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Buttery-Rich French Fare: Gone Appetit?

Buttery-Rich French Fare: Gone Appetit?

Maria Puente | USA Today

Sacrebleu! Could it be true? Has French cuisine and cooking become … passe?

The question arises in the wake of just-opened Julie & Julia, the Nora Ephron homage to Julia Child (Meryl Streep) that tells two delicious stories: how Child became one of the 20th century’s culture-changing figures, and what happened when Julie Powell, a 21st-century admirer (Amy Adams), decided to make, and blog about, all 524 recipes in Child’s seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one year.

The movie food looks mouthwatering. But you can’t help wondering: Who cooks like that anymore? Who eats like that anymore?

So much butter and cream and heavy sauces. So much effort and time. So many other ethnic cuisines to sample instead. After all, these days, people are “afraid of butter,” Streep says.

“They don’t (cook like that anymore) and we don’t, but it’s still a really good cookbook,” Ephron says.

Why Go to the Trouble?

But why would busy and health-conscious Americans, even foodies, bother to bone a duck for Child’s Duck en Croute or wilt over a hot stove making her Boeuf Bourguignon when it’s so much easier to go out for Thai?

“Some of that has become dated – they don’t eat that way (even) in France anymore,” says food stylist Susan Spungen, consultant on J&J who helped make the dishes seen in the movie.

But French cuisine dead? Jamais, says Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder (25 years ago) of the French Culinary Institute in New York. “It’s not dead, in fact it’s a trailblazer and will continue to be,” she declares. French chefs in America are “doing the most modern, revolutionary and groundbreaking work anywhere.”

In 1961, when Mastering first appeared, the definition of “fancy” dining was a French restaurant. Nowadays, not so much. Powell says Child tapped into America’s yearning for European style back then; now the world is a bigger, more interconnected place, where chefs and home cooks have access to global ingredients and cuisines.

“Even in France, where culinary heritage is fiercely protected, new ingredients are making their way into the finest restaurants,” Powell says by e-mail. “Classic French cuisine will always have its place, but there is so much out there.”