My Paris Stories
My Concierge Told Me
My Paris Stories

French chefs are going to war!

I’m too bad at mathematics to calculate the number of Michelin stars belonging to the 15 French chefs gathered today in the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant 58 : Alain Ducasse? Nine for him. Joël Robuchon? The most of any chef in the world: 26! Add Yannick Alléno, Guy Savoy, Thierry Marx and, of course, Anne-Sophie Pic and all the others. Forget then about the numbers, just get on your knees.

Foreign chefs are making more noise

Get on your knees and duck! Because the chefs are going to war. They want to promote French cuisine here in France and around the world. And they are angry. Angry like Guy Savoy who put it like this: “It’s not because in some countries two or three chefs are making more noise than thousands and thousands of French chefs, that French cuisine is in danger. French cuisine is still leads the world.”

Think “molecular cooking”. Think Spain, Britain. Or name Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. It’s the big cooking show and the business behind it that they don’t seem to appreciate.

But why do they need a Collège? Doesn’t that sound a bit old fashioned? Well, it’s to promote, to do marketing, to make noise. You might wonder if this is really necessary. But it is. France is the undenied cradle of gastronomic cuisine. There is no other place in the world where the simple preparation of food reaches the same degree of sophistication, brilliance, come on, let’s say it: art. But its image has recently suffered serious damage. French cuisine has started to look a bit frumpy. It doesn’t look as innovative  as what is being done elsewhere.

The Nordic declaration of war

Take the Bocuse d’Or, the biannual cooking contest in Lyon that draws the elite of the culinary world to Lyon. Who won it just a few days ago? Rasmus Kofoed from Denmark. Second was Tommy Myllymaki from Sweden and the third place went to Gunnar Hvarnes from Norway. Sounds like a Nordic declaration of war.

Guy Savoy: Let's stop self-flagellation

Are they better, more inventive than the French chefs? Probably. But maybe there is marketing behind them too. Politicians. Support. Pride. Here in France everything seems to be taken for granted. That’s why the 15 chefs gathered around Ducasse are  demanding, like he says “recognition of the economic impact” of French cuisine. Just recognition? No, Ducasse says: “cela passe par l’argent”. We are talking about money, about the fact that French politicians are not aware of the “industry” (Ducasse again) that is behind French cuisine.

The chefs are dreaming

And it is an industry. With 480 000 employees gastronomy is the 4th biggest employer in the private sector in France. In 2009 no other sector generated more jobs. “French cuisine is an important factor for tourism in what is the world’s number one tourist destination”, says Michel Guérard.

Since November the French gastronomic meal has belonged to the intangible world heritage. Was this good for its image or does it make French cuisine look even more frumpy? Well, the idea of a college also tastes slightly of dust. After all, this is only the name. The chefs are dreaming. They are ready to fight for recognition. They want an official lobby. This is legitimate. And this is their last wake-up call for the government.Photos:
The star-studded chefs of the Collège Culinaire, Photo: © MAP
AFP, Bertrand Langlois