Drama Food

Culinary sovereignty: is French cuisine the best in the world?

The 50 Best Talks arrive in Paris and the chef’s question (among the controversies) about the present and the future of French cuisine. Which today is no longer what it once was – thanks to the others – and teaches a lot also to the Italian one

When the list of The Word’s 50 Best first appeared in 2002, France had only six restaurants mentioned. The nation that invented restaurants, champagne and great wines, gastronomy, chefs and brigades (practically everything) was overtaken by Spain and by nations like the USA and England. Today, 2019, there are only five restaurants on the list, including the first, the Mirazur by chef Mauro Colagreco.

Kitchen without borders: the best in the world

At his investiture in June, in Singapore, he took the stage with a large flag with four nations represented and sewn together. Chef Mauro Colagreco is an Italian-Argentine and his restaurant overlooks the border of Menton, 250 meters from the checkpoint of the Ventimiglia border. With tears in his eyes from the stage, he had begun: “Wow! Today we celebrate France and its values: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. This flag represents France’s new approach to cooking “. And then he thanked all the countries that had hosted him, trained, made a cook and a man. «The kitchen is able to go beyond all types of borders. The borders? Never seen one with my eyes, they exist only in people’s minds ». Fresh from three stars conquered in January, he brought home the most sought-after title by the chefs of the world, in the same year in which, for the first time after 110, the Michelin Guide awarded a non-French chef in France. “It’s important to tell people to come and see how France is changing, how it’s changing its cuisine. It is a great moment for French gastronomy ». He had said in a press conference with a markedly Spanish accent. Evidently the sovereigns had their ears booed.

Paris questions its culinary supremacy

Four months later, for the first time the global event of The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants arrives in France, not to proclaim a new ranking, but to celebrate its winner and French gastronomy. On September 16, the 50 Best Talks were held in Paris, a discussion event organized by Miele (indeed, Milè as they say in Paris) between chefs and characters from the gastronomic scene. A rendezvous, very popular, with an audience that seemed to be waiting for nothing but being able to have its say in this debate. On the stage, as guests, the Parisian chefs included in the list: in addition to Colagreco, Alain Passard (restaurant Arpège), Bertrand Grébaud (Septime restaurant), Romain Méder (of the restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée) and Yannick Alléno (of the Pavillon Ledoyen). The round table was led by Eric Brunet, political commentator, and professional polemic; a species of Cruciani follower of Sarkozy.
“The French have always been convinced that they have the best restaurants in the world. How is it that instead, according to the most influential world list, we are not at all? Thus begins, with a question that seems to be made by the “belly” of the country, a session of self-awareness on French cuisine today, its identity, its superiority (or not) compared to those of neighbors. “Has Spanish cuisine overtaken us? Are you in danger? ” With extreme diplomacy and aplomb, the chefs on the stage open up to an autodafé. The debate could sound like egocentric and originated, especially in a day dedicated to “no borders”, but in reality captures exactly what, for example, Italians think of our kitchen, that is to say, that it is the best in the world and that it is little considered by the world rankings as the 50 Best …

Get off the throne

Alain Passard admits that it is useless to feel on the throne thinking that nobody can chase you away because that’s not how the world works. If you put something on the pedestal it becomes a museum and dies. He knows that the gastronomic growth of other countries has forced them to question themselves, but he does not feel in danger: being sixth on the list and internationally recognized, it is easy to understand why. Yannick Alléno admits that the level has risen everywhere in the world, from Peru to Japan, also thanks to the influence of French cuisine. “If foreign chefs still come to France to study, it’s because they recognize that there is something to learn. And we learn from them. This means that we are still relevant, but also that we have changed, we are freer, while it is true before we were sclerotic, fossilized », concludes Alléno.

Move the definition of French cuisine

But do you still do French cooking or does it sound conservative? And what does it mean? The moderator continues. Seasonality, products, technique, and sauces are in agreement with Passard and Alléno. “We call ourselves a French restaurant, we play with the history of our kitchen, but we interpret it,” says Romain Méder. “It is in our DNA, but we are also able to absorb different cultures. We have always done it. We are at the center of Europe and this is why our cuisine is so rich and has had such a great impact on the rest of the world ». As long as the world was only old Europe, this certainly worked. Even from Septime, one of the signs that gave birth to the bistronomy phenomenon has no doubts. “I recognize myself as a French chef and I do French cuisine, but this does not mean staying in the tradition: it can be updated”, explains Bertrand Grébaud. Colagreco continues: “We cannot say” do not touch it “, it is not enough to say” I do French cuisine “, here, we are only cooks who have gone further and have moved the definition of French cuisine”.

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