Food and France: A Love Affair
A journey to discover the best food in France
Most of Europe lives on bread, cheese and some form of ham and sausage. They are the staples of the continent. So why then is it all so fantastic in France? Why is France above the rest? Pipe down, Italians, you know it’s true (even though I’ve never had a bad meal in Italy!).
I love focaccia, but who thought of the croissant? No one but the French. Spain’s mancheca cheese is awesome. Plus tapas. But the sheer variety and fancifulness of French food is beyond compare.
As for pastries. Sorry Britain, ten types of custard and mince pie is not even on the scale. Germans, you have strudel. Anything else? Not really. Austria has creamy coffee thingies in Vienna. Yes, that counts. But in France we are talking about a country where every single region has an amazing pastry, cookie, cake, crepe, bread or what have you, and they fight over whose is best. Like really fight. The competition over food excellence in France is unparalleled.
If you live for food contests on Food Network or watching Top Chef, you can thank the French culinary world, because they invented the idea in 1925. That would be the MOF, short for, in French, the “best craftsman in France.” Cuisine-gastronomie, patisserie and chocolaterie are the categories, and people train a lifetime to compete, never mind win. You get a special blue, red and white collar on your chef’s coat if you win and can expect a very robust career boost. P.S. if no one is good enough in any category there is no winner at all. Also there are no 2nd, 3rd or Honorable Mentions. Care to enter? Not moi.
We have some stand-out food moments and memories we will never forget. Very early in the business we arrived at a small village at the end of a train line about 40 miles outside Paris too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Dining times are strict in restaurants and this was not a café. But the young husband and wife team welcomed us as family and made a menu just for us. They took turns cooking and watching their baby in the back.
We caught glimpses behind the curtain between the dining room and their living quarters. I could never tell you the name of the restaurant, not because it is secret but because we forgot. But the river trout was lovely, and the potatoes were peeled and carved into perfect ovals. Vin ordinaire accompanied.
We were the only diners and it being late June, we watched a local wedding procession pass by the front window. The groomsmen were on motorcycles and so was the bride, in a voluminous white dress riding behind her new husband. Wedding guests and random on-lookers beat on drums and noisemakers. The new couple made a couple of circuits of the main village road and rode away before dessert, which was, I think, a nice sticky tarte tatin.
Another time in Lyon (pictured below), there was a solo lunch of three courses, on rue du Beouf. 15 euros or so. I sat down about 20 minutes before lunch service was to stop and was to help myself to a small split of house white or red. I was dying for water and the waitress let me know the table next to me would share their carafe. Well, ok then! The chef did everything in the kitchen while a skinny nervous teen in a white apron dogged his footsteps and cleaned behind him. He would learn by doing.
In Beaune many years later we had a multi course dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant with mind-blowing creativity, L’Oiseau des Vins. What do you think about a trompe l’oiel of what looked like a freshly-laid egg in a nest but is in fact a soft-poached egg, tinted perfectly brown, placed on fine noodles and topped with a very generous truffle slice? I think if anyone anywhere is doing this kind of work it’s because the French thought of it first.
And forget restaurants, how about dawn in Paris, lining up at a little trailer where they are serving great coffee and crumbling fresh pastries, handed to you with the distinctive pastry bag twirl by the clerk. Or a madeleine you made in an afternoon cooking class while the rain hits the windows. A sugared street crepe hot off the griddle, folded and handed to you on a paper plate. And. And. And.
Food and France. Parfait. We are here to help you make your own food memories in France. Since 2002, we’ve been a premier provider of day trips from Paris and Paris tours. We can help make arrangements, the memories are yours alone to make!