In this episode, Ragnar talks with Patrice van Ackere, French cuisine expert. Patrice and his wife Christine have published a book entitled Menaces sur la Gastromonie Français, which translates to Threats to the French Gastronomy. For centuries, French cuisine has reigned supreme. Has that era come to an end? Many say yes, and Patrice and Christine contend that French gastronomy is under threat.
Is French cuisine fading? It may be controversial, but that potential to incite conversation was part of the authors’ design. The aim of their book is to stimulate both broad debate and to demonstrate how economic, technical, sociological and international data has a fluid impact on the future of French gastronomy, especially in the post-health crisis context.
Just as interesting as this debate is the resume of our guest. Patrice self-defines as a passionate rather than a professional culinarian. He studied political science, pursed law school, and bolstered his training at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and Institut des hautes Etudes de Defense Nationale. Both Patrice and his wife Christian, having had some exposure to working in hospitality, carry insights into the lives of industry professionals, “what daily problems are and how to cope with it,” as Patrice says. Christine had professional experience as a cook, and he as a waiter, but Patrice’s more formal entry into culinary arts came in the form of judging on culinary juries for culinary competitons, both in France and at culinary schools in the UK.
Patrice and his wife are home cooks, with an estimated 20,000 hours spent together in the kitchen. They’ve traveled the world with a food focus, “discovering people and discovering nations and their culture in terms of gastronomy,” Patrice explains. This interest in observing national cuisines informed their approach and spurred the start of a new direction: writing.
Christine and Patrice’s 2nd book: Menaces sur la Gastronomie Française.
In May 2020, Le Figaro published an article they penned “to bring some support to the profession and to suggest a global approach of gastronomy that includes, production, distribution, export, and so on.” The article’s reception only strengthened Patrice and Christine’s conviction to studying the subject with a comprehensive approach to gastronomy.
The threat to French cuisine’s longheld place at the top of the gastronomic hierarchy is twofold, and both threats are not easy to describe, Patrice explained. First: other countries are catching up. “There is the rise of new competitors from a large number of countries. If you look at Spain, for instance, at the UK, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland… you will find that a growing number of chefs, very top-quality chefs are arising everywhere.
If you look at the number of Michelin stars, you will see that nowadays there are countries like Japan with three times the number of stars than you can find in France. If you compare with a ratio according to the population that Belgium or the Netherlands have more starred restaurants than France.
This means that more and more chefs from foreign countries do not consider any more that a passage through a French restaurant as compulsory.” Patrice suggests that whereas time in a true French kitchen was once the optimity of professional experience, more and more chefs are looking to restaurants in London, New York, and Tokyo to bolster their resumes and find work.
It’s not just the chefs that will take notice of this shift; it’s the tourists, too. Patrice sites that 10-30% of tourists consider gastronomy when selecting their next destination. More and more people may like to discover Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Germany, for instance, as well as Scandinavian countries due to the new Nordic kitchen. And while Netflix series may be keeping the romance of Paris alive, this erosion of France as a mecca for culinarians could have unsavory consequences. “Restaurants are a kind of locomotive,” says Patrice. The rest of the French food industry would be challenged. More exports are coming from neighboring EU countries. “It’s a pity for French gastronomy,” he consigns.
Now enter information technology, more specifically – social media. “French cuisine is quite stacked to tradition, to the rules established by people like Escoffier. It seems foreign chefs are more at ease breaking traditions,” says Patrice. The rise of “insta-friendly” dining means that in some contexts, interior designers and community managers are becoming just as important to the success of a restaurant as chefs and cooks. Chefs are now adapting by investing in their own smartphone and rethinking recipes to create better visual content.
What Patrice and Christine are observing in France is happening to beloved cuisine’s all over the world – crisis of gastronomy. So what’s the solution? You. “Chefs need to play a major role,” asserts Patrice. “They should strive to understand what is going on in the society, and try to help people to understand what’s going on.”
“Chefs need to play a major role,” asserts Patrice. “They should strive to understand what is going on in the society, and try to help people to understand what’s going on.”
Collectively, the industry must refocus on the slow food movement and work to build a sustainable and resilient food system. In France, Patrice says, culinarians can “drawing lessons from foreign countries,” with Italy’s commitment to slow food as a prime example.
Ask anyone in the Worldchefs headquarters in Paris and we’ll reassure you that French cuisine is still top-notch. Yet the idea that subtly, right in front of our eyes, on our screens and in our neighborhoods, once untouchable traditions are reckoning with fast-changing times. Still, the foundation remains, the history remains, and we’re here to help empower chefs to protect heritage cuisine and the culture of gastronomy on a globe scale.
French readers: you can find Menaces sur la Gastronomie Française at your local bookstore and online here, as well as their 1st book, Passion Gastronomique.
To read their article in Le Figaro, visit our blog or click here.
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Special thanks to Patrice van Ackere for joining us as a guest.
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