Garlic is not usually associated with England. However, the small Isle of Wight, a sentinel of Great Britain off its southeastern coast in the English Channel, produces a surprising amount of the fragrant bulbs. One would think the Romans introduced garlic to their former 1st century colony, but it was not them. In fact, it was much much later and due to an unbelievable combination of circumstances.
Four hour dinners; endless degustation menus encompassing 40 dishes; tyrannical chefs leaving no choice to clients who are expected to behave docilely; cooks parading and fishing for our admiration, sporting their names everywhere; all of this crowned by astronomical bills; that is the vision of a good portion of the contemporary fine dining experience depicted by our colleague Corby Kummer in his recent Vanity Fair article. While deploring in detail this regrettable spread of theatrical ego and auto-satisfaction, he humorously wishes modest and reasonable chefs like Alain Passard (L’Arpège in Paris) and Jacques Pépin lead a hungry crowd with forks and knives against the above described tyranny.
It won’t harm anyone to be equitable and admit a large portion of responsibility on our part, food writers, beginning with us. When we launched the magazine Le Nouveau Guide GaultMillau in March of 1969, we revealed to the public the names, faces and talents of 50 unknown new young chefs who became the centurions of the Nouvelle Cuisine. Guess what happened: their descendants are now every other day on the NBCs and CNNs of the world presenting their latest concoctions. They want to be famous with their names in capital letters beginning with their own establishment(s).
I wonder: is there a single best restaurant in the entire world? On what basis could such a global title be awarded? Yet some have made a business of an annual proclamation with great fanfare of “The best restaurant in the world.”
To place things in perspective, let me remind you of the old tale of the three eateries competing on Main Street, Trouduculville, a former Canadian trapper post in Northern Nebraska. Mac Adam Smith, descendant of a Scottish settler, opened the first restaurant there and dubbed it with some restraint, “The best in town.” Gregory Braun, whose grandfather emigrated from Hungary between the two world wars had a broader ambition and embellished his establishment with the nickname, “The best in the country.” As to the latest restaurateur, Arturo Martinez of Mexican descent, he placidly ended the debate when he posted a big sign on the façade that read, “The best on the street.” That confirms that all things are relative, n’est-ce pas?
Craving Italian food while in Paris? Why not? And forget the old adage “When in Rome…” or “… in Paris.”
Italian chow is the preferred foreign cuisine of the French, who admit that since the conquest of the Gauls by Julius Caesar, Italians are not really foreigners. The French have embraced Italian cuisine as well as Italian art, culture and social organization, and hired Leonardo da Vinci to build palaces for their kings who married powerful or beautiful women — the latest being Carla, the spouse of Sarkozy. They also learned from them to eat with forks. It’s no surprise that there’s no dearth of Italian eateries in Paris.
Our friend Jean-Claude Ribaud, one of the most respected food critics in France, has visited — or revisited — a fistful of old and new Parisian Italian restaurants. For more on Italian cuisine at large, read John Mariani’s How Italian Food Conquered the World.