Before getting into my review of Michael Steinberger's fascinating exploration of the French food and wine culture, I want to take a moment to wish all of you who care for children, in whatever capacity, a happy Mother's Day. I hope your day is bright and that you are showered with the affection you are due. You deserve every accolade that comes your way. I'm not cooking today, so I thought that rather than reprise an old recipe, I'd use this post to share my thoughts regarding Steinberger's book Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.
Make no mistake about it, while this book is a eulogy, it orchestrates a funeral that respect and curiosity for the deceased will prod you to attend. Three decades ago the French food establishment ruled the culinary world. Nowadays, the world's most influential chefs and most sought after restaurants are no longer French. Segments of the French wine industry have been in shambles since the Judgement of Paris favored American over French wines, and the French artisanal cheese industry is fighting for its life. Cost, consumption and complacency have all contributed to the decline, but the root causes are more pervasive and Michael Steinberger takes a look at them all.
He begins with a brief history of French food and the great chefs who codified its recipes and service. He moves on to interview today's top chefs and a handful of bright young chefs who are attempting to stay the decline. Even the once untouchable Michelin Guide is examined and its role in the decline is explored. There are, of course, visits to vineyards and a dissection of the appellation system that has actually contributed to the problems it was designed to prevent. And then there is McDonald's and its influence on French food culture. France, which has become a fast food nation, is the 2nd most profitable market in the world for McDonald's and other food conglomerates are bringing artisanal cheese makers to their knees.
All this gloom and doom, in the hands of a lesser writer, would be too academic to enjoy or find even passably interesting. Fortunately, Michael Steinberger is a gourmand who has a way with words. He knows what he is talking about and he manages to ferret out truly interesting and humorous characters to flesh out his tale. This is a funny book that takes a hard look at what went wrong in France. It is obvious that Steinberger loves France and has an affinity for its people, and while he may report the funeral, you get the feeling he wants to be wrong and would rather not attend. I urge all of you who love food and/or France to read this sharp and witty dissection of French food culture.
One Year Ago Today: Two Years Ago Today:Creamy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole Strawberry and Lemon Crush
Three Years Ago Today: Four Years Ago Today:Stuffed Anaheim Peppers Spoon Bread with Leeks and Gruyere Cheese