Once Upon a Time in France

| March 16, 2001

Once Upon a Time in France

Gooey chocolate croissants. Long crusty baguettes. Bubbly champagne. Where would we be without French cuisine? Actually, a lot worse off than you might think. Writing in The New Criterion, David Fromkin traces the origins of the restaurant itself to France.

During the late 18th century, amidst the backdrop of the French Revolution, aristocratic households were destroyed and personal chefs were left jobless. Many of these chefs opened up restaurants to support themselves. The result? The restaurant scene exploded. In 1789, the year of the revolution, there were fewer than fifty Paris restaurants; in 1820, there were almost three thousand. The public was exposed to fine cooking, en masse, for the first time.

'Restaurants,' writes Fromkin, 'made it possible...for the many, who had no personal chef of their own, to enjoy the excellent cooking hitherto available only to a few.'

Restaurants have certainly multiplied and improved over the years; however, Fromkin believes French restaurants were at their peak in the first half of the 20th century, when a premium was placed on fresh produce, simple presentation, and reasonable prices. He finds modern establishments lacking when compared to those of yesteryear, especially when it comes to enjoying long and languorous meals. 'Nowadays, restaurants cannot afford to let customers linger over their meals,' he states. 'Economic pressures beget time pressures.'
--Anjula Razdan
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