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Buttery-Rich French Fare: Gone Appetit?

Buttery-Rich French Fare: Gone Appetit?

Maria Puente | USA Today

“French food has evolved, thank God,” says Eric Ripert, who should know, being French and the chef/co-owner of one of New York’s top French restaurants, Le Bernardin, which is routinely packed. He says contemporary French cuisine is lighter and healthier than in the days of Mastering.

“We use cream and butter very little, almost non-existent, and flavor come from infusions and vinaigrettes,” Ripert says. "We are doing pretty fine, even during the tough economy. "

Still, Zagat’s 2009 America’s Top Restaurants Survey, which asks surveyors their favorite cuisine, found that Japanese now outranks French, which came in at No. 4 (with Italian and American Nos. 1 and 2).

“Japanese was not even in the lineup 20 years ago, but it’s become incredibly popular since then,” says Tina Zagat, co-founder of the influential survey.

Marisa McClellan, a Philadelphia food blogger who teaches cooking classes and has an online cooking show, says people who see J&J may be inspired to try out some of the less complicated recipes in Mastering but doubts it will send more diners to French restaurants. “With so many more options, you might not want to eat that heavy or that expensive,” she says. “People are looking for comfort food because of the economy, and a lot feel that French food cannot provide that down-home, grandmother’s-kitchen style of cooking.”

So maybe French cuisine is not as dominant as it once was; nevertheless, something just as important remains: French cooking techniques. First codified more than 200 years ago and introduced to millions of Americans by Child, they remain crucial in preparing virtually all kinds of cuisines, and are taught at all culinary schools.

There’s a reason most cooking terms are French: For instance, to braise, or cook with moist and dry heat, can be used on any protein in any cuisine, says chef Kirk Bachmann, vice president of academic affairs for the 15 Le Cordon Bleu schools in North America.

“She took something that was a mystery to the American audience and she made it approachable,” he says. “She took that chicken and danced with it before she cooked it and she applied the techniques she learned at (Le Cordon Bleu in Paris).”