Monday, August 31, 2009

The French

What's a red blooded, classically trained American chef to do when asked about his feelings on the French? As an amateur WW2 history buff my opinions on the surrender specialists typically turn towards derision, but then the fact that they invented the modern restaurant which turned into something that I based my career and ultimately my life around, turns my cognitive dissonance up to 11.

Usually when asked about France by a stranger I respond with a staccato "MaginotLine" before they can get another word in and this image never fails to pop into my head. Mockery? Most assuredly. Deep respect bordering on worship of Careme and Escoffier and the kitchen brigade and traditions they created? Absolutely.

So again, what am I to do with this obvious conflict? Compartmentalize of course. Look, the French chefs of the 1940s were way too busy actually working and kicking ass in their respective kitchens to go and help the politicians/generals who were busily giving their country away. Based on reputation alone I think that if classical French chefs had run the defense of Paris the fight would have been much more like Stalingrad than the way it turned out.

Classical kitchens are built around a military type hierarchy and unquestioning obedience to your chef (general). Anyone who has ever watched one of Gordon Ramsey's yell fests on cable can grasp that. It seems in true French fashion the community subconsciously decided that their greatest warriors should be refining sauces and tormenting prep cooks behind a 500F stove instead of slaying Nazi's on the battlefield. It is from these great leaders that I find my love of French cuisine and the French culinary traditions, and it is from these great leaders that I can still continue to mock the French at large as any American should.

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