Food critics like the U.K's Giles Coren of the London Times have been announcing the "terminal decline" of French culture and cuisine for years, with the latter beset by competition from an array of world cuisines that are lighter, more exciting and it has to be said more fashionable. But for Luc Dubanchet, founder of France's Omnivore Food Festival, omnivore.fr, these dire prognoses are only partially true. "What's in decline is a culinary model inherited from the late 19th century," he says, "and good riddance!" With the doors closing on the stuffy Escoffier school of fine dining, Dubanchet declares that a reinvigorated "jeune cuisine" is emerging. Far from the gilded hotel salons, in side-street bistros, a new generation of globetrotting, multilingual chefs has returned home to reimagine French cuisine in its image.
Parisian gastronomes, for example, are reserving two months out to get a table at the 20-seat Yam'Tcha, tel: (33-1) 4026 0807 awarded a Michelin star in March, less than a year after opening. Chef Adeline Grattard, aided by her Chinese husband and tea sommelier Chi Wah Chan, offers a Sino-French cuisine simultaneously informed by Grattard's tenure under three-star Parisian chef Pascal Barbot and her two years in Hong Kong kitchens. She's a perfect exemplar of the new breed.
While Grattard serves wok-sautéed bouchot mussels with black soybeans and piquillo peppers, or pan-fried foie gras with dried scallops and shiitake mushrooms, just across the Seine, chef William Ledeuil is marrying culinary cultures with equal flair at his second Paris bistro, Kitchen Galerie Bis, tel: (33-1) 4633 0085. Describing his cuisine as "classic French cooking with a twist of Southeast Asia," Ledeuil draws on ingredients encountered on his Eastern voyages, such as galangal, turmeric and wasabi, and creates dishes like Wagyu-beef tartare with carrot-ginger jus.
In the garment district, chef Gregory Marchand's culinary references are less geographically diverse, but the liberties he takes with local produce are no less inspired. At his year-old bistro, Frenchie, tel: (33-1) 4039 9619, Pontoise cabbage takes an Italian turn with bresaola cured beef, dill, parmesan and 12-year balsamic; roasted Challans chicken is livened with pickled mustard seeds and citronella-infused carrot puree. "This isn't fusion or world food; it's simply using all the means and ingredients at our disposal while respecting the seasons," says Marchand. (He called his restaurant Frenchie after the nickname he had when working at the London kitchens of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen and at the Gramercy Tavern in New York City.)
"The old French model is dead," says festival organizer Dubanchet. "Because we're no longer asking chefs to apply precepts. We're asking them to be themselves." And that could be one of the tastiest ideas French cuisine has had in a long, long time.
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