For many years I have heard ordinary Frenchmen say “The English can’t cook”, and for many years I have defended the English on the grounds of the restaurant trade, firmly believing that we now offer a far more diverse and cosmopolitan range of dining experiences than you can find in France. Indeed a slight criticism of France’s restaurant offering would be that the produce is fiercely parochial, nobody does ‘local sourcing’ better than the French. Try and find a plate of frog’s legs in Brittany and you’re having a laugh, but ask for Beef Bourguignon or Cassoulet in a Breton Creperie and you’d look equally stupid. The problem is that the menu in one restaurant to the next in any particular region is largely the same, and it can become a bit boring.
I have always conceded that the French are right about the English as a nation however, and you only need to trail the supermarket aisles to see the devastating evidence, (in the form of the ever increasing range of ready made meals), that as a nation we either can’t or simply won’t cook, which is ironic considering the explosion of popularity of cooking programmes on television.
A recent Guardian online article reads “With the Great British Bake Off back on our screens – and pulling in four million viewers – our appetite for cookery shows appears to be bigger than ever. Henry Harris, chef-patron of the French restaurant Racine, and food writer Joe Warwick discuss whether food TV leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Emine Saner listens in. asked whether we were being saturated by food programmes on television but cited that perhaps the nation was taking a voyeuristic approach to watching these programmes and instead of seeing them as a vehicle for learning how to cook, were simply seeing them as entertainment.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/aug/17/conversation-food-tv-bake-off)
However no-0ne can question the French ability to cook as a nation, and for many years I cited that this was proof in the fact that the closest the French supermarkets came to offering a ready made meal was a tin of Cassoulet or a jar of Confit de Canard. So you can imagine my dismay when this summer I saw the infiltration of ready made meals in their plastic trays on the shelves in the supermarket. So it seems the food industry’s erosion of culinary skills and proliferation of laziness will soon infect France. Hopefully the strong emphasis that has always leant on the French eating together as a family will prevent ready made meals making such a prominent impact on the population’s domestic cooking skills as it has in the UK.
Meanwhile if you are really keen on learning how to cook then we recommend http://www.bettyscookeryschool.co.uk/ where the Angel’s very own Pascal Watkins fell in love with natural levain bread making, and if you are interested in learning to cook as a profession then the state of the art cookery school in Dean Clough is offering apprenticeships under the keen leadership of Matthew Benson-Smith http://www.thecookingschool.co.uk/apprenticeships and also offers a fantastic range of courses for enthusiastic amateurs!