John Lichfield: Making a meal out of old chestnuts

If French home cooking is dead, who uses all the food markets, butchers and fishmongers of Paris?

Alain Ducasse has a point. Maman is no longer invariably waiting in the kitchen to serve Jean-Armand and Marie-Christine with a complex, three-course lunch when they skip home from school. Maman is often out at work, either by choice or by necessity. This is known as the 21st century.

Ducasse is a great chef and like all great chefs he can make a meal of almost anything. Especially old chestnuts.

The decline of French cooking has been a favourite subject of the British for years. When in France, Ducasse defends French cuisine. He has even suggested that Unesco should inscribe French cooking on its list of world heritage.

But Ducasse is also a multinational company and therefore a multinational politician. (He is, technically speaking, no longer French, having switched to Monegasque citizenship for tax reasons.)

When abroad, he has a tendency to say what his foreign clients like to hear. He has said that London has more interesting restaurants than Paris, which may be true at the top end of the market but is definitely not true of the restaurants to be found on every street corner.

On French home cooking, Ducasse over-eggs his pudding. If French home cooking is dead, who uses all those lovely food markets, butchers and fishmongers to be found in every quartier of Paris?

He may be partially right that mothers no longer pass on culinary knowledge to their daughters. From my observation, this is more true in Paris than in the rest of France. But, as he admits, the tradition of the elaborate family meal – of cooking and eating as a festival for family and friends – still thrives at the weekends.

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