Food Photography and French Cooking

food photo from the 70's

swedish food photography 70's 60's food photo60's food photographyfood photography 70'sdesserts 70's

I have a collection of old cook books from the 70’s 80’s 90’s.

When you compare the style of food photography of those days with the cool minimalist look of today, they seem overstated and crowded, too bright in their colours.This reflected the cooking styles of the day.

However there were already big changes coming in the 1970’s.

In France, Cuisine Nouvelle was getting started and Chefs were breaking away from heavy traditional styles of cooking, to lighter healthier choices.There was even a manifesto which listed a set of rules governing the new cooking. For example, menus offering far less choice, banishing the use of heavy and rich sauces, often flour based.The invention and creation of new dishes, once Chefs were released from old culinary principles. A knowledge of diet and nutrition and the central part played by good fresh ingredients. A principle that remains true today. Unfortunately not in all restaurants.

80's food

The leading Chefs of the day were Michel Guérard, the Troisgros brothers and Alain Chapel.These chefs showed culinary imagination and intelligence in putting the new rules into practice.The new cooking was really judged not on the basis of taste but by photographs in books and magazines. People learnt about it from articles and cookbooks because few could afford to eat it.90's food photo

90's food photo It was food as art, chefs everywhere made pictures on the plate.This was the reason for it’s decline. Too many mousses, turned vegetables and the dreaded coulis.Senseless garnishes resembling edible flower arrangements.Too much attention paid to painting on the plate. There was a fashion at one time to have your sauce painted across the plate in a abstract expressionist stroke. So where are we now? Food in France outside of big cities is in decline; The myth of wonderful bistrots and restaurants serving wonderful food in little villages here and there, is just that. Most of the ingredients come from professional Cash and Carry’s. Processed and portion – controlled. One stop shopping, so all dockets are able to go straight to the accountant. And with strict labour rules, no one can afford to have someone shelling fresh peas and beans, or peeling potatoes.

However today, in large urban ares such as Paris, there is a whole generation of new and exciting chefs producing creative and interesting food. With many of the principles of Nouvelle Cuisine, but with a more simplified and natural approach. Often using organic products and natural wines. Seeking out small producers .This is a menu from one of those restaurants in Paris.

septime menu

donna hay

 2012 food photo

Some examples of contemporary food photography.

The pear dessert is from” Polpo, a Venetian cookbook of sorts”

The Baked Quince is from Donna Hay.

The Apple Tart is by me.

A dessert by Michel Guérard

apple tart nouvelle cuisine

Tart Apple Tarts

From Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Gourmande

For 4 people

8 small Golden Delicious apples

juice of one lemon

200g softened unsalted butter

120g caster sugar

Peel the apples, cut them in half and cut out pips or any hard bits.Then cut each half into slices 1 1/2 cm thick.Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice ( to prevent them discolouring), mixing them round with your hands.

Shortcrust Pastry 

‘The all-purpose pastry’

Makes 500g of pastry

250g plain flour

10g caster sugar (if you leave out the sugar this pastry is equally good for savoury dishes.)

7g salt, 180g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into six pieces.

1 egg and 15ml of cold water

Using a food processor, put into the bowl the flour, the sugar(if using) salt and butter. Blend for 15 seconds. Add the water and the egg, blend for a further 15 seconds to allow the pastry to “take” and become a coherent mass.Flatten the ball of pastry slightly and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge overnight: it will be suppler and easier to handle the next day.

Lightly flour the work surface. Divide the pastry into 4 equal parts of 100g each.Save the other 100g for another dish or make 5 tarts!

Make four little balls and flatten them with the rolling pin to form 4 discs 17cm wide and 2mm thick. Or you can use a saucer on each piece and trim around the edge.

Put the pastry rounds on a parchment lined baking tray.Preheat the oven to 220°c  Mark7/or425°f

Draw a circle 1cm in from edge , This allows the edge of the tart to rise and form a border.Within this circle, arrange the apple slices in the form of overlapping petals, so that they cover the pastry completely; Dot each tart with 25g of butter and sprinkle with 15g of caster sugar.Bake for 30 minutes in the hot oven. Half way through the cooking dot the rest of the butter on the tarts and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar.

When cooked the tarts will be a beautiful golden colour and the apples caramelised. Serve immediately on hot plates. Either plain or with the accompaniment of your choice.

3 thoughts on “Food Photography and French Cooking

  1. Here in the states we are still experiencing the ‘swirl on the plate’ syndrome and the tower of power, food served vertically. But there is a move away from ‘expensive’ intimidating dining experiences. People are figuring out that they don’t really need to over pay for a mediocre meal while taking abuse from a smarmy waitperson and absent chef. Rant over. Love the posts Sue!

  2. Great summary of ‘la tendance’ in France’s recent culinary history, with bad news of country cooking decline, and good news of healthier Paris resurgence. Thanks for the recipe!

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