Sunday, 20 February 2011

Learning to Love France

I have this aversion to French food. Beyond glorious Parisian pastries, I can hardly bring myself to confess to cooking any French food unless it falls under the umbrella of rustic country farmhouse. Think cassoulets and thick, wine drenched lentil soups. This should cover it:

I'm not sure where this reluctance comes from. I wonder if it stems from the fact that I've spent the past ten or eleven years working closely with people from Spain and Italy. That's only seen fit to strengthen the fact that I feel like an honourary Mediterannean.

Then it struck me. It's was intimidated. I was frightened of trying my hand at complicated, fine, French food and failing. Not being a trained chef and only associating food with cosiness and comfort, the idea of impeccable food achieved through precise recipe following didn't feel right. It always bothered me, the fact that I pushed this kind of food away. If I'd tried it and hadn't enjoyed it, that's one thing. But as you'll find out over the coming weeks, I try hard to give foods I don't think I'll like a chance, so at least I can give an informed opinion on whether I like them or not.

In attempt to change my own mind I was going to have a week of cooking French food to try and sway me . Some of those things were an incredible success and others left me retching. But ignoring the outcome of individual dishes, at least until I write about them and share the pictures with you, something strange has happened. I think I've fallen in love with French food. I made one dish in particular which terrified me. The more I read about it, the more it intimidated me. Somehow, facing it head on an just doing it changed the game.

I've seen this happen in Celebrity Masterchef. The contestants get involved for an easy pay-day. They ride it out for a while, then all of a sudden they start caring about the food. Towards the end of the series they're thrown into a situation where they have to create classic, precise, faultless dishes to impress the best chefs in the world and all of a sudden they get it! They fall in love with classically prepared food. I get it now too. If you can execute the basics of a classically (French) trained chef, you can cook anything.

I now have a copy of Larousse's Gastronomique. It's beautiful. How often is it that you say that about a book? It's heavy. Very heavy. I feel important when I slide it out of its thick casing and carefully turn the glossy pages.

So what now? Don't worry, I won't go all Julia Powell on you and start blogging my way through 500 or so recipes in a year. I can't see that I'll ever give casual but tasty food the elbow. But every now and then I'll aim to teach myself a new classic French skill. The kind of thing that used to frighten me. I can hardly wait.

A regular feature called.......

.... will start very soon.

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