`Wave of Experimentation in Paris Cuisine Elevates Olive Oil - Olive Oil Times

Wave of Experimentation in Paris Cuisine Elevates Olive Oil

Jan. 13, 2011
Laura Rose

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By Laura Rose
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Milan

Paris, that grand dame of gourmet, is not a fan of inno­va­tion. This is a town where one can dine on dishes cooked the same way they were served to Napoleon him­self. In Paris, a bagel is novel, a smoothie down­right rev­o­lu­tion­ary, a dish with­out the cen­turies’ old base of bouil­lon, nou­velle.

When my New York friends ask me to describe the world-famous cui­sine of Paris, where I spend much of my time, their reac­tions are strictly incred­u­lous. How can wasabi, gin­ger, even grape­fruit be con­sid­ered ground­break­ing ingre­di­ents in a city that all the world is eye­ing with desire?

Because, mes cheris, the Parisian cui­sine tra­di­tion goes back a long way and has sur­vived thanks to its stub­born rebuff of all out­side influ­ence, and so small changes mean big things here.

Change has been afoot lately thanks to the self-mock­ing yet entirely gen­uine efforts of the game-chang­ing restau­rant guide known as Le Fooding. Playing on the ridicu­lous Franglais speak which is as embar­rass­ing to native English speak­ers as it is to French tra­di­tion­al­ists, Le Fooding dares to laugh at itself, to laugh at uptight local atti­tudes, and to laugh at the stran­gle­hold of tra­di­tional cook­ing, thereby encour­ag­ing this tra­di­tional town to lighten up and exper­i­ment with food.

Le Fooding pub­lishes a yearly guide to what it con­sid­ers the most inter­est­ing restau­rants in Paris and a much-con­sulted web­site, both filled with witty reviews whose goal it is to expose new fla­vors in old Paris. The result of this joc­u­lar guide has been a real impe­tus for change in town, result­ing in a score of new restau­rants being opened by young, ambi­tious, some­times for­eign chefs, with locally wild ideas like using Chinese cook­ing styles to pre­pare French dishes, and even replac­ing time-hon­ored but­ter with high qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

Paris is not only the cap­i­tal of clas­sic cui­sine but in par­tic­u­lar of Northern French cui­sine, whose roots have been fed by the dairy of cows, sheeps, and goats, keep­ing but­ter as the cen­tral ingre­di­ent for cen­turies. But in the new day that is begin­ning to shine on Parisian kitchens, chefs are dis­cov­er­ing what their south­ern cousins in Provence have long enjoyed. The fla­vor of the dishes is get­ting lighter, earth­ier, and more attuned with the inter­na­tional cook­ing scene as olive oil takes a cen­tral role, at last, in Paris cook­ing.

Many of the cut­ting edge kitchens that are cut­ting a swathe of exper­i­ment- ation take their lead from Le Fooding, and notably use the same play­ful Franglais of their guide — restau­rants like Frenchie, Ze Kitchen Galerie, and Hidden Kitchen — have led the charge to drop the foun­da­tion out from tra­di­tional Parisian cui­sine, using olive oil instead of but­ter for its ver­sa­til­ity, and for the new­ness it adds to tra­di­tional dishes.

It seems even the Michelin-starred guardians of tra­di­tion are start­ing to exper­i­ment, with Pierre Gagnaire, scion of French cook­ing and of his cel­e­brated name­sake restau­rant, who now places olive oil on the menu within his brief, pointed dish descrip­tions. Among the van­guard and even some of the old guard, it’s become hard to deny a good thing.

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