France’s great gastrocrats

A magnificent new compendium of French cuisine edited by François-Régis Gaudry examines its great figures and iconic recipes. Here we present a round-up of legendary food writers and their must-read works, plus we provide three classic recipes to recreate

1 May 2019
By Connexion journalist

THE GASTROCRATS

The “gastrocrats” are the men and women of pen and fork in France who generate and deconstruct discourse on French cuisine.

Food critic Emmanuel Rubin dissects this amusing group...

 

THE HEAVY THINKERS

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009)

The four volumes of Mythologiques (Le Cru et le Cuit; Du miel aux cendres; L’Origine des manières de table; L’Homme nu) establish the relationship of foods from an ethno-philosophical perspective, eager to shed

light on the question “What is humanity?” A monumental work.

Les Mythologuiqes (Editions Plon)

Jean-François Revel (1924–2006)

A brilliant and iconoclastic thinker and essayist, Revel in 1979 publishes this scholarly examination of gastronomy from ancient times to present day. The book is a landmark for its then-unprecedented way of understanding this subject through a literary perspective and a lens of sensitivity.

Un festin en paroles (Éditions Texto)

Michel Onfray (1959)

Onfray introduces his works by establishing gastronomy as a field of philosophical reflection in its own right. He developed the idea of a contemporary hedonism and founded the Université Populaire du Goût (the Popular University of Taste), a private university that re-establishes the epicurean way of eating. 

La Raison gourmande (Grasset)

THE FOUNDING FATHERS

Rabelais (about 1494–1553)

Through the genius of his words and through comedy, the humanist Rabelais creates an epic literary monument that taps into the whims of the appetite. Through this work, the terms Rabelaisian, gargantuan, and pantagruelian enter into the French language.

Gargantua (Éditions Gallimard)

Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758–1837)

This adventurous jack-of-all-trades, a lover of pranks and mysticism, first offers a professional culinary viewpoint by chronicling his ideas in the press, before creating a gastronomic guide, tasting committees, and the idea of quality assurance labelling. An essential body of work.

Almanach des gourmands (Editions Fry Menu)

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826)

A magistrate and deputy of the Third Estate, Brillat-Savarin writes, two months before his death, the work
of a lifetime. An amazing scholarly work, intended as a meditation of transcendent gastronomy. Recipes, reflections, and aphorisms are intertwined through its text.

La Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) (The Champs collection, Éditions Flammarion)

 

THE ECCENTRICS

Maurice Edmond Sailland, known as Curnonsky (1872–1956)

The “prince of gastronomes” served the cause with vivaciousness: books, chronicles, the founder of associations and academies, an AOC lobbyist...

La France gastronomique; Les Fines Gueules de France; Souvenirs littéraire et gastronomiques (rare book, first edition)

Edward de Pomiane (1875–1964)

This doctor-researcher at the Pasteur Institute, whose real name is Edouard Pozerski, is passionate about gastronomy and food hygiene. His opuses are prophetic: Bien manger pour bien vivre, and Cuisine en dix minutes. He is also the pioneer of the culinary radio show.

Radio Cuisine (Albin Michel)

Marcel Rouff (1877–1936)

Co-founder of L’Académie des gastronomes, this poet and novelist owes his notoriety in the end to the impetuous saga on Dodin-Bouffant, who dedicates himself to the refinements and savory pleasures of gastronomy.

La Vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet (The Passionate Epicure) (Editions Le Serpent à plumes)

 

THE NOTABLES

Baron Brisse (1813–1876)

This Provençal pens a daily column in one of the major newspapers of his time, La Liberté, gains success, buys the Hotel Scribe, and dies at the table at L’Auberge Gigout Fontenay-aux-Roses.

Les 366 menus (rare book, first edition)

Charles Monselet (1825–1888)

A jack-of-all-trades – playwright, poet, novelist, and journalist – he establishes, above all else, a reputation as an epicurean writer and a pioneer of gastronomic journalism by creating, among others, Le Gourmet; Lettres gourmandes, manuel de l’homme à table (rare book, first edition)

Jean-Camille Fulbert-Dumonteil (1831–1912)

Raised in the heart of the Périgord, this dandy half Rastignac, half Bel-Ami embarks on a career writing for the newspaper thanks to his incredible and solid writing ability – the ability to “make poetry from cod.”

La France gourmande (rare book, first edition)

Excerpted from Let’s Eat France! by François-Régis Gaudry (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018

James de Coquet (1898–1988)

A successful reporter from the 1930s to 1940s, this winner of the Albert-Londres prize will follow a more peaceful career as a drama and food critic with Le Figaro Magazine. His Propos de table remains an eloquent jewel of epicurean writing.

Propos de Table (Albin Michel)

Robert Julien Courtine, known as La Reynière (1910–1998)

Going from the Vichy press during the German occupation of France to the food columns of the newspaper Le Monde after the Second World War, Courtine (“my best collaborator,” according to Beuve-Méry) is a quiet force of culinary information during the Glorious Thirty Years.

Un nouveau savoir manger (Éditions Grasset)

 

Brittany Lobster with Vanilla

Ingredients, serves 2

  • 4 female lobsters (550 g)
  • 2 Madagascar vanilla beans
  • 80g shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 100ml Champagne
  • 300ml double cream
  • 70g spinach sprouts
  • 50g sorrel
  • 50g rice vermicelli
  • ½ lemon
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 6g pickled ginger
  • 50ml olive oil

Method

1.   Steam the lobsters for 5 minutes, then let them cool. Slice the tails lengthwise in half and keep the bodies. Empty the body cavities, then cut off and reserve the heads.

2.   Split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds (keep the empty pods). Cook the shallots and vanilla seeds together until the shallot is softened. Deglaze with the Champagne, then cook until the liquid is slightly reduced. Add the cream and cook for 15 minutes, or until thickened; strain. Remove the spinach and sorrel leaves from the stems and wash the leaves. Cook the vermicelli in boiling water, then let cool. Remove the rind from the lemon, then blanch the rinds twice in boiling water, starting with cold water.

3.  Reheat the lobster pieces. Reheat the vermicelli in one-fourth of the sauce with a little lemon juice and pickled ginger. Reheat the remaining sauce, whisk in the butter, and add the remaining juice from the lemon. Heat the oil in a skillet and very lighly sauté the spinach and sorrel. Drain on paper towels.

4.  Spoon the sauce onto serving platesinto a 4-inch (10 cm) circle. Place the vermicelli and lobster tails on top, the claws in the middle, then the spinach and sorrel around the edge. Using the remainder of the sauce, create a foam (using an immersion blender orni trous oxide canister). Use the lobster heads and empty vanilla bean pods as additional decoration, if desired.

This recipe has been rewritten by Jérôme Banctel, former executive chef of Alain Senderens, and photographed by Julie Limont.

 

Le Pan Bagnat

The official recipe of La Commune Libre du Pan-Bagnat

Literally “bathed bread” (or wet) in Occitan, the pan-bagnat is a specialty of Nice. Originally it was a poor man’s meal: stale bread was softened with water or with tomato juice. It’s garnished with the ingredients of a salade niçoise, including a hard-boiled egg, the only cooked ingredient accepted by La Commune Libre du Pan-Bagnat, an association that protects the appellation.

Ingredients, preparation time 10 minutes

  • Bread
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Tomatoes, quartered
  • Radishes and/or spring onions
  • Green bell pepper
  • String beans and/or artichoke hearts
  • Black olives
  • Tuna or anchovy
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Basil

Method

Slice a rounded bun in half horizontally. Scrape out some of the crumb, then rub the interior with a clove of garlic. Dab the bread generously with olive oil, then with a dash of vinegar, and season it with salt and pepper. Slice all the vegetables into rounds (except the tomatoes), then pile them on the bread with the tuna or anchovy fillets, slices of the hard-boiled egg, and some basil. Close the bread, and set it aside for at least 1 hour in the fridge before enjoying.

 

Warm Strawberry Tarts

Recipe by Michel Guérard

Ingredients, serves 8

  • 2kg strawberries (preferably wild Mara strawberries)
  • 200g + 85g sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 120g lemon juice, divided (about 4 lemons)
  • 1 sheet gelatin, softened in cold water
  • 100g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 200g double cream, whipped
  • 8 rounds of puff pastry (14 cm in diameter and 2mm thick)

Method

1.  Several hours before serving, halve the strawberries and arrange them on an ovenproof baking pan with holes (such as a perforated pizza pan) so that the juice drains (reserve the juices by placing a sheet pan under it to catch them) Sprinkle the strawberries with the 200g of sugar and bake them in the oven at 350°F (180°C) for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and place them on paper towels for several hours so that their water releases. In a saucepan, reduce the reserved juice until thickened.

2.  Make the lemon cream. Whisk the egg yolks with the 85g of sugar and 60g of the lemon juice. Bring this mixture to a boil for 2 minutes. Add the softened gelatin off the heat. Let the mixture cool to 131°F (55°C) and whisk in the butter.

3.  Once the mixture has completely cooled, stir in the zest and remaining lemon juice, and fold in the whipped cream. Arrange the strawberries on the puff pastry circles, leaving a (1.5 cm) border. Bake them on a sheet pan for 20 minutes at 400°F (200°C).

4. Before serving, brush the tarts with the reduced juice, then sprinkle with sugar. Serve them with the lemon cream.

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