'Le Fooding' Draws Exuberant Fans
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Tired of regimented and stuffy chefs who reject new ideas, some Parisians are trying out exotic and unusual eating experiences.
Fusion Food, the modern desire to mix the world’s cuisines on one plate, has given us dishes like sushi with foie gras, or organic coconut chicken. Finger Food, the art of constructing mini-hamburgers and intricate little sandwiches, allowed us to eat entire meals with our hands. Both are close cousins.
But Le Fooding goes a step further: contemporary, experimental cuisine that gives conventional dining a kick up the backside.
Like many fledgling movements, Le Fooding adopts a contrary stance. It’s against the established gastronomic order, the stuffy grands restaurants with their fussy tableware; against the chefs who scoff at the idea of eating foie gras with sushi; against those who faint at the very idea of chicken with American soda; against a culinary intelligentsia who repress freedom of taste.
Le Fooding was conceived out of anger and frustration with the norms of French cuisine. Food critic Alexandre Cammas was growing tired of the culinary “academia” of the grands restaurants. Coming out of yet another conventional lunch, he decided to hang up his ironed serviette and invent Le Fooding.
The name came from an amalgam of “food” and “feeling”: food that comforts the soul rather than merely filling the stomach. Taste was essential, but so too was spirit. The name was a deliberate break with the past, reclaiming liberty for chefs compromised by the confines of French culinary rules. Le Fooding was born, the capital ‘F’ obligatory in an age of trademarks.
Every Movement Has Its Bible
So there are the founding principles. And even if Le Fooding isn’t a new code of conduct it has its own bible of sorts – the annual Le Guide du Fooding published by Cammas. The book lists all restaurants and bars in France that sign up to the Le Fooding ethos.
Culinary conservatives will be surprised to see several traditional bistros included. “We have nothing against the traditional,” Cammas told FRANCE 24, “but there are too many bistros out there that play the authenticity card just to inflate prices. Our position is clear: salt of the earth food is fine but not if it costs the earth.” Good traditional bistros are welcomed into the fold alongside restaurants specialising in foreign food and designer hangouts. “The common denominator is tasty food, a shared spirit and, above all, sincerity,” says Cammas.
The adventure gathered pace quickly. Cammas was joined by other dissident food critics, who set up Le Bureau du Fooding. The name evoked images of an eastern bloc cultural ministry but the atmosphere was one of an artists’ collective. The Bureau organised a series of events culminating in giant public picnics in big towns across France put together by starred chefs. It was a big success: up to 5,000 people showed up.
“Our aim was to have these special occasions that would make people like good food. And make it sexy,” says Cammas. He wanted to democratise food but also to glamorise it. “Insititutional chefs trussed up in their uniforms – frankly that doesn’t give a very cool impression. It doesn’t make young people want to join the trade. All the more as grand cuisine is also so hard to understand. A Madonna record says more to kids than chicory with ham, however good it is,” says Cammas irreverently.
From that moment on, the Le Fooding Week was added to the diaries of Paris’s bright young things alongside Fashion Week and Book Week. The highlight of 2006’s event were the “poulailleries” — rotisseries like you see outside butcher’s shops but run by well-known chefs. Then there was a hidden bar where punters had to find the location from obscure clues circulated on the Internet. The Parisians loved it.
Despite the obvious enthusiasm, there are worries Le Fooding will itself fall foul of Paris’s reputation for snobbery. At the moment Le Fooding is angry at the city authorities. “Paris isn’t doing anything for its reputation, they’re not really playing the conviviality card,” moans Cammas. He has kinder words for Turin, whose culinary festival attracts foodies from around the world.
Even if it’s not Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s cup of tea, Le Fooding has a bright future because of its wide artistic base. Its flyers are designed by up and coming artists and its evenings feature the best DJs. Le Fooding is also singing the praises of the little-known “culinary designers.” One, Emmanuel Becquemin, designed a special toast for the movement with messages written in jam. “The idea was to remind people of simple breakfasts in the café, where you read your paper and dunk your bit if toast in your coffee.”
Le Fooding: It’s conceptual. It’s French. But why is there no such thing elsewhere? For one reason alone, says Cammas: “It doesn’t exist in New York or Barcelona because chefs there are allowed to experiment without being shouted at. Here, chefs are not free. And what should you do when things get too regimented?... Have a revolution.” French indeed.
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