Evolution of French Cuisine
By Kaushikee Sanyal
The rich and delectable French cuisine dates back to the Middle Ages, a time marked by lavish banquet, aristocratic menus and exotic dishes. Influenced by social and political upheaval, the French cuisine traversed through decades of culinary variance that eventually conferred it the title ‘haute cuisine’
The Medieval French feast, ostentatious in nature, depicted elaborate banquets, opulent carte du jour, exotic spices imparting aromatic flavors and ornate presentation exhibiting the affluence of the host. The arrangement however remained at its elementary level—clay vessels, rustic plates, white tabletops, absence of forks, hand eating and chanting of prayer in reverence was the usual backdrop of this grand feasting—-a remarkable juxtaposition in its own.
The Old French Cuisine
The French cuisine of the Middle Ages stand as a sharp contrast to the present time. The cooking style then involved generous usage of spices, herbs, rich sauces and mustards for strong flavors. Numerous dishes were prepared consisting of sliced off meats like beef, pork, fish & poultry, pies, roasted swans & peacock, preserved vegetables and desserts. The food type was greatly determined by the respective seasons. The visual appeal was of paramount importance hence special attention was given to usage of colors with saffron, spinach, egg yolks and sunflower. Beer took a more prominent place than wine. The feasting was an extravaganza, service en confusion was the serving style predominant back then wherein food was served in unison. Only centuries later this practice got revolutionized under the auspices of King Louis XIV and meals were served in succession at different courses individually at the table.
The Italian Influence
The much advanced culinary arts of Italy came along with Catherine De Medicis when she married King Henry II. Her Italian chefs introduced innovative styles that greatly influenced the French cuisine. Decorative tableware, ornamental crockery and stunning glassware became commonplace and introduction of new foods like green beans and tomatoes were appreciated.
Ancien Règime and French Revolution
Paris marked the seat of the best culinary craftsmen in the 16th and 18th century—the period of Ancien Règime that saw the advent of the guild system of food distribution. Chefs were restricted to an assigned style or area, thereby hampering their proficiency and expertise. The French revolution later ceased the guild, opening new doors for chefs who could now experiment new dishes fluxing their cookery talents.
The French cuisine owes its eminence to their royal chefs— Carème, Montagnè and Escoffier, the pride of their time who introduced contemporary dining etiquettes, food dressing, artistry and décor, modern cooking styles that focused more on delectable ingredients rather on abundance of meal; categorized food preparation by specialists and authorized marvelous cookbooks that pared down and refined French Cuisine.
The Haute Cuisine
Escoffier was the eminent figure behind the French haute cuisine—‘high cuisine’ that unfolded in the 17th century. Accolades to Francois Pierre La Varenne who is also credited for publishing his cookbook Cvisinier francois that ushered in modern techniques of preparing light dishes and desserts with modest arrangements in a more codified manner. Escoffier not only brought in the ‘brigade system’ (segregation of kitchens in 5 sections) to fuse more efficiency in the culinary art but also penned down several cookbooks that turned him a much revered legend of French cuisine.
Present Day French Cuisine
The French gastronomy is a delight and so is its culinary culture. Innovative styles of cooking are imbibed using seasonal ingredients to offer the most sumptuous meals. The breakfast consists of mainly eggs, ham, croissants, tartines, jam, butter and tea/coffee while lunch is a bit elaborate. Dinner is segregated in three courses—soup, main course and dessert or cheese course. Wine has a special place; French wine has its rich history.
Savor on the delightful French cuisines that have evolved over the years under the patronage of royal chefs and enrich your taste buds with dishes that have earned their name as the French national cuisine.
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