‘Beer fools with an unhealthy diet’: why British cuisine still hasn’t won over France |  France

‘Beer fools with an unhealthy diet’: why British cuisine still hasn’t won over France | France

British cuisine is finally starting to be recognized around the world. But try telling that to the French. For them, British cuisine sucks.

Figures revealed by VisitBritain at last week’s Tourism Alliance Insights Conference showed just how far the UK has to go. An annual survey by Anholt-Ipsos of 60,000 people in 20 countries, which asked their views on 60 nations, includes a new question about food.

Overall, the UK was ranked a respectable 18th out of 60 on average, with the exception of the French, who put Britain in 60th place – last.

Oh, and really, la-la. The UK is suffering from a reputation hangover, according to Michel Roux Jr, the Anglo-French owner of Le Gavroche, which closed in January after 56 years. “It’s deep-rooted and its origins date back to a time when food in this country was absolute crap and it was just boiled meat, vegetables boiled to death, cranberry jelly and mint sauce and all these horror stories,” said Roux, who also presents Five-star cuisine on Channel 4.

Some French people talk about an ironic plate of fish and chips when they visit London. Photo: Gary Calton/The Observer

“Historical, [the stereotype] it still remains, but the younger generation, those who have traveled to the UK, know that’s not true.” His father, Albert Roux, opened a British restaurant in Paris, Bertie’s, serving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. “People were lining up – it was very successful,” Roux said. “I now honestly believe that London compares to any other gastronomic city in the world. It’s certainly no laughing matter anymore – I think the French are just picking on us.’

London has become destination of choice for the superstar chefs of Paris. Jean-François Piaget opened Mimosa at the Langham last week, joining Yannick Alléno’s Pavyllon, Anne-Sophie Pic’s La Dame de Pic London, Claude Bosi at Bibendum and Alain Ducasse, arguably the doyen of French cuisine, who has a restaurant with three Michelin stars in Dorchester.

If Guide Michelin is a benchmark, the UK is gastronomically respectable with 187 restaurants receiving at least one star, compared to 269 in Spain and 228 in the United States. And advocates of British food are quick to point out the variety of dishes on offer here. “The cosmopolitan British food scene is something you just don’t get in France,” said Tati McLeod, a comedian whose British parents raised her in France. “Where I grew up in Brittany, there was no variety of cuisine – it was everything pancakes, pancakes or French restaurants.

Yannick Alainault, a French superstar chef, also runs Pavyllon in London. Photo: Paul Cooper/Rex Features

“The idea that there is such a thing as British cuisine just wouldn’t sit well with the French. Can you imagine if someone tried to organize a food tour of the UK and tried to sell it to the French market? I can guarantee you won’t make a single sale in France. English food for them is basically fish and chips.

But not just fish and chips. In the bible of Auguste Escoffier, the 19th century “king of cooks and chef of kings”. cook English style – to cook in English – is a a culinary term for boiling in salted water.

“I went through the French kitchen system, which was pretty brutal for a Brit at the time,” said Michael Greenwald, who opened the first Paris fry-up, The Sunken Chip, in 2013. “They’ll tell you to go and get some English stock from somewhere and the joke was that it was just water.

Greenwald, who returned to Britain and is now a hospitality consultant at the Russell Partnership Collection, said there was more openness to the UK among younger, liberal Parisians. After the 2012 London Olympics, the French adopted “So British” as a Cool Britannia-type slogan referring to UK music, fashion and culture, and Greenwald observed that Parisians going to London would speak of ironic a plate of fish and chips. “One of the reasons we did The Sunken Chip was that while there was a traditional critique of British food, it was more like the British and the Germans – an ongoing joke. But the younger generation loves Britain.

French food lacks variety, says Tati McLeod, who was raised in France by British parents. Photo: Rachel Sherlock

French restaurants have always had a strong appetite for British ingredients such as Scottish langoustines and turbot, he added. “They just thought we didn’t know what to do with it.”

Perhaps the British approach to food is foreign – what Greenwald describes as a lack of a poor cuisinewholesome modern English country food tradition or what Tatty Macleod calls “Greggs, cakes and deep fried Mars bars”.

“We just have a completely different approach to nutrition,” McLeod said. “The concept of a sandwich, eating on the go – it doesn’t exist in France. Every French business has basements [canteen] or a change the ticket [a gold-plated luncheon voucher].” The French spend more on food, prioritize it and don’t understand why the British don’t – “they think the British are beer-drenched bastards with unhealthy diets”.

Horrible English food is a regular joke Summer vacation, a 1967 film known in English as The Exchange Student, and perhaps British tourism needs to overcome similar childhood scars in real life. “We came to the UK on an exchange trip when I was 14 and there were these two boys, Pierre and Maxime, who complained about what the host family gave them for lunch,” McLeod said. “It was a sandwich with cheddar cheese and Branston pickles and a packet of chips. And the teachers gathered around the lunch box, peeled off this white, processed bread and said “what’s that brown stuff?” and smelled it and said “those poor boys, they can’t eat that”.

There are some French people who want to help their countrymen to let go of the old stereotypes. Sarah Lahab and Aurelie Bellacchico have published two books on British cuisine, Scotland: oats, haggis and cranachan and England: tea, pies, pasta, and bravely tried to point out that deep-fried Mars bars are a joke. Yet an interview shows that they have a lot of work to do. Tell me, an interviewer at Konbini, a media company, asked them, “Jella – is that it really something in England or just a myth?’

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