The French are losing the art of home cooking which underpins their reputation for gastronomic excellence, according to one of the country's most celebrated chefs.
Alain Ducasse, who has a global restaurant empire, says mothers are no longer passing on their skill with a frying pan to their daughters, relegating cooking from a daily practice to a "hobby at the weekend".
In an interview with The Independent, Ducasse attributed the trend to rising numbers of working women. "Unfortunately in France the women don't really have the time to cook, and we are going towards this trend of less and less home-cooking," he said. "It's globalisation, it's not good news. The Italians have kept this tradition – 'la mamma' cooks for the family home."
Ducasse's restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel in London received a third Michelin star this month, taking his global tally to 19. As the chef with the second-highest haul of stars in the world, his views carry weight in the country of his birth, even though he now lives in Monaco. A French film crew was following Ducasse's every move in London last week.
Asked whether France was losing its reputation for home-cooking, he replied without a pause: "Yes, on a daily basis, we are losing it and that's really bad. There's a real trend of home-cooking with family and friends, but at the weekend. A hobby at the weekend, but not on a daily basis.
"We opened a cookery school last May ... women come and learn the basics, then they go home and cook. Twenty-five years ago the cookery school wouldn't have been a success, because the tradition of the mother transmitting the skills to the daughter would have been there, but our generation doesn't have that at all. Ten years ago, women started working a lot."
Long lunches involving several courses and wine was also on the wane, he lamented. "Business lunches or when you go with a girlfriend [are long], but, definitely, it's going. It's just the evolution of society. In our non-fine-dining restaurants in Paris, we have adapted the prices and people are starting to come back to get some very good bistro cuisine. It's the same trend in London – only attractive menus and prices get people back."
Despite his concern about home kitchens, the 53-year-old was optimistic about the quality of French restaurants, saying only Tokyo's were superior. He rated London's "diverse" restaurants as the third best in the world.
He also lauded Gordon Ramsay: "I'm not going to join all the people criticising him, because Great Britain is really lucky to have such a young and popular chef to spread the word." However, he said he thought Ramsay's restaurant in Versailles was doomed because it had the "wrong address".
Ducasse took some flak himself when he opened in Britain in November 2007. Critics slated the décor – and the price: £250 for dinner for two. Although he refused to change either, he refined the food, making it less classical. "Our cuisine is [now] more contemporary, more international, more modern, while keeping our French DNA."
The gastro-pub was keeping alive a tradition of popular cooking, he said. He also revealed a taste for a delicacy popular at football grounds. "I love traditional English pies. If it's prepared with passion and heart, it must be good. I don't always enjoy a big five-course meal. I would rather have a chicken pie or a steak.
"The dining experience is so linked to the moment – you can have an amazing experience with a steak with friends, and a disappointing experience having a five-course meal," he said.
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