|Asterix et Obelix: Deux Gaulois gourmands…|
Fact: Les Français sont gourmands.
a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess.
a gourmet, epicure.
a person with a sweet tooth.
(source: dictionary.com and French Girl in Seattle)
Asterix and Obelix, (our ancestors the Gauls,) many French leaders, le Français moyen (the average Jean/Joe,) could be described as gourmands. Who started the trend? Je ne sais pas. I do not know. But somewhere along the way, a national obsession with food – and good eating (a.k.a. gastronomy,) took over the whole nation. It has become a cliché of sorts. For millions of people around the world, France = good food (and wine.)
|Louis XIV – the Sun King – “un bon vivant…”
|Napoleon I (pictured on the right,)
had an insatiable appetite for… battle
(James Gillray, 1805)
Le bon Roi Henri IV, (the good king Henri IV, a.k.a. Henri of Navarre) is remembered fondly in French history books as the monarch who insisted his people should enjoy “la poule au pot” (a rich chicken stew,) every Sunday. Sadly, he was not rewarded for his good deeds (he also advocated religious tolerance,) and was murdered by a fanatical Catholic (and chicken-rights advocate?) Ravaillac. R.I.P. Henri.
No matter how successful or competent, French leaders have always been more popular when they openly display a sound knowledge of – and genuine appreciation for – good food. A famous example:
|Former French President Jacques Chirac has never met an appetizer he did not like…
Notoriously unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy was seldom photographed à table (while eating.) Instead, he admitted to watching his weight and was followed by an army of paparazzi on his weekly jogging sessions while millions of French people shook their heads…
|“Sarko” – the “Hyper-President” stops by a neighborhood café
(Did he really need the caffeine boost?)
President François Hollande is a notorious gourmand who followed a strict diet before launching into a fierce presidential campaign in 2012. The self-appointed “normal president,” quickly saw his approval ratings plummet. Nobody asked me, but I’d urge him to engineer an image makeover pronto. People have had enough of seeing him shake hands at outdoor markets! They want to see him EAT and DRINK! Then they will know they can trust him.
|Hollande meets a French apiculteur and does not even sample honey products!
|François et (then) First Girlfriend, on their summer vacation, drink… Perrier?
(Call back Chirac tout de suite!)
Truth be told, Monsieur Hollande will always be forgiven for going on a diet. This might even earn him points as many French people (men and women) follow draconian régimes (diets,) and lead a life-long struggle against la surcharge pondérale, (excess weight,) et les petits kilos (extra pounds.)
“French Women Don’t Get Fat,” claims a well-known non-diet book. Right. If you believe that, you still believe that les poules ont des dents, (mais non, I assure you, good king Henri IV’s chickens did not have teeth!)
Oui, les Français, ces gourmands, watch their waistline. And this brings me to today’s story…
A few years ago, during my annual visit to France, I started noticing a new trend in many Parisian bistros and restaurants. It seems the trend has now reached other regions of France, but it is prevalent in the French capital.
I give you: Le café gourmand.
“Qu’est-ce-que-c’est?,” you ask.
A very clever invention launched by French restaurateurs. Take a look:
|Café gourmand, Paris|
In French restaurants, l’express (shot of espresso,) has traditionally followed dessert and capped the meal; the last step in a time-tested ritual before the waiter finally presents la douloureuse (the painful one,) a.k.a. l’addition (the check.)
This is demonstrated below with the (fancy) dessert a girlfriend and I enjoyed at the prestigious Café de la Paix in Paris, a few summers ago. A traditional French pastry – le Millefeuille – was followed by an express.
Total cost: 18 Euros (about $23.)
|Dessert au Café de la Paix: A decadent (and costly!) experience|
Drawbacks: 1.Cost 2. Calorie intake 3.Portion size
Now take a look at le Café gourmand, in the first photo.
A shot of espresso. Three or four mignardises, mini-desserts (as pictured here, a perfect balance of textures and flavors, with a refreshing fruit salad, a crème brûlée, and a scoop of ice cream.)
Total cost: 8 Euros (about 14 dollars.) Not cheap, but cheaper than dessert + coffee, n’est-ce-pas?
Benefits: Lower cost. No decision-making involved (desserts often change daily and are selected by the Chef.) Surprise element. Fun and sophisticated. Guilt-free (after all, these are mini-desserts, oui ?) Time saver (dessert and coffee come to the table at once.)
|Café gourmand, Paris|
Before I moved to the United States, many years ago, it was customary for Parisian cafés and restaurants to serve a small square of quality dark chocolate with a cup of espresso. We all felt the chocolate was the perfect way of wrapping up the meal. This was an opportunity to pass up dessert altogether, whatever our reason may have been (a way to save money and time, while controlling the calorie intake.) Sometimes, the square of chocolate would be replaced by a small macaron or a biscuit (Speculos, anyone?,) and they were equally satisfying.
At some point, the recession-plagued restaurant industry saw an opportunity to seduce customers who, like us, would often skip dessert, especially at lunch time. The day of le Café gourmand had come! And what a clever concept, it is, so in tune with the French psyche. When food is concerned, the French are said to “manger de tout, avec modération.” Eat everything, in moderation. Small portions are the ultimate goal, and the best way for les gourmands to control their weight.
In societies where abundance and a plethora of options make decisions an arduous process for some, being offered a chance to try several iconic French desserts at once, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, apple tart, fruit salad, macarons, is a dream come true.
|Traditional (and full size!) crème brûlée
Restaurant Beau Séjour, Gorbio
One question remains: Does this mean traditional desserts will eventually disappear from menus in France? Not so fast. I don’t know about you, but there are classics I will never be able to pass up when I go out with friends in my homeland – calories be dammed. After all, dessert or no dessert, sometimes, there just is no question.
|Salted caramel crêpe with Normandy hard cider|
Bon appétit, et à bientôt.
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