Blog, Fantastic French, Sweets Galore

Evolution of French Cuisine

The rich and delectable French cuisine dates back to the Middle Ages, a time marked by lavish banquet, aristocratic menus and exotic dishes. Influenced by social and political upheaval, the French cuisine traversed through decades of culinary variance that eventually conferred it the title ‘haute cuisine’

The Medieval French feast, ostentatious in nature, depicted elaborate banquets, opulent carte du jour, exotic spices imparting aromatic flavors and ornate presentation exhibiting the affluence of the host. The arrangement however remained at its elementary level—clay vessels, rustic plates, white tabletops, absence of forks, hand eating and chanting of prayer in reverence was the usual backdrop of this grand feasting—-a remarkable juxtaposition in its own.

The Old French Cuisine

The French cuisine of the Middle Ages stand as a sharp contrast to the present time. The cooking style then involved generous usage of spices, herbs, rich sauces and mustards for strong flavors. Numerous dishes were prepared consisting of sliced off meats like beef, pork, fish & poultry, pies, roasted swans & peacock, preserved vegetables and desserts. The food type was greatly determined by the respective seasons. The visual appeal was of paramount importance hence special attention was given to usage of colors with saffron, spinach, egg yolks and sunflower. Beer took a more prominent place than wine. The feasting was an extravaganza, service en confusion was the serving style predominant back then wherein food was served in unison. Only centuries later this practice got revolutionized under the auspices of King Louis XIV and meals were served in succession at different courses individually at the table.

The Italian Influence

The much advanced culinary arts of Italy came along with Catherine De Medicis when she married King Henry II. Her Italian chefs introduced innovative styles that greatly influenced the French cuisine. Decorative tableware, ornamental crockery and stunning glassware became commonplace and introduction of new foods like green beans and tomatoes were appreciated.

Ancien Règime and French Revolution

Paris marked the seat of the best culinary craftsmen in the 16th and 18th century—the period of Ancien Règime that saw the advent of the guild system of food distribution. Chefs were restricted to an assigned style or area, thereby hampering their proficiency and expertise. The French revolution later ceased the guild, opening new doors for chefs who could now experiment new dishes fluxing their cookery talents.

The French cuisine owes its eminence to their royal chefs— Carème, Montagnè and Escoffier, the pride of their time who introduced contemporary dining etiquettes, food dressing, artistry and décor, modern cooking styles that focused more on delectable ingredients rather on abundance of meal; categorized food preparation by specialists and authorized marvelous cookbooks that pared down and refined French Cuisine.

The Haute Cuisine

Escoffier was the eminent figure behind the French haute cuisine—‘high cuisine’ that unfolded in the 17th century. Accolades to Francois Pierre La Varenne who is also credited for publishing his cookbook Cvisinier francois that ushered in modern techniques of preparing light dishes and desserts with modest arrangements in a more codified manner. Escoffier not only brought in the ‘brigade system’ (segregation of kitchens in 5 sections) to fuse more efficiency in the culinary art but also penned down several cookbooks that turned him a much revered legend of French cuisine.

Present Day French Cuisine

The French gastronomy is a delight and so is its culinary culture. Innovative styles of cooking are imbibed using seasonal ingredients to offer the most sumptuous meals. The breakfast consists of mainly eggs, ham, croissants, tartines, jam, butter and tea/coffee while lunch is a bit elaborate. Dinner is segregated in three courses—soup, main course and dessert or cheese course. Wine has a special place; French wine has its rich history.

Savor on the delightful French cuisines that have evolved over the years under the patronage of royal chefs and enrich your taste buds with dishes that have earned their name as the French national cuisine.

Blog, Food for the Soul, Sweets Galore

Fondue for You Too

While no longer as popular as it was in the 1970s, fondue deserves its exalted place in culinary discoveries and fads. There are some restaurants which still serve this wonderful dish exclusively. Those old enough to remember its heyday have happy memories of friends gathered around a pot of hot cheese or oil, dipping away. The true gourmet host might feature all three types: cheese for bread, oil for meat, and chocolate for dessert.

The actual name is taken from the French word fondre which means “to melt.” But it was the Swiss who originally created the cheese fondue in the 18th century. It seems that cheese got old and bread got stale, especially during the winter months, and what better way to use those two staples than to create a large gooey pot of leftover cheeses, add some wine and herbs and dip not-so-fresh bread, using long sticks. Add a roaring fire and you’ve got a cozy warm evening and a hot meal.

A common theory credits an unknown Swiss traveler who was visiting China (no, not explorer Marco Polo), and he enjoyed a dish similar to fondue, but rather than hot oil, the Chinese offered broth to dip pieces of different foods. Returning to his native Switzerland, he acquainted a chef with his discovery, and it soon was embraced by the Swiss, substituting cheese. They also used broth, but well, you know the Swiss have to use cheese for just about everything. Enough said.

Eventually fondue was proclaimed a national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) to increase and promote cheese consumption in the 1930s.Those clever union guys proclaimed it to be part of the “spiritual defense of Switzerland.” (Would I make that up?)

Meanwhile back in France during the middle ages, workers in the vineyards of Burgundy had no access to a meal during their long days picking grapes, so it is rumored that the overseers would set up a hot kettle of oil, enabling workers to cook meats and breads for a hearty lunch. Out of this tradition came the dish Fondue Bourguignonne. Although the French embraced the cheese fondue from their Swiss neighbors, they lead the way with hot oil in which they dipped meats, seafood and vegetables.

In American, it seems fondue was late to the party. (Where was Thomas Jefferson? He would have adored featuring fondue at White House dinners in the early 1800s.) Originally served in French and Swiss restaurants in big cities, it caught on in the late 1960s and 70s as a new trend, and young professionals found it a great way to host a dinner party with very little work or cooking involved. Put out a pot of oil or cheese, a plate of dunking morsels, some wine, and you have a gourmet experience. And leave it to the chocoholics to dream up the chocolate fondue. Take chunks of cake and fruit and dunk away to your heart’s content.

Fondue continues its popularity as a pleasant communal dining experience for all ages. There are still restaurants which specialize in fondue, and others which feature it on their menu. It’s a great dish for entertaining, eating out or just a quiet evening at home. So enjoy its delicious varieties, if for no other reason than it’s nearly impossible to use a cell phone while navigating a hot pot of oil or cheese.