As early as 1965 Elizabeth David noted the deterioration of French restaurant cooking.
Quoting from her book “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine” she says
“How is it that French Restaurant Cooking has so notably, so sadly deteriorated during the past 2 or 3 decades……..What has suffered … is the quality of the raw materials, the cooking skills and also I would say, the critical faculties of the customers.”
Perhaps one of the reasons is that the French are the number one customers for canteen food. A higher percentage of French stand in line to eat off a tray in a canteen than any other nationality. Not only in the public service but also all the big engineering and public works groups offer a canteen where people eat for a 1/4 of the real cost of food. The French company Sodexo is the biggest supplier of canteen food in the world. Hospital food for the masses.
Most employees in small businesses get a “ticket restaurant” for a lunch meal at around 11 to 12 euro. Entreé,main and dessert.Very tight margins. Yet perhaps hundreds of thousands of restaurants live on this. Very few are those with the imagination or energy to do anything creative within those contraints.So at least 40% of the working population have daily exposure to a Soviet style canteen system where food with a fancy name is served to people who don’t pay it’s cost and are so used to mediocrity that they can’t tell the difference.
Again to qoute Elizabeth David “time and time again we watched commercial travellers… who are supposed to be so knowledgeable and so critical when it comes to food, swallowing the indifferent stuff put before them without any apparent thought of complaint , criticism or protest.”
More products ready to buy pre made, frozen or dehydrated, pastuerised.No need to leave the restaurant. Just call the company. Most of the restaurants shop at big Cash and Carry’s like Metro and Promocash. These companies make it easy for the businesses to organise their accounting.
And yet France and my area is a paradise for produce, oysters, fish, asparagus, melons all manner of wonderful things to be found in markets and in peoples homes. But rarely do these wonderful fresh products reach the restaurant tables.I think there are a lot of disheartened and lazy people in kitchens today. Few want to shell broad beans or peas, filet fish,make stocks and do the very hard work involved.
Awards from guide books don’t always give positive results. Once the restaurant has achieved a “star” they become terrified of losing it and rigidly stick to what got them there. Food critic François Simon, says he stays away from provincial one star restaurants as they are boring on all levels. Too formal in service and uninspiring in food.
And yet in Paris chefs are working hard keeping alive the tradition of Gastronomy. New and exciting things happening there all the time.
Sadly the times where restaurant kitchens were passed on through families is gone. It still exists, on a very high level for example Anne Sophie Pic in Valence , and at Le Suquet in the Auvergne, where Sebastian Le Bras cooks with his father.
There all many reasons for this decline. The world has changed since Elizabeth David wrote about pulling into a service station and having a sandwich made with homemade pâte and a glass of local wine. Now it’s industrial pork and coffee from a machine, or Macdonalds.
The French restaurant style of our dreams. The Ideal!