Michael Steinberger’s new book hits the shelves in the UK today & will be out in the US shortly. Au Revoir to all that is not going to go unnoticed, possibly for the wrong reasons. Dealing with the decline of French culinary excellence in a beautifully written, sensitive & well researched way, Michael makes a number of points that will be very hard to swallow if one is part of the culinary elite of France.
It would be a mistake to take a negative view of Michael Steinberger’s historical perspective, simply because of its critical content. There is still a lot that one can be proud of in the Evolution of France’s culinary heritage, but there is nothing wrong in being made to sit up and take a good look at what has happened to the global culinary picture, where such strides have been made over the last 20 years that one can be forgiven for thinking that France has been standing still in comparison. Not so. The change has been bought on in a far slower manner, due to France’s culinary baggage and the comfort zone that inevitably comes from 100 years of uninterrupted dominance and monomaniac doctrine.
It is easier today, with a little research, to get a terrifically good, reasonably priced meal almost anywhere in France, than at any time I can recall over the last 30 years. The level of quality in France’s modest establishments or bistrots has risen constantly and their model has diversified along with this evolution. These are busy places – even in today’s crisis.
The inroads made by the junk food, convenience food and all forms of industrialised packaged trash is, in my view, closely linked to the crumbling standard of living of the average Frenchman and has been bought about by other forms of dogmatic thought, without specifically mentioning the 35 hour working week. The number of nutritionally valueless, culturally impoverished meals served in France has risen at a steady and alarming rate. This, I agree, does not make a pretty or appealing, not to mention appetising picture. But here the French are not alone and can at least look and learn from their own inspiring examples. Something they like doing.