The True Story of this Culinary French Revolution
Food had to be presented in an artistic manner
with colors and forms
History of Nouvelle Cuisine
issued by an insider that the revered Guide Michelin does
not visit all the establishments it recommends and does not dare
to deflate the overblown and unjustified reputations of some chefs
has been a surprise, not to say a shock, to many.
More than 40 years ago, however, three rebels ignited a crusade against Michelin and its pompous stars. They proclaimed loudly that the red book
was a stubborn bastion of conservatism, turning its back on reality,
favoring the tired old school and disdaining the vibrant efforts
of the new generation of French chefs who had guts (The French say: tripes). This was the theme of a new publication called Le
Nouveau Guide, launched by André
Gayot, Henri Gault and Christian Millau. After all these years,
André tells for the first time the true story of this French
revolution of the plates, which eventually swept the entire world:
in March 1969 Henry Gault, Christian Millau and I founded Le
Nouveau Guide, our monthly magazine devoted to food and wineand
the first of its kind in Francewe felt that a new era was
looming behind the kitchens of France.
year before, the country had been seized by a spring fever that,
all things considered, was more of a revolution than an accident.
Although law and order had been restored, new ideas were flying
across Europe and parts of the world. The Cinema, invented by the
Lumière brothers of Lyon, was also turned upside down. A
gang of friends, "les copains" led by Godard, Truffaut,
Malle, and Resnais, had begun to shake the celluloid establishment
with incendiary articles in the infamous journal Cahiers du Cinema.
They proclaimed that the time had come for a less conventional cinema
style. Heavy equipment and stodgy scenarios were to be replaced
by imagination and ingenuity. Cameras would shoot from the shoulder,
like on the battlefront. New, natural techniques would create more
lively films and reflect reality more truly. Since "la nouvelle
vague" (the new wave) of these notorious rebels, cinema has
comparison, the world of the kitchens was very quiet. The profession
was contained within the yoke of rules established more than a century
ago and nobody thus far had dared to question it. An evolution seemed
necessary. That's what we had in mind when we wrote the first issue
of "le Nouveau Guide." On the cover page (clumsily designed,
I must admit), one could read in bold letters "Michelin: Don't
forget these 48 stars!" Michelin, a respected and powerful
publication, was the bastion of culinary conservatism. They paid
little attention to creation, shutting out their finely printed
pages to chefs who had started to become unruly, rejecting theuntil
thenundisputed principles that were for Michelin the pillars
article, priming a tidal wave, was the draft of the "constitution"
Cuisine" and the beginning of fame for Paul Bocuse, Michel
Guérard, Louis Outhier, Alain Senderens and a number of others.
We had distinguished these 48 unknown chefs because, although they
did not know each other then, they were developing a new concept
cuisine was soon popularized by food writers eager to discover
something new, and by journalists, who overpraised it. It became
the rage, a new creed, and the intellectuals of the movement
were the French journalists Gault and Millau. They not only
extolled this new way of cooking but set down the cuisine's
bylaws with the help of some of the great chefs of France, particularly
Bocuse and Guérard."
Chef Jacques Pépin in The
a dinner was an opportunity to satisfy all our senses, beginning
with sight. Food had to be presented in an artistic manner playing
with colors and forms, and the plate had to be arranged as a work
of art similar to a sculpture or a painting. New instruments were
available such as food processors and state-of-the-art ovens and
there was no reason not to use them for elaborate new preparations.
But mostly, these chefs emphasized the quality of the products and
their freshness and proclaimed that it was not necessary to overload
them with heavy sauces based on flour and butter or to overcook
them, especially fish. This simplification would reveal the true
taste of the food and would constitute a healthier fare to boot.
was probably the most instrumental in this healthy orientation.
Today he runs a spa in Eugénie-les-Bains, where you can enjoy
superb food and shed weight by the same token. But I remember the
little bistro where he started. Le "Pot au feu" was located
in a suburb of Paris, in a small street of Asnières. The
white collars of the Phillips electronic company nearby formed the
core of the delighted clientele, indulging at lunch in wonderful
chaud et froid de volaille. Outhier, who had worked at L'Oriental
in Bangkok, was the one who introduced the Asian accent with spices
and herbs. He knew how to use them: in minute quantities with subtle
touches only. His best pupil was Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Bocuse
was the authority, the leader.
was also a consensus on the "load factor." All agreed
that we did not need as many calories as in the past. Banquets in
the 19th century were often composed of six or seven meat, poultry,
or game dishes, not counting several appetizers and desserts. In
these days elevators did not exist, driving had not replaced walking,
houses were barely heated. Calories were necessary to survive in
this environment. This was no longer the case, hence the trend to
diminish the size of the portions which, of course, generated some
exaggerations in the size of the reduction.
we traveled across France, we discovered more and more restaurants
and bistros where young chefs were paving the way of the new gastronomy
in France. We acted then as the federators of these trends, introducing
the pioneers to one another and publicizing their concepts and compiling
our discoveries. The process culminated in writing the code of the
new gastronomy in a famous article of our magazine in 1972, for
which Henri Gault (who died in 2000) forged the name "Nouvelle
Cuisine." The "Nouvelle Cuisine" was alive and well.
chefs forged nothing less than a revolution," writes our colleague
David Rosengarten in his book It's All American Food, showing
the world that French technique and new, modern culinary ideas were
not incompatible." The revolution was well on its way and nothing
could stop it. It swept the entire world, beginning with the U.S.
America was particularly receptive, because it is always open to
innovation and also because gastronomy was then a barren land. American
chefs jumped on the concept and "Nouvelle Cuisine"-oriented
restaurants started to flourish in New York. Among the first were
"An American Place" and the "Sign of the Dove."
does Nouvelle Cuisine mean today? Of course, the controversy has
long settled, and there's no more noise and furor over the cooking
time of a solebut the revolution has transformed into an institution. From
Vancouver to Marseille and from London to Tel Aviv, we all eat in
a far different way than our parents did. Nouvelle Cuisine has literally
revolutionized the way food is absorbed worldwide, in the comparable
layers of the societies, of course.
All American Food
the same book, David Rosengarten comes to a similar conclusion when
he writes, "Today, if you go to an American restaurant in New
York such as Union Pacific or in Chicago such as Charlie Trotter's you are getting in essence an American spin on a set of ideas that
came from France."
"set of ideas" is our modest contribution to the globalization
of the world. Sure, we are proud of it. At least, when we are all
eating in the same fashion and sharing the same emotions, are not
we more inclined to share the world more peacefully?
It would not be honest to eschew the exaggerations, abuses, and
mistakes committed in good or bad faith in the name of Nouvelle
Cuisine. In some establishments, the size of portions diminished
in inverse proportion to that of the plate; the cooking time was
reduced to zero; originality induced extravagance; some combinations
were ridiculous; Asian accents could end up in fusion and later