16. Dec, 2014

In praise of French cuisine

“Pleasure in dining is the overall feeling that comes from the different circumstances of opportunities, places, associations with things and persons which accompany the meal.”  – Robert Courture.

There is much about the French and their lifestyle that the rest of us battle to get our heads around. Why are the people whose cuisine teems with butter, cream, sugar and lard the thinnest and healthiest in Europe? How is it possible that heart disease is a relatively rare cause of death among them? It defies logic. No wonder “je ne sais qoui” is an expression commonly used to describe the synergistic pleasures of French cuisine.

Last night (15-12-2014) two special friends treated Jakki and me to dinner at Pretoria’s iconic Brasserie de Paris to celebrate my birthday. Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all. Unsurprisingly the ambience, food and service were all superb, but what got me thinking was how the overall experience amounted to so much more than the sum of its parts.

The Gauls “get” holism. Their approach to the dining experience is the culinary equivalent of Feng Shui. It is about respect for the ingredients, taste, flavour, texture and appearance, and how to combine them optimally. It doesn’t end there, though: the environment should be conducive to enjoyment of the meal and its digestion. The fact that table settings are traditionally intimate, with soft lighting, encourages conversation.

A series of small portions, with adequate breaks in between (as opposed to eat-as-much-as-you-can) means that one leaves the table satisfied but not gorged. Little treats like complimentary amuse-bouche titbits beforehand, palette-cleaning sorbet halfway through and minute madeleines before the dessert ensure a leisurely pace. The French obsession with proper pairing of wine and food also serves a purpose; it not only maximises taste and flavour but also contributes to the digestive process.

I am prone to heartburn and occasional acid reflux after a rich meal eaten after 8 PM. Despite feasting on pan-seared Foie Gras, Herb-crusted Lamb Loin and Vanilla Pod Crème Bruleé, I slept soundly and woke up as fit as a fiddle this morning. Pure luck?  Methinks not...

“Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well-matched they are as body and soul, living partners.” – André Simon.