Is French Food All it’s cracked up to be?

I was perusing the New York Times, as I am wont to do, when I came across a television reviewers take on the new Alton Brown show. They wrote:

For too long, American food personalities — especially the men — have been playing outlaws and flaunting their Johnny Lunchbucket tastes, claiming that cheeseburgers, pork rinds and home fries show every bit as much culinary prowess as haute cuisine. Maybe. They’re certainly grease-rich, and sometimes they taste all right.

But that pose: the near-hysterical enthusiasm for diners, drive-throughs, burger joints, pizza parlors, sandwich shops. Haven’t we had enough? Doesn’t anyone want to say that, sure, a grilled cheese can hit the spot, and cherry pie is great, but French food is still harder to make, better balanced, more beautiful and more delicious?

These paragraphs brought forth a question I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time:

Why is French cuisine thought to be the apex of food, at least in the Western World?

I’m not saying that the food is bad. Not at all. But for all of the fine points of French cuisine, I can point out similar foods in other cultures.

If I were to hazard a guess, it was the influence of Haute Cuisine and the influence that Auguste Escoffier had upon upscale restaurants. Escoffier is the primary reason why are meals are served in courses rather than all at once.

Then was the introduction of Nouvelle Cuisine, also by the French. But being revolutionary in the restuarant business is not the same thing as having the “best food”.

In fact, as with other national cuisines, it’s difficult to define what exactly is French cuisine. Is it the exacting recipes of Cuisine classique? Is it the seafood cusines of Northern France? Or is the the regional cuisines of the likes of Provence?

The answer, I know, is a little of all of the above. But many people seem to have this idealized version of French Cuisine that extends beyond the reality of it. So out of curiousity, I ask: Is French Food the pinnacle of food? And if you believe it to be, why?


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