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French Food Culture

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
French food culture means different things to different people, but it really is one of France's greatest cultural contributions to the world. Even though there are rules about eating and drinking, French food is meant to be enjoyed and shared with others.

Butter and Julia Child

Much more to French food than the croissant.
Croissant

For some, French food represents some of what is bad (or good) in the world: over-complication, snobbery and massive amounts of butter. For others, it might mean the incomparable American chef Julia Child, who brought French food culture to America and whose kitchen is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. For most, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which added the French multi-course meal and its preparation to the its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, French food culture is C'est magnifique! (It is magnificent!).

Thank You, France!

Try it, you might like it! (Escargot-snails)
Escargot

Many of the words we use for cooking, even the word and idea restaurant, which really came into modern times at the end of the French Revolution (1789-1799) when the nouveau riche (newly rich) had more money to spend, come from French. From cafes (yes, it really is a French idea), to bistros, to the humble grilled cheese sandwich (called croque-monsieur in French with a piece of ham and cheese on the outside…it is delicious!), American and world cooking owes much to French food culture.

Most of us know the croissant, the flaky, butter-rich pastry bread, but French food culture includes such wonders as the éclair, bouillon and the crepe, and, of course, the baguette. Wine (there are as many types of wines as there are regions in France), bread (usually eaten in some form with each meal and possibly one of the reasons why the French monarchy fell, because there simply was not enough of it) and cheese (there are over 400 types of cheese in France made from all types of milk, including goat) are the staples of French food culture and French life.

You would think with all this butter and huge amounts of wonderful food, French people might be obese, but they are not. This is called the French paradox redux. Many studies have been done on why the general population of France generally is not obese. No one is quite sure, but these longer than average meals made with fresher and unprocessed foods that are common in French food culture, may have something to do with it.

French food culture also gave to the world cooking terms like saute, blanch and the awe-inspiring sight at any restaurant, flambé. French food and all its wonders could fill many pages, but it's based on the idea that it should be enjoyed and it should rise above just simply human nourishment.

One last word before we get to the rules. French food culture not only gave the world French food and cooking, but also the critique gastronomique (food critic) and a way to classify and rank food, the Michelin Guides, the same people who make Michelin tires. Wanting to sell more tires, Michelin thought a guide to travel places might help. Beginning in 1900, Michelin accidentally created a whole new industry. The Michelin Guides and the stars they give can make or break a restaurant around the world.

Bon Appétit

A French meal is usually a leisurely affair. True, there are many fast food outlets and the French are just as busy as the rest of us with work and life. However, a good French meal takes time, not in the preparation, but in the eating. The French believe food is better enjoyed in the company of others, and that means a long dinner and many choices for restaurants.

Like most of us, French food culture has three meals a day. Breakfast, le petit déjeuner, is usually some type of bread and coffee, with hot chocolate for children. Lunch, le déjeuner, can be up two hours longs, even for workers, although the trend and modern business is moving toward faster meals and le sandwich.

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