So, what are the French people eating for dinner tonight? Odds are pretty good that it’s a Big Mac and fried potatoes that aren’t quite French. Critics who like to point out that the father of modern culinary art has lost his edge in the kitchen often cite the fact that France is now the number two retail market in the world for McDonald’s.
Not everyone is ready to throw in the towel. Certainly the French don’t eat like they used to, but who does? Butter and cream sauces, the way Julia Child learned to cook, are off the menu just about everywhere these days, although the new movie about Child and copycat blogger Julie Powell might help classic French menus rally for a short time (I had to satisfy a sudden craving to visit French American Brasserie). USA Today asked Le Bernardin chef/owner Eric Ripert and French Culinary Institute founder Dorothy Hamilton and both insisted that French cuisine is not dead, but evolving. Still, according to the 2009 Zagat survey, French cuisine is only the fourth most popular in America, outranked by Italian, Japanese and American, whatever the hell that is. Actually, I read a report in the Independent recently that sales of butter were up nine percent last year in England and are expected to surge another six percent this year. Really?
One of the reasons often cited for the changes in French eating habits is increasingly tight household budgets. We’re all looking to feed ourselves more cheaply. Germany has boasted Europe’s strongest economy, but fine dining establishments there have been shuttering their doors in staggering numbers, especially the ones that catered to corporate guests. German government statistics indicate restaurant turnover has dropped between three and nine percent per month since the beginning of the year.
You’d think the economic gods might cut you some slack if you’re a big television star, but lately it’s been a real kitchen nightmare for the Gordon Ramsay empire. Faced with a recommendation that he file for bankruptcy, the devil of Hell’s Kitchen has relinquished control of three of his restaurants, fired 15% of his employees and has blown off the high end cuts of beef for brisket. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ramsay and his father in law have pulled millions of dollars out of savings to keep the entrees moving. Nice job, Gordo. Now take your dozen Michelin stars and piss off. 🙂
Today’s lesson: Times are tough, and everyone is looking for ways to cut corners. But be careful what you put in your mouth. You might think you’re saving money by eating stuff out of a box or wolfing down a fast food meal. But there’s a good reason many Americans are overweight, and suffering from heart disease, stroke and diabetes in record numbers. Save a few pennies now, pay for it later at the hospital. Look at the larger picture. Some corners are not worth cutting.