Wednesday, 23 September 2009

English food, a French standpoint (English translation)


'' We cannot trust these people, their food is way too bad. (…) Beside Finland, it is worst country for food.''
Jacques Chirac, French President between 1995-2007


Well, this is obviously a good way to maintain good relationships between neighbours! We knew that Chirac was a food lover, especially for the calf's head recipe; however, we now also know that he isn't particularly keen on English pudding.

It is pretty amazing how stereotypes are still so established in our societies; in France English people are seen as arrogant and their food as simply disgusting; for the rest of the world, French people are pretentious and masters of the art of striking... but is this all true?

Before leaving France for Manchester, my friends told me to beware of the food, apparently prices were ridiculously high and quality very low, however, after a few months there, I think it's time to set things right! We, French people, have such a passion for food that we even sometimes forget Socrates's quote: ''You should eat to live; not live to eat''. Then, yes we have good food and some of the best head-cooks; however, it seems like we started to have a swollen head: we wanted to write down the French gastronomy in UNESCO's World heritage.

Ridiculous. And Pretentious. Moreover, we are sure our food is way better than any other, way more elaborated. But let's be honest, the courses we are eating in the everyday life are pretty far from the ones cooked by some of our rewarded chefs.

Let's come back to England, and what we could call its Pub-gastronomy; to have tasted it, well it seems that all those clichés weren't true after all... Maybe it's time paying attention rather than scornfully glancing at English food and discovering recipes that have nothing to be ashamed of.

English courses are normally quite simple, and this represents the main advantage of such cuisine. Indeed, it is possible to cook oneself good recipes without being a grand chef. For instance, the shepherd pie, to have witnessed the preparation from scratch, well it does not require any specific talent... sorry about that.. but the point is that its simplicity allows to enhance such basic meals thanks to creativity. Using seasoning, new ingredients, it is possible to transform a random course into a unique experience; in an easier way because the cooking doesn't need a strict follow-up of the recipe.

Then, English meals might be classic, but at least, it is easy to accompany them well, thanks to sauces mainly. To create dressing, we like to use oil, butter and cream, while you seem to use with no restriction malt vinegar- you even put some on chips, which at the beginning was a little bit disturbing, but finally I ended loving it, and so bad that I brought a bottle back home. Anyhow, let's forget the granulated gravy sauce, s'il vous plaît?

And think about horseradish sauce, amazing, a little air of wasabi without all the exotic aspect brought with; then the bramley apple one, absolutely delicious in any roast pork dish; and finally, the ultimate must-have, the Worcestershire sauce, it can spice up any recipe.

The full English breakfast, meat potatoes pies, an hand-made hamburger, mash potatoes and sausages, baked beans on toast... Ahh, all of these courses seem fat, heavy, and not really sophisticated; and at first sight yes they are; however, let's think for a while about the experience: enjoying them brings up a mass of guilt-feeling, because, yes it is unhealthy and, yes we rather not eat them every single day, but what a pleasure!

Then, a lot of criticisms are made about the simplicity of recipes. However, when we start a comparison with some national dishes like salade niçoise or gratin dauphinois, well they seem easy to create as well. Certain courses, such as the toad in the hole, need as much technique as our sauté de veau marengo (a special sautéed veal).
A sidenote: quite an interesting name for a dish: a toad in the hole... Food for thoughts please

However, we frequently mix up between preparation, technique and refinement. It's not because a course is sophisticated that it is good, it is even often the contrary that happens. For instance, a savoury buckwheat pancake might be the simplest meal ever, but well cooked, it is a wonder. Same for an English breakfast with quality ingredients and a good cooking; I would pay for a Eurostar ticket right away. The problem is, as much in UK than in France, to find the good place; and it's most of the time hard and rare to do so. A shame.

Well this is an iconoclast point of view, you might say. Praising English cuisine, whether it is haute or not, was not really the leitmotiv here, but rather to restore the heckled truth. Yes, English food is not the most refined one, neither the healthiest, however, it is not the worst one.
Morgane Billy

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