French chefs put differences aside for sake of cuisine

Updated: 2011-03-22 10:47

By Ulrike Koltermann (China Daily/Agencies)

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Fifteen top French chefs have joined forces to promote French cooking around the world.

The chefs recently founded their unusual organization, which they named the Culinary College of France, at a breakfast meeting held in the first floor restaurant of the Eiffel Tower. Though French chefs are reputedly egoistical, the chefs are pulling together for the sake of French cooking. They plan to work with politicians at home and seek ways to promote French cooking worldwide.

"French cooking is the gastronomical basis of cooking throughout the world," says Guy Savoy, a three-star cook. "We can say that without a trace of arrogance."

Savoy points out that countless chefs throughout the world were trained in France. "Anyone who wants to open a really good restaurant inevitably turns to the French."

The reputation of French culinary skills does appear to be waning. Scandinavian cooks took home the top three places at the prestigious Bocuse d'Or (Bocuse Gold) cooking competition in January.

The top prize went to Denmark, Sweden earned silver and Norway bronze. The French also have been taken down a notch when it comes to top restaurants. Tokyo, not Paris, is the city with the most cooks who have earned a Michelin Star.

Finally, Spanish chef Ferran Adria, known for experimenting with molecular gastronomy and having his own culinary lab, has reached a prominence that French cooks can only dream of. In 2007 the European Restaurant Ranking voted him the best chef in the world.

Top French chef Alain Ducasse, who feels just as comfortable in front of the cameras as he does at the stove, hopes that the newly founded Culinary College of France will help raise France's cooking traditions back to the level it is familiar with and he hopes it will receive support from the state for its efforts.

"Gastronomy in France has an annual revenue of 50 billion euros ($70 billion). It is the fourth largest private employer in France," he says, adding that he feels this must be recognized. He and his fellow chefs are planning a sort of showcase of French cooking in a historic building located in Paris.

Marc Haeberlin, a chef from Alsace, says French cooking is special because it relies heavily on locally grown fruits and vegetables and locally raised meat and fish. Haeberlin worked at Berlin's Hotel Adlon before taking over the family restaurant from his father, who maintained his status as a Michelin Star chef for four decades.

There is only one woman among the 15 chefs who founded the Culinary College of France. Anne-Sophie Pic currently is the only French woman who has earned three stars. Ducasse doesn't rule out other top chefs joining the organization. The honorary president of the group is Paul Bocuse, 85.

"He is like a father to most of us," Haeberlin says. "We have him to thank for much."

The group will have its first test in September at the first festival of gastronomy. Following a model used for France's festival of music held every year, the gastronomy festival will encourage the people of France not only to taste the foods of their best cooks, but also to learn how best to prepare locally grown foods.

The UN, for one, would agree that French cooking is worthy of recognition. Experts at UNESCO have decided that the French gastronomic meal, with its rituals and presentation, fulfills the conditions to be included on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


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