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Old 09-30-2006, 06:25 PM   #11
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I visit France often. I can honestly say that the number of meals I've eaten which have been badly cooked can be counted on less than the fingers of one hand! And a lot of that is down to the passing down of skills and traditional cuisine from older generations to younger.

The French ARE chauvinistic about many things (not just food) - but their cooking is good. The only thing that I would note is their reluctance, in many cases, to incorporate 'foreign' elements... which is amazing considering they once had colonies in so many interesting parts of the world, eg Vietnam, Africa and the French West Indies.

Mind you, the Italians are the same.... Jamie Oliver did a TV series recently called Jamie Oliver's Italy.. He cooked really sublime food, but very few of the locals were game to even try it, because it wasn't EXACTLY like Mamma made 'her' ravioli, melanzane dish etc....
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Old 09-30-2006, 06:57 PM   #12
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Quote:
without failing in quality
In my opinion those are the key words. Quality ingredients to one person maybe pig's food to another.

I have had QUALITY cat head biscuits and red-eye gravy!
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Old 09-30-2006, 07:57 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kitchenelf
In my opinion those are the key words. Quality ingredients to one person maybe pig's food to another.

I have had QUALITY cat head biscuits and red-eye gravy!
KElf while that's true in some cases, it's not always the case. You can give an average cook top shelf quality ingredients and an experienced cook ingredients that are average to above average in quality to cook the same dish, and in many cases (stuff like Insalata Caprese and Steak Tartare notwithstanding), I will bet that the dish the that the experienced cook makes comes out better. This will be even more apparent if there is no recipe to be followed and both cooks must improvise or cook from memory. That's why I always emphasize that technique is always more important than the ingredients themself.

For instance, say there was yourself and a cook of average ability. You guys were both given the task of making Steak au Poivre with no recipe. Both of you had made it in past.

The average cook was given:

Niman Ranch Prime New York Steak
Fleur de Sel
Tellicherry Peppercorns
XO Cognac
Demi Glace
Unsalted Butter

You were given:

USDA Choice New York Steak
Kosher Salt
Black Peppercorns
VS Cognac
Veal Stock
Unsalted Butter

Without tasting either I would guess that your dish would taste better, even with your subpar ingredients.
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Old 09-30-2006, 08:00 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ironchef
Whether it be Hubert Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, Hubert Keller at the French Laundry, Rob Feenie at Lumiere, Joel Robuchon at any of his restaurants, etc., etc. , the menus will all have a lot of fusion. T
You mean Heston and Thomas
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Old 09-30-2006, 08:16 PM   #15
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IC - I think I sort of maybe agree I wasn't thinking of a head-to-head "cook-off" - I was thinking more in terms of a person who knew what they were cooking and could cook "it" well - while one person's "quality" dish might be looked down on by someone who thinks a quality dish has to have high-priced quality ingredients. Quality being more "the best a dish can be for what it is no matter what "it" is". Don't make me say that again

Do I really know what I mean? Yes, but I just can't put it into words!
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Old 09-30-2006, 08:40 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Seven S
You mean Heston and Thomas
Thanks...yeah that's what I meant. Don't know why the name Hubert was stuck in my head.

But for those that don't know, there IS a Hubert Keller and he's no slouch himself. If you're ever in the SF area and want an exceptional meal, visit Fleur de Lys.

http://www.fleurdelyssf.com/
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Old 09-30-2006, 09:11 PM   #17
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First off, I would like to chip in that Caterina de Medici of Florence, Italy and her army of cooks had an immense influence on what is now known as French cuisine upon her marriage to King Henri II of France. It was in Florence where the first uses of butter and flour used as thickening agents (roux) were first known. Upon moving to France to be wed and become queen of france, she brought with her these techniques which later on became adopted as French. She is credited as one of the most influential people in culinary history. (For more on this, read Giuliano Bugialli's "The Fine Art of Italian Cooking")

Moving on to other things... we now have a "snapshot" of what "french cuisine" is or was, not incorporating foreign elements as one user pointed out, etc. and we now see a "fusion" trend where french technique and new ingredients merge... but what is "authentic french"? Or authentic anything?? Where do we draw the line? Well, I will answer that for you

Most of us in the "western" world use as a premise for our cuisine the immense contribution of the Columbus voyages. Would the French have their "Pommes Dauphinois" without the humble potato indigineous of Peru - they wouldnt, and neither would the Irish have their "Colcannon"; just the same the Italians would be without their "Insalata Caprese" or their "Salsa Marinara" without tomatoes, as they were also indigenous to the Andes mountains in South America... just the same, we in America (the whole continent, North Central and South) would be without our "Carolina Barbeque ribs", our Latin American "Arroz con Pollo" (chicken with rice) or "Sancochos" (Chicken Stew), our "Cuban Lechon Asado", our "Mexican Fajitas" and be able to claim it as our own "authentic" cuisine, since the domesticated chickens, cattle and pigs were brought to this continent from Europe on these voyages. In order to put things into a different perspective, I bring these observations to the table since most of us, including myself, are sometimes guilty of seeing things from a narrow viewpoint. I encourage those who like to read to pick up Raymond Sokolov's Why We Eat What We Eat for more on this subject. Today we see a shrinking world and we must adapt, and be more accepting, and that is why we see the great chefs using the freshest and most accesible products, i believe TexanFrench was the one who pointed this out - the main difference is that back then the "freshest, most accessible products" were limited and now they arent, therefore, continuously we will find the best cooks/chefs taking advantage of this premise, the simplest of all, which is the selection of your materia prima, your raw materials. That is why these chefs do not use fresh tomatoes in winter.

Another point I would like to bring up is that, we credit the French tremendously for their influence in culinary technique but lets keep in mind that this is their influence over "our" reality here in the western world today. Cheesemaking and sauce reductions arent quite the norm in countries of asia - their influence is from the chinese who made immense contributions to the culinary world in areas such as pickling, dehydration, curing and stir-frying among others.

The "snapshots" we see are interesting. In a time where sauces and spices are used to "complement" a prime cut of meats, we forget how sauces and spices were previously used to "mask" the rancidity or inferior aspects of food. Before refrigeration, cooks/chemists/travelers/discoverers had to come up with ways to have food last for days on their voyages giving rise to acid-pickling techniques and curing techniques which now have a culinary life of their own in Ceviches, Bacalao (salt cod) and Prosciutto since they are marvelous in their own right. Where we saw Escoffier's elaborate use of thickening roux-based sauces in French proper cuisine, we later saw Fernand Point accepting lighter alternatives within the same cuisine while giving rise the next generation of french chefs that apprenticed under him such as Alain Chapel and Paul Bocuse. Today we see a public that further lightens their palates with simple au jus (pan juices).
Another "snapshot" which tickles me is the preparation of certain ingredients such as tuna. The italians and the french cook it to death, yet we now find it chic to sear the exterior leaving it raw and warm in the middle. "Cooking it to death" was true French technique. Today we are raising our pigs lean!! These snapshots are eye-opening indeed... i wonder how the future generations of cooks/chefs will continue to adopt and re-adjust today's techniques, and whose cuisines will be considered elite and most influential!
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Old 09-30-2006, 09:44 PM   #18
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The French have a tradition of being picky about technique, but I don't think they are the only ones. One day I was standing in the kitchen pulling that tough center tendon out of a pile of chicken breasts, and my wonderful Japanese sister-in-law, who was helping me, remarked "This must be French cooking--only the French and the Chinese would be this picky!"

I agree with Seven S that all foods, and our tastes, change over time. When was the last time you enjoyed a radish dipped in honey? According to the Latin teacher I know, this was quite a treat in Roman times!
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Old 10-01-2006, 02:07 AM   #19
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Steven S makes a number of very good points, and I agree that what we think of as French cuisine (especially haute cuisine) is a snapshot, or freeze-frame, in a continuum of culinary change. However, the French did provide that snapshot, preserving the techniques they had acquired and refined, making them available for those coming later to build on and adapt as appropriate to current ingredients and tastes. Caterina de Medici may have brought her army of cooks to France with her, but I have never read of her bringing cookbooks nor manuals for kitchen technique, by which I mean not only sauce making, but food prep, knife use, etc. I admit that my knowledge of culinary history outside the Western world is sketchy, at best. Hence, I wonder if there are any cultures who have done for their cuisine what the French have done in the West?
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Old 10-04-2006, 12:55 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bullseye
Caterina de Medici may have brought her army of cooks to France with her, but I have never read of her bringing cookbooks nor manuals for kitchen technique, by which I mean not only sauce making, but food prep, knife use, etc.
She did contribute quite a bit...

"The lonely princess had brought along a retinue of cooks (called capi cuochi) with her, and now they comforted her with the delicacies of her homeland-sorbets, macaroons, frangipane tarts, and zabaglione. They introduced vegetables never before seen in France-broccoli, green beans, peas, truffles, artichokes, and melons. Guinea hens, as well as veal made an appearance. And most importantly, these Italian cooks taught the French how to move past the medieval preferences for meats prepared with dry rubs of strong spices, but instead how to employ delicate sauces.

Catherine also brought nicety to the table in the area of manners--she brought along the fork and table etiquette. In this, the French were a bit slower to adopt the fashion--not for another hundred years would the fork take hold, and table manners would be scoffed at as effeminate until the reign of the Sun King (Louis XIV)."

http://vt.essortment.com/whocatherinede_rggi.htm

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"When she moved to France, a crowd of friends, servants, and waiters accompanied her. The Florentine cooks who went with her brought the secrets of Italian cooking to France, including peas and beans, artichokes, duck in orange (canard a l’orange), and carabaccia (onion soup). But especially the pastry makers, as Jean Orieux (a biographer of Caterina) wrote, demonstrated their innovative genius with sorbets and ice creams, marmalades, fruits in syrup, pastry making, and pasta. A certain Sir Frangipani gave his name to the custard and the tart known in France as Frangipane.


Caterina also brought with her to the French table new protocol, such as the separation of salty and sweet dishes, at a time when all over Europe sweets were still consumed together with meat and fish in the style of the medieval times. Everyone in France was amazed by the Florentine elegance Caterina introduced: gracious table setting and dining, embroidery and handkerchiefs, light perfumes and fine lingerie, as well as luxurious silverware and glasses."


http://www.annamariavolpi.com/caterina_de_medici.html
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