French cuisine, one of the world’s most exquisite and detailed styles of cooking, has a long history of culinary innovation and regional pride. The formal system of French cuisine can be traced to the sixteenth century, when Catherina de Medici married into the French royal family. The Italian princess brought her cooking staff to Paris, where they began forming the foundation of traditional French cuisine. From these early roots, French cuisine developed into one of the most desirable styles of cooking among global populations.
Within one hundred years after the arrival of de Medici in Paris, French borne chefs began to create innovative cooking techniques using local and regional ingredients. The first French chef to propel to international fame was Francoise Pierre de La Varenne (1615-1678). As the author of the culinary book, Le Cuisinier Française, La Varenne distinguished French cuisine from the cooking techniques of Italy by creating French staples such as the bisque and an early version of the Béchamel sauce. A chef serving French Royalty, La Varenne developed techniques that were soon being used by the common population.
The next great chef of France to increase the innovative nature of this regional cuisine was Marie Antione Careme (1784-1833). Known as the father of Haute Cuisine, Careme introduced innovative cooking techniques such as the meringue and a group of sauces named the “Mother Sauces”. This group of sauces includes the modern day Bechamel, Espagnole, Veloute and Allemande. These sauces use butter and flour as a thickening agent that combine with liquids such as milk, cream and broths to create savory sauces for meat and fish.
The foundation of French cuisine culminated in the work of Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Considered the greatest French chef of all time, Escoffier modernized the techniques of Careme and La Varenne into recipes that are used in today’s most prestigious French restaurants. Escoffier wrote Le Guide Culinaire, a text which is still considered the best reference for French cuisine. In addition to innovative culinary techniques, Escoffier was credited with organizing the kitchen into what is known as the Brigade system. In this system, the cooks are organized into different levels of responsibilities including the Executive Chef, the Chef de Cuisine, Sous Chef, Chef de Partie and Commis.
While France has a long history of celebrity chefs, the regional cuisines which formed over four hundred years is staggering. The borders of France extend from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean. In addition, the proximity of Germany and Spain added to the sub-regional identities of the nation. In Northern France, seafood, apples and dairy products reign supreme. One of the most popular dishes of Northern France is the Tart Tatan, a dish consisting of Puff Pastry and Apples. In Southern France, Mediterranean cuisine and ingredients define the regions taste preferences. Ingredients such as rosemary, basil, olives and garlic significantly influence the cuisine of Southern France. Common recipes include Scallops Provencal as well as Ratatouille. In the landlocked eastern region of France, meat and stews are the most popular foods. The city of Lyon and the Burgundy region are the birth place of recipes such as Coq au Vin and Beef Bourguignon. In Western France, the cuisine is influenced by the offerings of the Atlantic Ocean as well as Spain. Duck fat is the major cooking oil of this region and duck influenced recipes abound. Foie gras, duck confit and smoked paprika are popular additions to the foods found in Western France.
As France grew into a culinary powerhouse, a number of regional cities became well known for their culinary prowess. In the south of the country, Nice became the center of Provencal cuisine. In the West, Boudreaux not only added to the culinary tradition of the country but pioneered the developed of modern day French wines. In the East, Lyon became the culinary epicenter of inland cooking. While these regional cities contributed to French cuisine, the greatest culinary capital of the country is certainly Paris. Influenced by all regions of France, Parisian cooking is known for modifying regional tastes to create a nationalistic style of French cuisine. It is for this reason that Parisian cuisine is the most well know and replicated form of French food.
France has provided the world with some of the most well-known restaurants. In fact, the restaurant considered to be the first food service establishment can be dated to Paris in 1765. The owner, Monsieur Boulanger, distinguished his business from taverns of the day by serving daily specials to the Parisian population. Today, France has some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world. In Paris, La Tour d’Argent and Taillevent are known for their long history and haute cuisine. Modern day restaurants of note include Paul Bocuses’ L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges as well as Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire. No matter where you decide to travel in France, you are sure to find a famous restaurant which serves exquisite food.
French cuisine has developed into one of the world’s most desirable forms of regional cuisine. With a rich tradition of culinary innovation for nearly four centuries, it is not wonder why the French have pioneered so many cooking techniques and recipes. With sub-regional cuisines spanning the four corners of the country, French cuisine is certainly impressive.