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21 February 2010

Ceci N'Est Pas Un Critique

I have several reasons to be grateful to Luc Dubanchet:

1. Two of his photographs look directly down at me from the wall above my computer, and they always make me smile.

2. He once took a photograph of me in which I somehow didn't look like a blithering eejit.

3. He introduced me to the sublime jazz piano music of Tord Gustafson.

4. He was the bloke who helped me to understand why French gastronomy was in dire trouble.

M. Dubanchet rides a Vespa around Montmartre in Paris where he lives, wears a scarf even when it isn't cold, and is extremely funny. Or, he is funny so long as you don't persist in the chauvinistic belief that French gastronomy is the greatest in the world, and that French cooking has nothing to learn from anyone. I was once at a festival where M. Dubanchet and the wonderful chef, Gilles Choukroun, reduced several members of the audience to states of utter, steaming rage by their assertions that French cooking had totally lost its way: the anger was scary to behold.
This week, in Deauville, Mr Dubanchet and his crew from Omnivore, his punky magazine, will once again annoy a lot of people in France at their annual festival, when they will do a lot of funky cooking and question a great many so-called truths about French cooking.
When Mike Steinberger of the FT asked Luc what he thought of the Guide Michelin, for instance, Luc replied: “A dead weight. It is stupid to give stars – we are not in school”.
More significantly, Mr Dubanchet precisely points out why France has been left behind by other countries where the cookery is more dynamic: “People didn't really cook; they just practised a cuisine”.
Now, it takes a French intellectual to make such a fine distinction. On the one hand there is cooking – inquisitive, dynamic, creative, cultural. And on the other hand, there are those who practice a cuisine: stolid; staid; uncreative; repetitious; unimaginative.
So, the next time you find yourself in some boring “French” restaurant that tries to impress you with foie gras and lobster, yell out: “Stop practising! Show me some cooking!”.