I was around 12 years old the first time that I tried escargots, edible snails that I consider ambassadors of French gastronomy. The most famous preparation of this dish is à la Bourguignonne, traditional to the region of Burgundy, where the plumpest snails, escargots de Bourgogne, are found. The snails are baked in a sauce of butter, chopped parsley and minced garlic, and presented as a dozen or half-dozen nestled in an indented plate rather than in their shells (probably to appease hesitant first-timers).
Confession: When I was younger, I had to be tricked into trying snails.
The dark, wrinkled knots certainly aren’t visually appealing. No kid in their right mind would dare try them. I was told that they were mussels, so I could not confuse them with the garden snails that ate through our mail. You can imagine the shock when I found out exactly what I was eating. Now, every time I smell the famous garlic-butter-parsley combo, memories of my first experience with snails are evoked.
In France, escargots are delicacies eaten on special occasions. They rose to popularity after their codification by Carême, the ‘founder’ of French gastronomy. He used French to name dishes by ingredient and geography as exemplified by escargots à la Bourguignonne, cementing in history the snail’s significance in French cuisine despite the fact that the tradition of eating snails likely began with the Romans.
I am grateful for Carême’s codification of the snail as it ensures that every time I order escargots à la Bourguignonne, I will receive delectable morsels prepared in exactly the same manner as the last.
Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is one of Melbourne’s most popular food destinations. The soft happy chatter of people is punctuated by the tram bell and many are relaxing, enjoying food or drink. The eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes and bars are scattered amongst a miscellany of colourful bohemian stores and cater to people from all walks of life.
There aren’t many places where people from different socioeconomic classes can mingle in such an inclusive environment. Even when cuisine was democratised in France post-French Revolution, public restaurants were for the elite. Nowadays, there are still foodscapes in Melbourne reserved for the upper-middle class, but not Brunswick Street. From fast food to fine dining, there is something for everyone. Naked for Satan even changes its pricing according to different times of day, charging just $9 for lunch on weekdays.
Confession: Brunswick Street is my go-to because there is a wide selection of traditional cuisines and modern interpretations.
As an Australian with Chinese ancestry, I grew up enjoying a mix of cuisines. My parents cooked traditional Chinese dishes and I was exposed to European and British cuisine at boarding school. Such diverse experiences of food facilitate my inner food adventurer. I enjoy trying new dishes on Brunswick Street because ethnic restaurants ease diners into unfamiliar territory. This is perfectly described by Hamada’s metaphor of the ‘fold’ as restaurants appeal to diners by plating up ‘exotic’ dishes in a familiar setting. For example, although pinxtos at Naked for Satan was unfamiliar, the concept of bar snacks wasn’t.
Therefore, although Brunswick Street is diverse, each eatery suits the foodscape – one which makes multiculturalism the norm by adjusting to Melbournian palates.
Ok, before you judge, let me rephrase. I don’t like ‘Americanised’ pizza – the greasy type with thick bases and weird toppings like pineapple that you can get from your local Domino’s. At the risk of sounding like a food snob rather than a foodie, I’m going to say that the only pizza worth eating is traditional Neapolitan pizza.
Neapolitan pizza is originally from Campania, Italy. Toppings are Margherita (tomato, oil, mozzarella and basil) or Marinara (tomato, oil, oregano, and garlic) and there are strict guidelines set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN – True Neapolitan Pizza Association) detailing the preparation and presentation of the pizza. Tomatoes must be San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella must be certified Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) Campanian buffalo mozzarella and the dough must be predominantly ‘00’ flour – all of which must be cooked in a wood-fired oven and consumed immediately.
The Margherita is my favourite. The red tomatoes and white slices of mozzarella dotted with basil evokes a feeling of patriotism and it is impossible to think of pizza as anything other than Italian despite popular ‘Americanized’ pizzas. The AVPN was created to promote and protect the traditional Neapolitan pizza and this politicisation of food reminds me of the French appelations connecting terroir to regional products.
The AVPN endorse certain establishments around the world so customers like me know they will receive the best at those restaurants. In Melbourne, you can eat true Neapolitan pizza at restaurants of the Gradi group, whose chef, Johnny di Francesco, is the AVPN’s Australasian Principal. If you haven’t already been, go! You won’t regret it (although your wallet might).
Haute Cuisine depicts Hortense Laborie’s experiences as President Mitterrand’s personal cook through flashbacks as she cooks in Antarctica. It is based on the true story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch and portrays the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Haute Cuisine is set during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, when cooking stressed lightness and innovation. Food is central to the film and the tension between traditional and modern cooking was apparent from Hortense’s first encounter with the central kitchen, featuring all male chefs conforming to Nouvelle Cuisine guidelines of well-presented and dietetically-approved food.
On the other hand, Hortense passionately cooked hearty regional dishes with locally sourced produce, including cabbage and truffles, which were the stars of classical French cuisine. These ingredients were less appreciated during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, illustrated by the central kitchen ridiculing Hortense’s menu featuring salmon-stuffed cabbage.
For Hortense, food was also a method of self-expression. She desired a personal connection with the President who ate her dishes, so she sought him out for his approval and recommendations. They bonded over their love for regional cuisine, highlighting that the food of your youth is forever part of your identity.
Here, the film became about the politics of the kitchen. The central kitchen resented Hortense and sexualised her relationship with the President. Hortense’s presence itself is seen as a transgression because according to Davis*, female cooks made humble dishes and men were the innovative chefs.
Confession: Haute Cuisine speaks more to my inner feminist than foodie.
I admire how Hortense doesn’t stand for chauvinism and I believe Haute Cuisine is more about a woman breaking barriers than her two-year stint cooking for the President.
*Readings Project Day 2 Group B – To Make a Revolutionary Cuisine: Gender and Politics in French Kitchens 1789-1815
On the silver screen, the French macaron has been portrayed as the epitome of luxury, afforded only by the upper class. This marketing makes me feel like they are treats which you cannot easily make at home, and consequently keeps me purchasing macarons at Ladurée for $3.90 each.
In reality, the macaron has humble origins and was made by two nuns from Nancy in Lorraine, France, in order to make a living after their Convent was dissolved during the French Revolution. This has been highly contested, with suggestions that the macaron was actually from Italy. But in France, Macarons des Sœurs were simple (and ugly) sweets made from almond meal, icing sugar and egg whites, whipped to form cracked meringue cookies.
In the 19th century, the macaron became a double-decker treat, featuring two meringue cookies sandwiched by a smooth filling. This macaron parisien is what ‘macaron’ commonly refers to and looked nothing like Macarons des Sœurs despite featuring the exact same ingredients. The ingredients are so basic; I decided to have a go myself.
Confession: Macarons are harder to make than they look.
I made two batches because I overworked the first batch during macaronage (incorporation of dry ingredients into egg whites). This is an example of Carême’s discourse on cooking methods and is remarkable Frenchification of a simple mixing action! My second batch was much improved as the shells had smooth tops and formed ‘feet’ – hooray! I filled my shells with chocolate ganache and presented them as Parisian macarons. They were recognisable as macarons and therefore went fairly quickly at the food fair, preceded by their reputation on the silver screen.