Trish Deseine says goodbye for good to over-fussy food
Main Image; @frenchtablebytrish
Emerging from a seemingly endless winter, it’s only now that the true impact of the last three years is really hitting home. There’s a reckoning with the enormity of it all, alongside a palpable brightness and determined optimism. Like so many in the creative industries, I saw my business – too new to benefit from any government assistance – disintegrate almost overnight, and other sides severely disrupted for a good two years. Through it all, my GLOSS column was a pillar! A more than welcome monthly look on the bright side – through good food, and a connection to home. In a world where so many were much worse off, and where my children were suffering, chins (yes, now definitely plural – thanks, lockdowns) were kept up and glasses half full. At last, the gnawing, debilitating anxiety of material insecurity is easing, the kids are alright and, miraculously, I still get to do the job I love more than anything.
But there’s no escaping the drastically changed culinary landscape. Prices are still soaring, with no end in sight for the moment. The price of all food has increased on average by a whopping 14 per cent in France since 2021, with staples such as flour (up twelve per cent) butter and cream (up 18 per cent) sugar (up 13 per cent) and oil (up 20 per cent) making a much bigger dent in the monthly budget. Vegetables have not escaped either, with a 15 per cent rise, and if wine has come off relatively easy with a mere eight per cent increase, meat prices have had the most spectacular hike of 29 per cent!
Eating out in those restaurants which have managed to survive, when it’s not for work, is a pretty rare treat, made even more special by that rareness, and a much friendlier ambiance in every dining room. Everyone smiles and says bonjour to everyone in my part of France, and in those fleeting moments, there’s a sort of subliminal bonding, a tacit recognition and delight that we have all been through some tough times, and have made it to the other side to this delicious food in front of us. It’s no wonder that the stiff edifice of fine dining is finally crumbling when our desire for warm, meaningful connection through food has never been stronger.
We’re tired of over-formal, complex plating and the regimented timing of what should be a relaxed occasion. Michelin star collecting is no longer an acceptable status symbol when we can no longer ignore how some kitchens run their operations. And I say some, because there are plenty still out there, quietly putting diners first – supposedly the whole point, yet often forgotten when chefs’ egos take over – where everyone is properly paid and treated, and the experience both sides of the kitchen is a joyous one.
We’re tired of over-formal, complex plating and the regimented timing of what should be a relaxed occasion.
Those local restaurants are the precious ones, with sharp, tight menus, a soul, and proper understanding of hospitality – such as Du Pep’s in Nogent le Rotrou, near me, owned and operated by women, where you feel like you are on a sunny beach with your best friends, even though it’s rainy dead of winter outside and you know no-one. Or a super-chic yet noisy natural wine temple like Oiseau-Oiseau, peppered with local artists’ work and warmed by a woodburner.
Now that making do with less and living sustainably have become the norm, and neominimalism is swiftly becoming an art form, our culinary aspirations at home can at last take a breather. It is time to care even less about plated performances, leave those to chefs who will make your well-earned night out feel really special. I’m not saying go the full pot-luck on your guests, but with remote working, isn’t asking a couple of them to whip up a simple pudding between Zooms a real possibility? If you haven’t already, it’s time to invest in a good Dutch oven. A Le Creuset, or a Staub, in the brightest of colours. Go easy on the meat, hard on vegetables, spices, ferments and legumes and let the pot do all the work – even better if you have switched to induction. Then bring it to your pretty table (some nice touches are non-negotiable) and join the party.