French food and cooking are generally considered the backbone of many cuisines across the Western world. A beloved tradition, the French Gastronomic meal is classified as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Let’s go back in time and see its diverse journey…
Food and The Gauls- Our Ancestors of France
Fans of Asterix comics, here’s a piece of news for you. The history of French cuisine actually goes back centuries to the Gauls! It was the Gauls who played a huge role in developing the culture of eating and drinking well, an art de vivre that still exists today in the French way of life!
The art of feasting in the Middle Ages
In the French Middle Ages, and even today, banquets were seen as opportunities to affirm ones rank, wealth and level of prestige in society. During weddings, engagements, births and victories, banquets would entertain guests in style. At that age, forks and knives had not yet made their appearance, so fingers were used to serve from the main dish. French food was made up of meals of several courses, enlivened with lavish entertainment. They began and ended with hand-washing and a prayer. To accompany the meals, wine remained one of the most popular drinks. A person – whether a man, woman or child – drank, on average, almost 2 litres of wine per day, with white and rosé as the preferred choices. The Middle Ages was also a period during which a creative national cuisine began to emerge and the first cookery books appeared.
The growth and grandeur of French gastronomy
The notion of French cuisine became important during the reign of Louis XIV. Meals became theatrical, orchestrated by a maître d'hotel, and service à la française reached its peak in the 18th century. The king's preference for certain delicacies, his love for his garden and for the fruits and vegetables that it produced, set the stage for the culinary revolution that would bring French food to the pinnacle of the culinary realm internationally. Today, it is this type of service that helped structure your meals; making dining an orderly yet indulgent experience for your body. So when you eat in the following order- start with soups and starters, continue to roasts, and end with entremets and desserts- you know exactly whom to think of. The French!
Restaurants become fashionable and fine dining takes center stage
Table service in restaurants began during The French Revolution. At that time there were 100 restaurants, which grew to 600 under the Empire and 3000 during the Restoration period. Displaced chefs from aristocratic households set the precedent of private dining, a la carte menus, and gourmet food, marking the rise of fine dining and fine French cuisine. As more and more people started to travel, and transport helped connect cities, luxury dining destinations were established. The next time you are at a café, raise your glass of vin to those aristocrats who made it possible for you to enjoy that delicious ratatouille on your plate. Bon appétit!
From science to culinary arts: Chefs at the heart of the French food culture
In the 18th century, chefs wished to bring out the best and most refined of their creations by combining or breaking down products for maximum taste harmony. At the beginning of the 20th century, chef, restaurateur and culinary writer Auguste Escoffier innovated French cuisine in his own way, creating a simpler, more natural presentation for meals.
French chefs became known overseas in the sixties, building a reputation as the best of their time. The late [Paul Bocuse] honoured as Chef of the Century, launched the international Bocuse d’Or competition, aiming to put the chef's profession in the limelight and to share French gastronomy with all. Michel Guérard built the foundation of Nouvelle Cuisine, questioning the abundant use of cream and butter, while other chefs like the Troisgros brothers, Alain Chapel, and George Blanc also secured their place in culinary history books.
By the end of the 20th century, [Alain Ducasse], [Guy Savoy], the late [Joël Robuchon] and Michel Troisgros were but a handful of the illustrious chefs who knew how to refine the legacy of the past while honouring local products in French food.
Where does French Gastronomy stand right now?
Riding a fine line between haute and nouvelle style, France’s gastronomic traditions are evolving in ways that demonstrate innovation and change. Bistronomy is growing and thriving and the vegan movement is also getting a lot of attention in France. French cuisine continues to be a pure, nearly religious, sensory experience.