Saturday, October 13, 2012

Food glorious food....Come dine with me,perhaps!

Culinary delight  & the French culture are, as we all know , intrinsically linked. Children, like their parents, take  food very seriously. 'Super U' shopping is not  like the 'Tesco' rush to fill the trolley & avoid the perpetual requests from the kids "can I have this mum?" For the French, its a measured and civilised occasion, with choices made & conversations entered into.

 At the check out, discussion & politeness are more important than the speed with which the customers are served and nobody in the queue, however long, objects.The time for customer conversation is important, packing undertaken carefully and finally then payment (sometimes by long winded cheque) and this must all be respected, it is  a meaningful event.

What other country, but France, would have  baby food called 'Artichoke Diner' or 'Ratatouille....'? Morrison's nearest  culinary  labels for  babies are, 'Grandpa's Sunday Lunch' or 'My 1st Bolognaise' , it just doesn't seem the same.  But the whole area of food, its purchase, its preparation and particularly its consumption are serious.  

Its a devotion, in which the cathedrals are the top restaurants, the religious orders are the 'Master Chef' programmes and the high priests the Michelin & Egon Ronay chefs .
We were recently invited by some French  farming friends for a meal. A typical French longere farmhouse which has been modernised to give a lovely ambiance, comfortable and contemporary. The meal was superb, the conversation wonderful, but our hosts made the highlight of the evening, a viewing, over cheese & desert, of the finale of 'Mastef Chef', on their huge plasma TV. People are passionate about food...

 No more obvious in the anglo / franco cultural differences towards eating is    the popular programme 'Come Dine with Me', known in France as 'Un Diner Preque Parfait', or 'An Almost Perfect Diner'.
Both countries market the programme as a competition for 4 or 5 amateur chefs to cook and entertain each other and be scored on their results, but the resultant programmes are worlds apart

In England the empathises seems to be on shock tactics before cuisine. One weeks' contestant comprised a host who insisted that "if people were stressed they can touch my breasts", whilst encouraging everyone to"get sloshed" she defended her brashness by the adage, "if you've got it flaunt it". Another  participant was a gnome collector who referred to his rival in the kitchen as a 'cocky young upstart'. When it comes to the food  the comparison is lost altogether. The English programme seems to loose all sight of this part of the enterprise, focusing on any arguments or sexy bits, food and its preparation are incidental to the evening.

In France guests have included Frederic Mitterrand, who is the nephew of the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and a close friend of ex-first Lady Carla Bruni. At the end of the week contestants are marked on cuisine, ambiance, table decor and the theme or animation of the evening.The French watch , sample comment intellectually and enjoy all aspects of the food. They never refuse to eat anything, never swig back their drinks or overindulge and leave politely, clearly having enjoyed the efforts their fellow contestants have made.

So if you want to define the social differences between the two nations, just watch these two programmes. Yes they do have the same prize money, 'One Thousand', but the French are short changes because they get euros where as the guys from the  UK pick their winnings up  in pounds.

Know where I'd rather 'dine'?? ...mais oui!

Bloggers block...

Seems I have bee suffering from 'Bloggers Block', a sort  of electronic writers cramp, brought about by an overload of English culture, as we have returned currently to the UK. Its as though my brain, tuned to seek the similarities and anomalies in French & Anglo culture / education, just couldn't cope with the onslaught of so much Englishness
BaconSo whats made the change, where has the breakthrough come? Well its about realising, much to my surprise, that I see things from a French perspective whilst in the UK in the opposite way to how I see the Anglo perspective in the French systems.
And what made the change well simple...bacon.

Pork is as popular in Franc as in the UK, but the concept of rashers of sizzling bacon, or bacon butties or bacon rolls with chicken is quite alien in  France. Slices are either way too thin, way too think or don't exist. And yet there before me in the  UKsupermarket is a dazzling array of bacon, loose or packaged, for cooking or frying, with or without rind, smoked or non smoked; even a choice of pig or region is possible. The only thing not on offer easily are lardons, the beloved  French diced bacon bits super for carbonnara or in stews or casseroles and much used by the French.

Hospital_building : Contour Building VectorBut perhaps the most telling of things bore no relation to any of the actual meat products but to  the impressive, new NHS hospital. Built like an airport, bright & airy with wide corridors and crisp lines it is the embodiment of all you'd hope for in any medical system and one the NHS should rightly be proud of. Computer greeting terminals allow the patient to book in and proceed, via a series of 'sub waits' to the correct area, so you always know where you are who you will see and what is happening. Brilliantly efficient, clear & makes the patient feel every things in hand, the medics are informed and you know what is happening.
Hospital_building : An image of a city hospital.
So here is where the differences lie because as you log in, with aid from friendly assistants if necessary, you have to collect a booking ticket, affectionately referred to as your 'bacon counter ticket' as it resembles the sort issued to avoid queues or misunderstandings at supermarkets counters for fresh  meats or cheese.

 Now I just can't imagine the French liking this sort of labelling, even food related, they'd expect people & time to be given to them. Perhaps its about the population numbers and space / land area that the two countries have; France being low in population, mostly rural with some high concentrations and  a vast alnd area and England being a small island with high population. We can't and don't expect time to be given to us, the French I feel would expect an individuals attention, but I did notice that in that vast new building we all seemed strangely comforted being led by and clutching our, 'bacon tickets'

One cure for bloggers block..... bacon...