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Is French Cuisine Becoming American?

Drinkable pizza by Jean-François Piège at Le Fooding
Drinkable pizza by Jean-François Piège at Le Fooding
Christine Chiao

Few countries have shown as adamant an objection against American food as France. Jokes about each countries' eats are familiar from both sides of the Atlantic: We put ketchup on everything; they have a rich sauce for, well, everything. When McDonald's opened its first location on famed Parisian boulevard the Champs-Élysées in 1988, local outcry became a national debate, grabbing international headlines in the process.

Now it seems French fears of a food takeover may have some basis. The Washington Post followed up this Monday on an NPR report about a culinary reversal through the growing popularity of American fast food.

NPR says this has much to do with the average shortening of the French lunch hour; the newspaper points to the cost of a traditional French lunch at almost triple that of a McBaguette (drinks included) at 4.50 Euros. The co-founder of Cojean, a healthful food chain in Paris, told NPR that fast food has set free certain "rigid gastronomical rules." So does the increased preference for quick, affordable meals sans potential bad attitude from waiters mean however an Americanization of French food?

French anxiety -- reported or otherwise -- over the propect of a commercial takeover by Americans is not new. In February 23, 1902, the New York Times published "Americanization of Paris," which described the trend of American business owners setting up shop such that the "heart of the city is fast becoming an American mart." Even then, the newspaper wrote of how its French counterparts saw "the commercial invasion of Europe by America" as the "American peril."

The growth of fast food outlets is a worldwide phenomenon. Perhaps a better indication of what's taking place in contemporary French cuisine can be found in the food trucks of Paris -- two of them being Cantine California, a taco truck, and a burger truck called Le Camion Qui Fume. According to the New York Times and the Associated Press, American chefs are behind the more popular restaurants in Paris.

In fact, as Paris-based food blogger David Lebovitz told the AP, American chefs have helped to usher in a new era in French food. As Cantine California founder noted in NYT, the city's younger generation appreciate "the New York food scene and the California lifestyle." Earlier this March, Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien (now winner of the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef) was treated like a rock star at the Parisian food festival Omnivore.

The recent Le Grand Fooding Crush at MOCA proved a cultural blurring of the better kind. The City of Angels met the City of Light as notable chefs from both cities collaborated on two nights of a civic exchange of sorts. Some Angelenos dressed as they think the French would and more than a couple French attendees wore their best Ralph Lauren. On that first night on Friday, April 26, Roy Choi brought a new rendition of the Kogi short rib taco and Inaki Aizpitarte impressed the crowd with fresh beans in brown butter. It turns out there are fundamentals in taste that seldom get lost in translation.

And in related news:

- Cookbook of the Week: The Complete Bocuse, Easter Wines + A Hay-Cooked Ham (!) Recipe

- 8 Restaurants (and a Cabaret) Celebrating Bastille Day: Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité, Pâtisserie

- Coco Laurent Opens Today Downtown


Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Follow the author on Twitter at @chrstnchiao.

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