France hosts nationwide party with gastronomy festival

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Indy Lifestyle Online

France is turning up the heat in its quest to recapture its reputation as the gastronomic center of the world with a nationwide celebration that will take place across the country Friday.

Dubbed Fête de la Gastronomie, or Celebration of Gastronomy, the inaugural one-day event will host 4,380 epicurean and food-related events across the country, where starred and decorated chefs will open the doors to their normally exclusive kitchens, share their cooking secrets and offer budget-friendly meal deals.

Bakeries in France are also inviting the general public behind the counter and into their kitchens to watch as buttery pastry dough puffs up miraculously into crescent shaped croissants, while flour, water and salt is transformed into the other ubiquitous symbol of France: baguettes.

Whole cities will also be participating in the festival. Avignon, for instance, hosts a public dinner feast that will be set up along their main esplanade, open to the public. Burgundy hosts outdoor picnics to usher in the first days of fall, and Paris hosts a city-wide treasure hunt testing gourmand Parisians' knowledge of their food and gastronomic history.

The theme of this year's festival is "earth" and will also focus on promoting and resurrecting traditional French dishes like cassoulet - a rich, slow-cooked bean stew with meat and sausages - wine and pastries.

Nearly a year ago, the rites of French gastronomy - wine-matching, table dressing, the placement of glasses and cutlery, and the fixed structure of the meal - were admitted into UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

A full traditional French meal must start with an apéritif or drinks to whet the appetite, followed by a starter, a fish or meat with vegetables, a cheese course and dessert at a bare minimum.

And while its entry into the UNESCO list was a big coup for the country, French gastronomy threatens to be eclipsed by other emerging gastronomic stars in the world. Japan, for instance, boasts more Michelin stars than France where the system was birthed, and for years, Spain's San Sebastian region was considered the height of culinary sophistication as the seat of molecular gastronomy.

When Spanish pioneer and trail blazer Ferran Adrià shuttered his legendary restaurant El Bulli this summer, he then unwittingly passed the baton over to Copenhagen, home of the best restaurant in the world, Noma, according to Restaurant magazine.

The Fête de la Gastronomie, meanwhile, may be the brainchild of Frédéric Lefebvre, Secretary of State at the French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry, but the event has also gained the cooperation of other state ministries.

Friday morning, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, will sign a convention with the Minister of Culture and Communication, Frédéric Mitterand, called "Alimentation, Agri-Culture" or Food and Agri-culture.

The joint mission statement pledges to preserve and safeguard the heritage of traditional French gastronomy among the French, promote culinary and artisan tradespeople, support the next generation of craftsmen and women, and encourage innovation and creativity in the field.

The document also emphasizes the importance of continuing the tradition within future generations and in the rural areas of France through education.