Diplomats mobilise to save France's culinary pride

Diplomats mobilise to save France's culinary pride

PARIS - Aromatic truffles, smooth-as-silk foie gras, firm, springy oysters, mouth-wateringly tender beef and an almost infinite range of cheeses. The French have a worldwide reputation for gastronomic excellence.

But while the country still boasts some of the globe's finest restaurants, chinks have begun to appear in its culinary armour with ever-increasing competition from other countries, from Japan to Brazil via Spain, Denmark and Britain.

Now, amid admissions that standards have indeed slipped in some areas, French diplomats are putting themselves at the forefront of a gastronomic fightback.

The stakes are high. France is the world's most popular tourist destination - with 84.7 million foreign tourists in 2013 - and cuisine remains a major motivation for visiting the country.

In 2010, UNESCO even placed the French multi-course gastronomic meal on its "world intangible heritage list" of cultural practices.

With so much riding on France's ability to maintain its culinary pre-eminence, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius along with chef Alain Ducasse has announced an initiative that will see the very best the country has to offer served in restaurants all over the world - as well as in French embassies - on one day next March.

Anglo-Saxon threat

"We have to showcase the big establishments. And then we have to improve bistrots and small restaurants. They are not often very good, and often they are expensive," said Philippe Faure, who as co-chair for the Council for Promotion of Tourism will take part in the Gout de France (Good France) project on March 19, 2015.

A former French ambassador to Mexico and Morocco and a one-time president of the Gault & Millau gastronomic guide, Faure's slightly less than diplomatic words hint at the gravity with which the situation is viewed.

To mark the day, thousands of chefs in a range of restaurants on five continents will offer a "French menu" with a Champagne or Cognac aperitif, cold first course, hot second course, fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, French cheeses and chocolate dessert, all accompanied by French wines.

"It's not only about haute cuisine," Ducasse told AFP, explaining that the emphasis would be on vegetables and other seasonal products, avoiding too much fat, sugar and salt.

Along with another celebrated chef, Joel Robuchon, Ducasse already sponsors Taste of Paris, part of the Taste Festivals series which takes place in 19 countries worldwide and whose first Paris edition is planned for May 2015.

"My sole ambition is that French cuisine re-influence the world," he said.

For Faure, France's gastronomic crown is clearly facing a significant threat.

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