In Pictures: Cakes with Chinese-style Decoration

Cup Cakes

Why Is French Cuisine Missing from the U.S. Restaurant Landscape?

Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse asks why French cuisine isn’t more popular in the U.S.

Bret, I’d like to get your viewpoint on an issue that I find truly vexing. How is it possible that French cuisine is so badly underrepresented in our culinary landscape, especially in the chain sector? After all, its principles are essential building blocks of restaurants not just here, but around the globe.

Beginning students at The Culinary Institute of America still cut their teeth on the introductory Culinary Fundamentals class, which teaches the basics of stock making, grand sauces and French culinary terms. They take this knowledge into a kitchen that’s arranged in a brigade de cuisine, the French system that organizes the back of the house based on skill set; everyone knows his or her role and functions as part of a team. While many trendy chefs may favor barbecue over bordelaise, and the highly structured brigade may be substantially more relaxed, contemporary American operations invariably remain guided by these core culinary rules of the road.

A couple of months back, you wrote a story about growing consumer interest in ethnic cuisines, noting the continuing dominance of the “big three:” Italian, Mexican and Chinese. French cuisine is much farther behind in the pack, lagging behind Spanish and Belgian. I don’t get it. It’s especially hard to understand given that French food enjoyed one of the most powerful and beloved broadcast adherents of all time — the late, great Julia Child, who remained a popular TV presence well into the 1990s and is still seen on reruns around the country.

To be sure, many independents still gravitate to the Gallic. New York City, which has a long history of terrific French restaurants, is in the midst of a boomlet, with new openings like Rebelle, La Gamelle and Vaucluse, among others. And hot boîtes are popping up all over the country, like Le Sel in Nashville, Tenn., The Blanchard in Chicago, and Chez Nous in Charleston, S.C. French-inflected steakhouses are also coming on stream, as with Marcel in Atlanta, which offers foie gras terrine, escargots and sole meunière, alongside some seriously large hunks of American beef. These places generate plenty of buzz, but they remain greatly outnumbered by pasta joints.

On the chain side, the number of French brands pales in comparison to other ethnic operations. NRN’s Top 100 report lists a total of 15 Mexican, Italian and pizza chains, but nary a single French one. La Madeleine, which is based in Dallas and appears in the Second 100 census, posted sales of $154 million last year. The brand embraces its origins through its positioning as a “Country French Café,” and its menu features patron-friendly favorites like beef bourguignon and croque monsieur, a ham-and-cheese sandwich. There is also plenty of standard fare, like Caesar salads and turkey sandwiches.

Sibling chain Mimi’s Cafe is concentrated largely on the West Coast, and had a rocky road a few years back when it moved aggressively to introduce a menu loaded with French specialties. I particularly remember the lentils. Lentils, Bret! It has since pulled back, and while it touts its French ingredients and authentic prep techniques, the current bill of fare is mostly populated by lots of familiar American dishes. However, there is a Frites Grill section that pairs meat or fish with scratch-made, twice-fried French fries, and there’s also a “Bit of France” section that includes a couple of quiches, some crêpes and, strangely, Chicken Parmesan.

Just up the coast in the San Francisco Bay Area is Left Bank, a three-unit chain that’s a favorite of mine. It’s modeled after a French brasserie and presents a savvy mix of easy-to-like entrées such as coq au vin and steak frites in a comfortable atmosphere. The menu is broad and engaging; it consists of tasty food that is prepared well and invites return visits on a regular basis. It seems to me that there should be legions of places like this operating from sea to shining sea.

C’est ridicule, Bret. How has the mothership of Western cuisine gone so far off course with diners here? Why has one of the great cuisines of the world and a foundation of the American kitchen become so marginalized?

Much American cuisine rooted in France

The following is NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn’s take on French cuisine in America.

Nancy, current events have caught up with our conversation. You broached this topic before the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. I’m responding afterwards, with France much on my mind.

Over the weekend, my Facebook page, which I use for work, was filled, probably even more than most other people’s pages, with comments about Paris. Many of my Facebook friends are chefs, and many American chefs have spent time cooking in Paris or elsewhere in France. I got my culinary training in Paris, too, back when I thought maybe I wanted to be a chef.

France is still an important destination for people seeking a well-rounded culinary education and for American cooks to understand why we cook the way we do.

As you point out, professional American kitchens were set up based on the French model. Our basic techniques are French, professional kitchen terms from “mise en place” to “sous-vide” are French. So is “chef,” which just means “boss” in French, and even “cuisine,” which means “kitchen.”

So although relatively few American restaurants are outwardly French, they still have a lot of French spirit.

Many American dishes have French origins, from pork chops with applesauce, also known as côtes de porc à la normande, to pot roast, or pot au feu. Steakhouses are as American as you can get, but the sauces that go with that steak, from béarnaise to bordelaise to poivre, are as French as apple pie, or tarte aux pommes (although it’s true that much American apple pie probably has more Central European influences). French fries are probably Belgian in origin, but French people eat them in abundance. French toast is absolutely French, although they often eat it for dessert.

Not all French food in America is folded into our distant culinary past. Can you say croissan’wich? How about baguettes, which remain popular on bakery-café menus? French cuisine is there, and is so integral to much of what we eat that sometimes we miss it.

Maybe that’s why we don’t see a lot of explicitly French food on chain menus. So much American food is already kind of French anyway.

Hear Thorn explain why American consumers’ tastes may be at odds with French cuisine:

Still, as you point out, there is a little boom going on of independent French restaurants in the U.S. (I’ll add to your list Bon Marché in San Francisco.) I wonder if that has to do with the nostalgia trend going on in the country right now, as people in these uncertain times look for succor in the past, or, in the case of some Millennials, what they imagine the past to have been.

But that still doesn’t answer your question as to why chains haven’t embraced French cuisine openly. I think it might have to do with the personality of French cuisine, which is kind of like the wine that’s typically served with it.

If you look at a typical big California Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s like a Sport Illustrated swimsuit model. Its appeal is straightforward and obvious. It may or may not be to your liking, but you’ll know either way immediately.

French wine is more likely an Audrey Hepburn character — lovely, to be sure, but someone you’d ideally spend more time with to get to know.

French food, similarly, is pleasant, but it doesn’t have the bright sparks of flavor that punctuate many Latin American and Asian dishes, nor does it have the immediate comfort-food quality, or low food cost, of a bowl of pasta.

A French meal, at its best, is enjoyed while sitting with friends and talking while enjoying some wine. Americans don’t eat like that much anymore.

Source: Nation’s Restaurant News

Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care Releases Updated Guideline for Cognitive Impairment Screening

For adults aged 65 years or older living in the community, there is no benefit to screening for cognitive impairment if they are asymptomatic, according to a new Canadian guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

“While the task force recommends against screening older community-living adults for cognitive impairment, physicians should investigate if patients or their family members express concern about possible memory loss,” states Dr. Kevin Pottie, chair of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care working group for the cognitive impairment guideline. “This recommendation is for adults without symptoms, not for people with concerns.”

The recommendation updates the task force’s previous recommendation that found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against screening, which was published in 2001. The current recommendation is based on a lack of evidence that screening is effective, a high rate of false-positive results for screening and the ineffectiveness of treatment for mild cognitive impairment. The task force found no clinical trials that evaluated the benefits or harms of screening for cognitive impairment, and instead looked at the effectiveness of treatment for mild cognitive impairment as indirect evidence to inform its recommendations on screening.

Cognitive impairment begins with normal age-related memory loss and may progress to mild cognitive impairment and possibly dementia. Although mild cognitive impairment is noticeable, it does not substantially affect daily living, unlike dementia. However, mild cognitive impairment can be a risk factor for later dementia, but it may not progress to that stage.

“Our assumptions were that, if clinicians are able to identify individuals with mild cognitive impairment early through screening and either slow down or stop its progression through effective treatment, the incidence of cognitive impairment (measured through cognition, function, behaviour and global status) may decline,” the authors state.

Key findings:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors, a common treatment for Alzheimer disease, do not improve cognition in people with mild cognitive impairment.
  • Dietary supplements and vitamins did not improve cognitive function in people with mild cognitive impairment.
  • Nonpharmacologic interventions such as exercise and cognitive training may have some minor benefit, although the effect was not clinically significant.

The recommendation not to screen aligns with other national and international guidelines such as the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2011 guidelines and the US Preventive Services Task Force 2014 guidelines.

“The task force’s findings have identified multiple opportunities for research,” states Dr. Pottie. “It is clear that we need more precise screening tools and treatments, including preventive approaches that improve outcomes for people with cognitive impairment.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Peach Jelly and Vanilla Panna Cotta

Ingredients

Peach Jelly

1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 peaches, halved and stoned
1 tablespoon gelatine
1/3 cup raspberries

Vanilla Panna Cotta

2 tablespoons gelatin, extra
1/3 cup warm water, extra
3-1/4 cups single cream
1 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  1. To make the jelly, place the water, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add the peaches and allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes or until soft. Remove the peaches, slip off the skins and set aside.
  3. Place 1/4 cup of the peach liquid in a bowl, sprinkle over the gelatin and set aside for 5 minutes. Add the peach and gelatine mixture to the remaining peach liquid, stir and simmer for 2 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean.
  4. Place the peaches cut-side up in a well-greased 10 x 3/4 x 3-1/4 inch loaf tin, sprinkle with the raspberries and pour over the liquid. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
  5. To make the panna cotta, sprinkle the extra gelatin over the extra water and set aside for 5 minutes.
  6. Place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the gelatine mixture and simmer over low heat for 4 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  7. Pour the panna cotta mixture over the set jelly and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Invert and slice to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Donna Hay Magazine


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