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.
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.
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.
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
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.
‘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.