If It’s Food…

30 Sep


Sanjay Matta, is a freelance Chef specializing in French Cuisine. Having got his Diploma in “The Chef Course and Culinary Arts” at Institut de Formation (INFA), Chantilly, (France), he has been a consultant chef for Dune Beach Eco Hotel in Pondicherry, 10 Downing street pub & restaurant in Chennai to name a few.

If it’s food, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Food as it is today is not just for the stomach but increasingly becoming a fashion statement. The pundits of high street may call it ‘haute cuisine’ but every thing on the plate is not high in the literal sense. Where did this journey start from? It is rather difficult to pin down the exact date.

From historical times food has always been a kind of a bench mark of the status one holds in society. Since the late 18th century, when the Revolution cooked the goose of French nobles and made their former patrons pretty much commoners, chefs had few options but to open restaurants. Cuisine had reached the masses or the “common man”. Over the years travelers have come to the republic to learn to eat.

Ironically, it was not the French that refined the ways of high cuisine but the principalities of renaissance Italy that saw a revolution in theatrical ways of dining. It was in the 1540s by the way of the marriage of Catherine de Medici, daughter of the Duke of Urbino of Florence to King Henri II (in her entourage were cooks skilled in the ways of high Florence culinary tradition) that the French got their taste of sumptuous feasts with fashionable dressing. In the court of Louis XIV, the meaning of sumptuous dining took another leap in extravagance at his palace at Versailles, and instead of all the food appearing all at once (much of which would become cold), Louis introduced the idea of dining in a series of steps, or courses. Over the years contributions by such luminary chefs as Marie-Antoine Carême, Montagné and Escoffier have taken cuisine to the level of such sophistication that a re-definement was obvious. Led by the trio of young rebel chefs Boçuse, Guérard, and Chapel they invented a lighter and more free style of cooking which would be called “nouvelle cuisine” by the late 1950s.

Food fashions and trends tend to alternate between these three types of cuisine; today there is a distinct focus on cuisine du terroir, with a return to traditional rustic cooking and the “forgotten” flavours of local farm produce. The “fusion” cuisine popular in the world across the Atlantic, is by the way not as popular in France or much of Latin Europe though a few French and European chefs are influenced by a variety of international cooking styles.

In between all this is the price one is ready to pay for one meal than most would. The million-dollar question is, can it still be worth it? YES! and NO! “Yes” because it’s fashionable to boast and be seen, and “No” cause restaurants in all price brackets charge what the market will bear, not what they’re worth. But these are tough times. Fine dining is experiencing a wave of popular interest just as prices are soaring out of reach for many. “Destination restaurants” are becoming a one-time splurge for the curious, most diners are too intimidated to complain – while the rich don’t care; sandwiched in between are the dedicated foodies who have worked to pay their way through the University of the Good Life and are being priced out of the market.

The next big question is how long can traditional haute cuisine hold out? With the land across the Atlantic going through the economic crisis Chefs like Alain Passard of L’Arpège or Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie stay true to their art while Alain Senderens, have adapted by closing down his restaurant Lucas Carton, (that boasted its full three Michelin stars) and opened a brasserie on the same site. Senderens is not the latest top chef to drop out of the star system, Jöel Robuchon cashed his Michelin status to go global by opening in Las Vegas, Tokyo and now also Macau. Many top chefs who have refused to join the ratings’ rat race are opting to run more casual bistros. Closer home, with the economy in a domino effect to big Brother and with a class of neo rich and bored party goers we are seeing the trend that dictated the streets of Champs Elysees in the 60’s and 70’s. Having said this much from the chef’s perspective haute cuisine is like fine art: inspiring, luxurious, rich with flavours, fragrant to the taste buds, and a feast to the eyes. And to all the artisans that make cuisine an art form – bravo!

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