that go into conceptualising a dish, sourcing the finest ingredients, which have then been blended delicately and dished out most exquisitely. You are paying for a level of service, rendered by service professionals who take pride in details right down to the angle of your teacup’s ear, the temperature of your Bordeaux or the placement of the Bernardaud plate logo. French fine dining goes beyond the simple act of eating or the science of cooking. It looks at the art of serving and being served. It is, in fact, a celebration of this art.
So while the fashionable might find it de rigueur to label French gastronomy as pretentious and hard to comprehend, others with a sensibility and willingness to appreciate this art will go beyond its superficialities, appreciate its complexities and innumerable nuances.
French fine dining is, after all, an expression of art and passion, beautifully transposed onto a plate. It’s hard to not fall in love with it!
I have said this in my writings on many occasions in the past and I will not hesitate to say it again, “When it comes to fine dining, nobody does it like the French!” So, let’s give those hungry Gauls their due. Bon Appétit!
Riaan J. George