No grades, no stars, this guide is all about the food

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As Unesco hails French gastronomy as one of the world's cultural delights, Richard Johnson turns to Le Fooding for some less obvious gourmet choices for visitors

Two centuries after Antonin Carême introduced grande cuisine, France is in the throes of a foodie revolution – and it's taking place on the streets of Paris.

At the vanguard of this revolution – which is all about democratising the way the French eat – is Le Fooding, a new movement that is taking on the old-fashioned restaurants and their outdated approach to eating. In the world envisaged by Le Fooding, the Michelin Guide will be ripped up and the restaurants of France will be reclaimed by the people. Allons, enfants de la patrie.

Le Fooding was founded 10 years ago by Alexandre Cammas and Emmanuel Rubin, two food journalists who were exasperated by the conformity and conservatism of French food culture. Every year, the movement publishes, from its dusty offices on the Right Bank, a good-looking guide to the best restaurants of France. With no grades or stars, it's very different from the Michelin Guide. "Michelin inspectors look at the rugs in a restaurant," says Cammas, "and they measure the chandeliers. Two stars? Three stars? Who really cares? It should all be about the food."

It was Cammas who came up with the name. "I intended Le Fooding as a mélange of 'food' and 'feeling'," he says. And it was Cammas who came up with the idea to print the restaurant guides. They attracted a lot of press attention in the beginning for ignoring some of the great chefs of France, such as Guy Savoy, and choosing to honour others, such as Alain Ducasse, for their casual fusion places rather than for their grand restaurants. But now it's a given – Le Fooding has its own position on things. And it doesn't tend to share that position with Michelin.

Take Le Chateaubriand. It breaks the mould of top French restaurants serving haute cuisine by serving it in a bistro, complete with zinc bar, chalkboards and hard wooden chairs. Chef-patron Iñaki Aizpitarte always maintained he wanted to create a restaurant where his friends could afford to eat. So this is fine dining at its most democratic. It was voted 11th in the 50 Best Restaurants in 2010. And it's in the Le Fooding guide. But Michelin? Nothing.

Then there's Chez l'Ami Jean. If you were to base your trip to Paris on the recommendations of the Michelin Guide, you wouldn't bother to book. It looks like an unprepossessing neighbourhood bistro – underlit, and in need of a lick of paint – but, once your eyes have become accustomed to the light, you'll experience some of the most innovative rustic cooking that the city has to offer. The fact that it hasn't been awarded a star has led some critics to say Michelin has lost touch.

Le Fooding loves the honest-to-goodness food of Chez l'Ami Jean. "Happiness is a simple thing," it says in the guide, which goes on to praise the bistro's "basse" cuisine – a direct counter to the "haute" cuisine that Paris is famed for. The guide is full of small places – places such as Chez l'Ami Jean – which have emerged to offer adventurous, cutting-edge cooking without the price tag; real French gastronomy that doesn't break the bank. It's the French new wave.

For a Michelin inspector, the tables at Chez l'Ami Jean are too close together. And they are missing crisp, white tablecloths. It's why Chez l'Ami Jean was deemed worthy only of a Bib Gourmand – the award that Michelin gives to restaurants which offers "good food at moderate prices". But the menu – including a Parmesan soup with whole, fat chestnuts, thinly sliced Braeburn apple and a snip of fresh chives – is sublime. And to award it a Bib Gourmand looks like snobbery.

In the trendy Oberkampf region of Paris, Le Fooding has delighted in uncovering some exciting new eateries including Aux Deux Amis, a 1950s-style bistro serving straightforward food – the horse sashimi is an acquired taste – without pretence. In the hidden depths of Les Halles, the movement has discovered food extraordinaires such as Grégory Marchand (Le Frenchie) and Adeline Grattard (Yam'Tcha) serving up some of the city's most unexpected dishes, at a price that everyone can afford to pay.

Down a tiny street in the 10th arrondissement, Le Fooding came across a tiny deli called La Tête dans les Olives. It's a pretty place that doubles as one of Paris's smallest restaurants – it has just the one table. Here, the handsome Cédric Casanova, a former tightrope walker, sells amazing hand-picked Sicilian olive oil, olives, and other unusual seasonal products. All the products on his shelves have a story. And Cédric is the perfect storyteller.

He manages 20,000 olive trees in Sicily. Now he's selling oil to the best chefs in Paris, including Ducasse. Cédric delights in making simple but exquisite food. In the corner of the room, he turns out roasted pumpkin with mint, a tapenade, and a roulade of carrot, coriander and mint, while he regales his guests with tales of his hunt for the wild olive called the piricuddara. He's interested in sourcing new olive oils from across the world – especially Chile and Nigeria. "But I've only got two arms," he says.

Le Fooding has listed kebab shops in the guide, hot-dog stalls, and a new breed of Parisian brasseries that offer something more imaginative than croissants and croques monsieurs. It is selling "trickle-down" gastronomy. The capital's brasseries, cafés and bistros are imitating the top restaurants, but cutting down on the ingredients and simplifying the preparation. Food is becoming more affordable again – and France is reclaiming its heritage.

The country has a noble cooking tradition. It started with Les Délices de la Campagne, a cookery book written in 1654 by Nicolas de Bonnefons, a valet at the court of Louis XIV. Before the book, cooking in France was medieval, and all about grand gestures. But Bonnefons emphasised simplicity, with clean, complementary flavours. "Let a cabbage soup be entirely cabbage," he wrote. His countrymen duly put down their nutmeg and stepped away from the larks' tongues.

France's culinary reputation grew and grew. From Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin to superstar chefs such as Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, France was always known for its way with food. But along the way something went wrong. The chefs of France stopped innovating. Their approach to food became more and more prescriptive – with techniques set in aspic – and they didn't bother to keep in touch with the changing tastes of a younger generation.

It's no accident that Tokyo and London are on the rise, or that New York is now the city where you eat better than anywhere else in the world. Food there is evolving. "French cuisine was caught in a museum culture," says Cammas. "The dictatorship of a fossilised gastronomy. And this dictatorship has been enforced by tourism: you have tourists packing in to experience gastronomy in a kind of perpetual museum of edification."

The end result is that France is no longer the home of the best food in the world. And the Michelin Guide has been part of the problem. Food in France was all about winning – and holding on to – Michelin stars. In 2003, the French chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide amid rumours that he was losing his three-star rating. Some of the top French chefs pinned the blame on Michelin. Then a Michelin inspector published a tell-all book alleging that inspectors play favourites with chefs and don't visit reviewed restaurants as much as they let on.

To make matters worse, Michelin then got caught trying to pull a fast one in Belgium. It very favourably "reviewed" L'Ostend Queen restaurant for the Benelux guide, which came out on 26 January. Trouble was, the restaurant hadn't yet opened for business. The Brussels daily newspaper, Le Soir, promptly caught Michelin with its bib down, and it had to pulp 50,000 copies. The Michelin Guide to New York wasn't well received. Le Fooding, meanwhile is looking to expand. As they say, revolutions never go backwards.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Air France (0871 663 3777; airfrance .co.uk) offers return fares from London and the regions to Paris from £119, and has an online guide to the city at airfrance.co.uk/paris.

Further information

Le Fooding (lefooding.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone