The History and Culture of Food and Drink: France

Eva Barlösius. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

The Dominance of the French Grande Cuisine

Many in Western societies as well as upper-class members of non-Western societies consider French cookery to be the world’s most refined method of food preparation. This reputation has mainly to do with the grande cuisine, a style of cooking offered by high-class restaurants and generally regarded as the national cuisine of France. The grande cuisine attained its status because it emphasizes the pleasure of eating rather than its purely nutritional aspects. Whereas all cuisines embody notions of eating for pleasure, it was only in France, specifically in Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century, that a cuisine that focused on the pleasure of eating became socially institutionalized. Moreover, it was the bourgeois class of the period that used this emphasis on eating for pleasure for their cultural development. Previously, the aristocracy had determined the styles and fashions of the times, including the haute cuisine, but this privilege was temporarily lost with the French Revolution.

The middle class also used the grande cuisine to demonstrate a cultural superiority over other social groups with growing economic power and, thus, the potential to rise on the social ladder. At the same time, restaurants—new and special places created for the grande cuisine—came into being. Spatially institutionalized, the grande cuisine was transformed into a matter of public concern and considerable debate (Aron 1973).

The institutionalization of a cuisine that emphasized the pleasure of eating had many effects, not the least of which was that in France, more than in other European societies, eating and drinking well came to symbolize the “good life” (Zeldin 1973-7). As such, the grande cuisine became culturally important for all French classes, not only for the middle class that had created it, with the result that cooking and discussions about food and the qualities of wines came to be of paramount moment. Indeed, this self-conscious stylization of eating and drinking by all classes of France led to the description of the French by other Europeans as pleasure-oriented, and the characterization of the French style of living as savoir vivre.

Within French society, the manner of eating became an important indication of an entire lifestyle because eating habits represented a part of culture in which social differences and dissimilarities were expressed more intensely and more subtly than in any other area. Pierre Bourdieu’s study, La Distinction, impressively showed this phenomenon in relation to French society (1979).

Another effect of the institutionalization of the grande cuisine went beyond French society: The grande cuisine became the model and the basis for an internationally renowned cuisine and one that is culturally and socially more highly valued than other regional and national cuisines. Prices reflect this valuation most clearly. French restaurants not only are associated with gourmet food but are also the most expensive restaurants in practically any country. This internationalization of the grande cuisine has led to the adoption and variation, in other nations, of French recipes, French food decoration, and French ideas of service, such as the order that dinner courses should follow. The international dominance of the grande cuisine can be most clearly seen by the fact that the menu, the cooking language, the organization of the kitchen, and the training of the cooks are all to a large extent based on French models.

Outside of France, the grande cuisine holds the reputation of being a national cuisine, with people forgetting perhaps that there also exist a number of different French regional cuisines. These are bound to each other not so much by common cooking traditions as by a complicated cultural rating scheme that determines the cultural superiority or inferiority of cuisines of similar regional and social origin. This cultural judgment is also applied to those who cook and eat these regional dishes, which means that foods can be used to establish symbolic boundaries and to produce social inequality (cf. Gusfield 1992).

We can illustrate this social process with the grande cuisine and the regional cuisines. The former originated in an urban, aristocratic, and bourgeois environment; the latter represent rural and lower-middle-class cooking. They are not variations, one on the other, but opposites, each with different “cultural capital” (Bourdieu 1979). The grande cuisine is considered to be well developed, refined, and luxurious; rural cooking is described as simple, plain, and modest (Bonnain-Moerdyk 1972). Not only do these descriptions standardize the styles of cooking, they also express the meaning and function of eating and drinking in those social classes that have a special cuisine. The cultural meanings that can be derived from the grande cuisine suggest that members of the bourgeois and aristocratic classes are elevated beyond the mere physical need of nourishment, whereas characterizations of the styles of cooking of the lower, middle, and rural classes emphasize the physical aspect of eating. It is said that these classes do not possess the “cultural capital” necessary to go beyond the physical need to eat and drink. Thus, different cuisines are used for cultural and social differentiation and establish (as well as reflect) social inequality.

The History of the French Cuisine

One might think that there are no better resources than recipe collections and cookbooks to reconstruct what in former centuries was considered delicious cooking. Such sources, however, are inherently biased because only the wealthy classes could read and write, and there are no written reports about the cooking customs of the majority of the population. Moreover, it is doubtful that we can deduce from those recipe collections and cookbooks we do have what foodstuffs were even eaten by the upper classes. Most of the time recipes were not written by cooks because the majority of them could not read and, consequently, could not always have strictly followed recipes. Most cookbooks, then, presumably served more to idealize the aristocratic style of eating than to give cooking instructions, and we can only hope to learn from them something about the cooking notions of a certain class of literate people at a particular time.

In general, cookbooks and recipe collections are examined historically for two reasons (Barlösius 1992). One of them is to discover tendencies in the regionalization of cookery. In France this is apparent only from the nineteenth century onward because it was then that “the upper classes began to take interest in regional folklore,” and of course, this included an interest in regional cookery as well (Flandrin and Hyman 1986: 4). A second reason is to reconstruct long-term changes in cooking customs in order to discern processes of cultivation and civilization (see, for example, the works of Jean-Louis Flandrin [1983, 1984, 1986]).

The Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Century

The earliest known French recipe collection is the “Ménagier de Paris” from the fourteenth century. The oldest known French cookbook is the Viandier de Taillevant, published by Pierre Gaudol between 1514 and 1534. In both, we can find only a few clues to the regional origins of the recipes and other instructions (Stouff 1982; Bonnet 1983; Laurioux 1986), and in fact, it can be shown that some recipes were taken from previously published collections. Some were entirely plagiarized, others only partly changed.

Another resource, very famous and popular in Europe at that time, was the cookbook De Honesta Voluptate (c. 1475) by Platina (Bartolomeo Sacchi). Taken together these cookbooks give the impression that there was no regional or rural differentiation in cooking in Europe during the Middle Ages. “Cook-books, regardless of who their readers might have been, diffused culinary models inspired more by aristocratic practices than by those of the common people, and were more cosmopolitan than regional” (Flandrin and Hyman 1986: 4). The European aristocracy had, then, a common culture in eating and drinking that was not restricted by state borders. The later development and proclamation of national cuisines is closely connected to the process of state formation, which was reinforced by the assertion of independent cultures in support of national identities (Barlösius in press).

Common European cooking traditions endured until the seventeenth century, when national cuisines began to develop. It was only when French cookery became culturally stylized and was used to mark social differences that it also became a model for the courtly and aristocratic cuisines of Europe. This conscious cultural creation of cookery and table manners shows itself most clearly in the fact that before the seventeenth century, cookbooks and recipe collections were rarely published. Then, suddenly, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many cookbooks appeared. The first of this series was Cuisinier François by François Pierre de la Varenne, published again and again from 1651 until 1738. Other very influential cookbooks were the 1656 Le Cuisinier by Pierre de Lune, the 1674 L’Art de Bien Traiter by L. S.

R., François Massialot’s Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois (published 1691-1750), and Menon’s Nouveau Traité de la Cuisine (1739).

In these books, changes in cooking were described with terms like ancien and moderne, which were also used to indicate changes in other arts (Barlösius 1988). The cookery of the Middle Ages was criticized as being rude, even ridiculous (whereas the new cookery was considered to be refined and cultivated). Culinary tastes had obviously changed. The cooks of the seventeenth century, especially, complained about the medieval customs of cooking food too long and overseasoning it. One result was that Asian spices, like saffron, ginger, cinnamon, passion fruit seeds, and mace, were hardly used in the new cuisine, although native herbs, such as chervil, tarragon, basil, thyme, bay leaves, and chives, became popular (Flandrin 1986).

The new culinary taste was also apparent in meat choices. During the Middle Ages, the menu of the aristocracy consisted mainly of dishes with chicken and venison (Revel 1979). Beef and pork were scarcely ever eaten, although beef was an ingredient in broths and soups. Other meats that were consumed seem exotic even today, as for example, swans, storks, cranes, peacocks, herons, and large sea mammals.

During the first decades of the seventeenth century, recipes for big birds and sea mammals like whales, dolphins, and seals disappeared from the cookbooks. It was not just that such meats were believed to have no gastronomical value; they were no longer considered edible, and attempts to prepare them marked one as uncultivated, to say the least. In fact, all animals were scratched from the menu that were not especially raised or chased for food. Also out of fashion was the medieval penchant for realistic presentation, in which, for example, cooked birds might be redecorated with their feathers before being served. At this point, then, beef dishes and some pork dishes came into fashion, but only those that used the most valuable and exquisite meat parts, such as fillets, loins, legs, and hams (cf. Flandrin 1986).

Such changes give the impression that cooking was natural and bland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but this is the case only when measured against medieval cookery. In comparison with today’s food preparation, however, the courtly eighteenth-century aristocratic cuisine was heavy, excessive, and complicated. Original flavors were altered, even overwhelmed, with excessive seasoning and the mixing of different kinds of foods. The aristocratic love of splendor demanded as many dishes as possible on the table, and flavor and taste were subordinated to food decoration. Until the nineteenth century, it was common to serve food à la française, which signified that many different kinds of dishes were offered at the same time. There were no strict rules concerning the number of dishes, but often, depending on the number of guests, there might be as many different dishes per course as there were guests, and there was a minimum of three courses. Thus, this could mean that a meal with 25 persons in attendance required 25 different dishes per course, meaning that 75 dishes were served altogether (Malortié 1881). It is true that the guests had a much greater choice than today, but inevitably many of the dishes were cold by the time they were finally served and people had the opportunity to eat them.

Table manners also changed with culinary tastes to become standardized and strictly regulated. During the Middle Ages, everybody shared the same plate and cutlery. But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, each person had his or her own plate, glass, cutlery, and napkin. People were embarrassed to eat from the same plate as others or to use the same knife or glass, and with the new regulations, the distance between guests became wider (Elias 1981). Table manners were constantly cultivated and regulated down to the tiniest details. Some of the rules even changed to their opposites. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example, it was proper to cut one’s bread with a knife, but in the eighteenth century, this was considered bad form. Instead, one broke bread with the hands.

Thus, medieval notions (albeit aristocratic ones) of how to organize eating, drinking, meals, and cooking were culturally devalued, and new (but also aristocratic) ones were put in their place. Most likely much of the reason for this change was that the aristocrats were interested in creating greater social distance between themselves and the growing masses, and contributing to this desire was an increased emphasis on cultural characteristics, such as refined culinary taste and distinguished table manners. Certainly it is the case that social differentiation processes were at work at the dinner table as well as in other areas of everyday life. Thus, the aristocracy developed a lifestyle in which culinary and other cultural attitudes became an important means of establishing as well as reflecting social distances and defining social units. This new development was the haute cuisine.

The Emergence of the Grande Cuisine in the Nineteenth Century

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, like music, painting, and literature, the haute cuisine served to express courtly aristocratic lifestyles. Only cooking and eating that demonstrated wealth, luxury, and pomp could accomplish this goal and distinguish the aristocracy in no uncertain terms from the rising middle class.

Haute cuisine was institutionalized in the salle à manger (dining room) of the aristocracy. Alexandre Dumas once complained that in the salons, commoners like Montesquieu (Charles Louis de Secondat), Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), and Denis Diderot discussed important social issues in a serious and enlightened fashion, but sophisticated cookery was available only to the aristocrats (Dumas 1873: 30). Middle-class notions about cookery were excluded from the salle à manger. It is noteworthy that in the second half of the eighteenth century, haute cuisine was one of the last cultural areas in which the aristocratic taste still dominated (Barlösius 1988).

The aristocratic host (amphitryon) was called, after the verse by Molière [Jean-Baptiste Pocquelin]), le véritable Amphitryon est l’Amphitryon où on mange. He invited his guests, selected the menu, and made sure that the salle à manger looked splendid. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Alexandre

L. B. Grimod de la Reynière, in his book Manuel des Amphitryon, described standards of behavior for aristocratic hosts (Grimod 1808). Indispensable characteristics were wealth, good taste, an innate sensitivity, the desire to eat well, generosity, gracefulness, vividness, and a predilection for order. That money alone was not enough to run an excellent household could be observed again and again among the nouveaux riches (the “new rich”) of the French Revolution (Grimod 1808).

The cooks who provided the haute cuisine were craftsmen who had an excellent knowledge of their craft. No aesthetic creativity was needed, however, and because of social position, they could not pursue their artistic inclinations, which were frequently directed toward the simplification of food presentation and spicing as well as a refined design of taste and flavor.

The aristocracy demanded a visible stylization that was in contrast to the cook’s focus on the taste of the food rather than its appearance. The salle à manger as well as the amphitryon (host) were symbols of the ancien régime, so that the bourgeois grande cuisine was, to a great extent, developed in the restaurants. In fact, as already noted, it was at the time of the French Revolution that restaurants were established in Paris in great number (Andrieu 1955; Guy 1971; Mennell 1985). Before 1789, there were fewer than 50 restaurants in Paris; by 1820, the number had climbed to 3,000 (Zeldin 1973-77: Vol. 1, 739). It was in these restaurants that a bourgeois eating culture was established and the salle à manger disparaged, although its example was followed in standards of service, table-ware, crystal, and cutlery.

The founding of the restaurants was the most important step in the process of changing aristocratic haute cuisine to bourgeois grande cuisine. Everybody who had enough money could eat in restaurants, where cookery was no longer the privilege solely of the aristocrats (Aron 1973; Barlösius and Manz 1988), and a cuisine that placed emphasis on the pleasure of eating was no longer influenced by aristocratic taste. In short, restaurants and their cooks succeeded in making cooking an aesthetic, taste-oriented art, which did not focus on a certain class (Barlösius and Manz 1988).

Indeed, the cooks helped to institutionalize the grande cuisine (Barlösius 1988). Many who had previously worked for the aristocracy now became cooks in the restaurants. They were responsible for menu planning, food design, and the financial aspects of meal production and began a process of professionalizing themselves as they assumed total responsibility for the design of the cuisine. Not only did they regard their cookery as an art, they defined themselves as artists whose task it was to make cooking equal to already established arts such as music and painting. Like other arts, that of cooking constantly changed because the cooks were competitive and strove for social recognition. But in calling themselves artists, they overlooked the fact that many of them were not working independently, and thus, it is not surprising that their working conditions and wages were often below those of other skilled workers.

Another factor in the institutionalization of the grande cuisine was the gourmand. Gourmands, who were supposed to be well informed in food matters and to have well-developed tastes, began to educate the public with an outpouring of gastronomic literature. Important works were Grimod de la Reynière’s Almanach des Gourmands and Anthèlme BrillatSavarin’s La Physiologie du Goût (Grimod 1803-12; Brillat-Savarin 1833).

In fact, the gourmand took the place of the traditional aristocratic amphitryon, who did not fit into the sophisticated bourgeois culture of eating. Whereas an amphitryon was considered to be a gourmand because of his social position, social background was not important for a gourmand, who represented the bourgeois idea of a connoisseur. The following characteristics necessary to a gourmand were listed: a sensitive and well-developed sense of flavor, a distinctive aesthetic taste, and the ability to put the pleasure of eating into words. Finally, the gourmand was supposed to know in theory what the cook knew and did in practice, because only with that knowledge would the gourmand be able to make a sound judgment about food and drink (Brillat-Savarin 1833).

From the gourmand, professional gastronomic critics evolved. They ranked the restaurants according to a rating scheme and also published gastronomic guides. One of the first institutions of gastronomic criticism was the Société des Mercredis, founded in 1781 or 1782 by Grimod de la Reynière and some 17 gourmand friends, with Grimod as its chairman until 1810. This jury examined the quality of restaurants, with the members meeting once a week to jointly determine their expert opinions. Grimod was the first to have the idea of forming a jury whose only task was to taste and rate food. Inevitably, his jury was also the first to be accused of partiality in its judgments and, thus, of jeopardizing those restaurants that got low marks. With only a few exceptions, the jury’s judgments were published from 1803 until 1812 in the Almanach des Gourmands (Guy 1971; Revel 1979).

The Société des Mercredis and the Almanach des Gourmands were forerunners of all those institutions of gastronomic criticism that followed, such as the various restaurant guides. Early in the twentieth century, the most influential gastronomic critic was Curnonsky (pseudonym Maurice-Edmond Sailland), who in 1928 founded the Académie de Gastronome on the model of the Académie Française (Curnonsky and Rouff 1921-8). In France, the best-known restaurant guides are those by Michelin and Kléber-Colombes.

Journals can also be indirect instruments of gastronomic criticism. For example, they give obligatory descriptions of the kinds of food to eat and how to enjoy eating them, and superficially, one cannot detect any traditional regulations and standardizations in these publications, such as, for example, rules of behavior. But such publications, nevertheless, belong to a genre in which questions of taste and table manners are dealt with, even if in subtle ways and not in the form of regulations. As in the past, today’s media that focus on gastronomic criticism and the development of taste constitute a means of potentially producing social distance, as well as other distinctions, and setting a certain standard of cooking and taste.

The Change of the Grande Cuisine

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the bourgeois grande cuisine was still detached from the traditions of the aristocratic haute cuisine, although not completely so, as is shown by recipes and food decoration. During this phase, the grande cuisine was influenced by Antonin Carême, said to be its founder, and by Antoine Beauvilliers, one of the first of the restaurant cooks (Beauvilliers 1814-16; Carême 1821, 1843-8). In his three-volume work L’Art Culinaire de la Cuisine Française au Dix-neuvième Siècle, first published in 1830, Carême described this cuisine extensively and depicted it in very detailed and exact drawings. He claimed the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80) as his model and adapted classical architectural forms to food presentation. No wonder the grande cuisine of this period, with its preference for regulated forms and symmetrical arrangement, can be called cuisine classique.

Carême concentrated on the visual aspect of cookery and not so much on food flavor. He also held to the service à la française, viewing as much less elegant the service à la russe, which was becoming more and more popular in restaurants. The latter corresponds mainly to today’s style of service: The food is put on plates in the kitchen and served immediately to guests instead of being arranged aesthetically on the table beforehand.

Two cookbooks published later in the nineteenth century became very famous: These were Felix Urbain Dubois and Émile Bernard’s La Cuisine Classique and Jules Gouffé’s Le Livre de la Cuisine. In these volumes the tension between artful food decoration and the development of flavor and taste was discussed, but no unanimous decision was arrived at (Gouffé 1867; Dubois and Bernard 1874). Dubois and Bernard did not favor the service à la russe because, for them, cookery had to appeal to all of the senses. They did, however, simplify food decoration.

The contradiction between style and flavor became a point of dispute among Parisian chefs in the 1880s: Should food presentation be simplified in order to enhance the pleasure of eating? And if so, did that mean that cooks had to give up their claim to be artists? This debate, carried on in the cooks’ clubs and journals, was a reaction to the criticisms that cookery was in crisis and had become decadent because it had neither adapted to alterations in taste nor paid attention to social changes in the clientele of the restaurants. The discussion was led by cook Prosper Montagné, who slowly succeeded in establishing that cookery had to focus primarily on food flavor and taste (Montagné and Salles 1900). At this juncture, the cuisine classique was developing into a cuisine that was aimed at an integration into new social realities—a cuisine moderne.

The cooks of the cuisine moderne reacted to alterations in taste as well as to social changes. Among these was the fact that people increasingly had limited time when eating in a restaurant. Another had to do with a change in the mixture of restaurant customers by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Auguste Escoffier, the most famous cook of that period, recommended that his colleagues study the tastes and habits of their guests and adapt their cookery to them, with special attention to those tastes that had changed over the years (Escoffier 1921). The cooks went into action. They simplified their recipes, shortened cooking times, left out super-fluous decoration, and tried to speed up service in order to satisfy their new kinds of customers. Their artistry now focused fully on the composition of the food’s flavor and taste (Barlösius 1988).

Yet the cuisine moderne was itself soon due for modification. Formerly it was thought that there existed universally valid rules for cooking; these determined which foods went well together and how they were to be prepared and decorated. In other words, people believed that recipes were independent of the cook. Cookery was regarded as an art, but not as an individual art whereby each cook had his own particular style that distinguished him from all others. In the 1930s, however, the obligatory cooking rules of the cuisine modern were relaxed. Now cooks were asked to improvise when cooking. Traditional notions of matching foods were not taught anymore. Cooking came to be treated as an experiment, and this cookery was called cuisine de liberté, or the nouvelle cuisine.

Fernand Point, its most famous practitioner, placed emphasis on the arrangement of side dishes while simplifying existing recipes and developing new ones (Point 1969). The cuisine de liberté stressed the food’s own taste and aimed at the perfection of cookery so as to create the best-quality dishes. In order to achieve this effect, new cooking methods were developed to retain the natural flavors, tastes, and colors of food. Although Point had not yet thought in terms of the nutritional and physiological aspects of his cookery, the nouvelle cuisine did integrate modern knowledge about nutrition that appealed to a new health consciousness.

The grande cuisine had scarcely been concerned with the health aspects of food, but now cooks attempted to link the pleasures of eating with foods that were healthful. It became very important to cook foods that were light and easily digestible. Moreover, the cooks of the nouvelle cuisine distanced themselves from industrialized food production. They disapproved of canned and prefabricated foods on the grounds of poor quality and demanded a return to small-farm food production.

The nouvelle cuisine also accepted regional cooking traditions to an unprecedented extent, and with this development, the dominance of Parisian cuisine, which had existed since the emergence of haute cuisine, was diminished. Nonetheless, in restaurants the nouvelle cuisine was expensive, and relatively few were able to afford it. For its part, the grande cuisine had begun to influence private cooking. Through television shows and mass-produced cookbooks, chefs were able to introduce their cookery to large segments of the population. Whereas original haute cuisine cookbooks had been written only for aristocratic and bourgeois households, and those in the first phase of the grande cuisine had addressed cooks in restaurants, now many cookbooks focused on family and household cooking. Thus, on one hand, the cooks opened up new sources of revenue with their books and shows, and on the other hand, the public became more interested in the art of cooking.

French Regional Cuisines

The term “regional cuisines” refers to the cookery and foodways of specific geographic areas whose borders frequently correspond with ethnic boundaries. The emergence of regional cuisines is often explained in climatic, biological, and geographic terms, and certainly these naturally caused differences help explain the more or less distinct division between northern and southern French cookery. The cuisines of southern France are marked by Mediterranean culture and more resemble Italian and Spanish regional cuisines than those of northern France. The latter are similar to cuisines found in Belgium and in the region of Baden, in Germany. The natural differences between the Mediterranean and northern French cuisines are certainly demonstrated by their use of fats. Southern cookery is based on cooking oils, such as nut and olive oils, whereas northern cookery uses butter and lard. There is also a difference in beverage preference, with those in southern France preferring wine and those in northern France beer or cider (Hémardinquer 1961; Mandrou 1961).

Such differences are not sufficient, however, to explain the emergence of small regional differences in cookery (Flandrin 1983). The concept of regional cookery presupposes that common ways of preparing food are cultural specialties that are further developed to become objects of cultural identity. Through these processes, demarcation from other cuisines occurs because of different methods of food preparation. Cooking, then, is a sociocultural phenomenon, and different recipes and foodways are the products of this phenomenon. And when certain recipes become cultural characteristics, the cuisines are distinguishable and can be regarded as independent cultural products. Therefore, cuisines can establish cultural differences as well as common grounds.

These social contexts explain why cooking traditions, which frequently differ from region to region, are stylized as regional cuisines only if the region as a whole is perceived as a cultural, ethnic, or political unity. Most of the time, the process of regionalization has been a reaction against the centralizing tendencies of the state. Thus, the first explicitly regional cookbooks published in France, appearing during the course of the nineteenth century, can be looked upon as evidence of a conscious cultural upgrading of typically regional ways of cooking (Capatti 1989). But they can also be seen as constituting a reaction against the increasing cultural dominance of the grande cuisine, which emanated, of course, from Paris.

Rural traditions, however, were not included in such regional cookbooks. They described urban bourgeois cookery only because the increasing centralizing tendency of Paris meant that the urban bourgeoisie in the rest of the country were not only spatially but also socially and culturally pushed into a peripheral border position. In short, the formation of independent regional cultural identities, even if only in terms of eating and drinking, can be interpreted as cultural self-assertion in the face of the emergence of a “national” cuisine.

The conscious development of regional cuisines led to popular dishes, beverages, and often cheeses that are frequently pointed to as typical and characteristic of particular regions. Wines, dishes featuring sausages with sauerkraut, the now-famous quiche, and Muenster cheese, for example, are culinary features of the Alsace-Lorraine region. Typical of the cuisine of Normandy are seafood, cider, and Calvados and the cheeses Camembert, Brie, and Pont l’Évêque. The cuisine of Provence is based on garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil. Bouillabaisse is often noted as one of its typical dishes; it consists of fish and crustaceans from the Mediterranean. The most famous dishes of the cuisine of Brittany are thin, sweet, or salty pancakes called crepes and galettes. Some areas are more famous for their wines than their cookery, especially Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Touraine, and Champagne. But in these regions, even though the wines are deemed more important than food, they nonetheless symbolize true eating enjoyment (Fischer 1983).

Although certain dishes and beverages have been pointed to as characteristic of specific regional cuisines, it is not always safe to conclude that they are consumed very heavily in their region, and in fact, statistics bear this out. One reason is that many typically regional dishes are traditionally prepared for festive occasions but not for everyday consumption. Another is that these dishes may be quantitatively a small part of the diet when compared to basic foods like bread. The main reason, however, is that regional cuisines tend to reflect the national cuisine in the sense that they assign to some foods a special historical status that is not deserved. To take Provence as an example, it can be demonstrated that foods that are supposed to be native and indispensable to its cuisine do not necessarily originate in that region. Tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and artichokes are the basic elements of the cuisine of Provence. But none of these foods originated there; rather, they reached southern France only following the fifteenth century (cf. Stouff 1982; Flandrin and Hyman 1986).

French Cuisine—Today and the Future

In recent years, it has become apparent that for many in the West, French cookery is no longer seen as the culinary standard, or even as the most refined cuisine. Other cuisines, such as those of Italy or Japan, are regarded as on an equal level, even though, both nationally and internationally, the French government and lobbies for the country’s gastronomic arts attempt to forestall this loss of predominance by means of advertising, awards, “taste-training” events, and even great state dinners.

Why is the French style of cuisine (which was, after all, something of a standard for more than 300 years) losing its dominant position now? Two important reasons, among many, are directly connected with each other. One is that the European aristocracy and the established middle classes, for whom France served for so long as the culturally guiding nation, in language and cuisine as well as in civilization generally, no longer hold a culture-forming position, and the new cultural elites have oriented themselves to other lifestyles. The second reason reflects the shifting of political, economic, and cultural positions of power within the global society. Although French cuisine, in particular, maintained a European dominance in the past, the increasing acceptance and popularity of, say, Japanese cuisine illustrates something of the cultural competition internationally at the turn of the twenty-first century. In other words, both within Europe and in other parts of the world, French culture and, therefore, French cuisine have become devalued in terms of prestige.

The future will show if another cuisine will replace that of France in a position of prominence. It is more likely, however, that several different national styles of cookery will achieve acceptance as equally delightful and ideal. One thing is already certain: The French cuisine (and French wines as well) are no longer matchless in quality.