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he decides to have one last party -
Refined, rarefied and elite.
Top of the bill is the two ounce,
ready to serve...piping hot.
They then place the exquisite
with its head dangling from
munching on the tiny lungs,
They say that as your teeth sink into the ortolan's fragile flesh,
the salt air of the Mediterranean,
Eating the bird is a symbolic act,
very soul of France itself.
It's impossible to imagine a British Prime Minister in the same position,
with the same relish as Mitterrand brought to this final meal.
In eating this transgressive feast,
this bizarre banquet challenges
that food is a mere commodity.
and what that tells us about their identity and culture.
But first, you might want to know what happened to Mitterrand.
but two of the tiny ortolan birds.
a journalist, and now a professor.
than anywhere else in Europe.
But the France of the 21st century, with its Americanised golf buggies,
Built for Louis XIV, the palace was intended as a show piece,
to prove to the world, the supreme
The gardens, lights, and mirrors,
this is the nearest to heaven you will ever see on Earth.
It is surely one of the most
to human vanity ever created.
after an emblem on a shield he wore parading around Paris.
he really thought he was a god
cracked his whip and declared,
would become the great nation it had always deserved to be.
France would be the new Rome,
the new cultural and religious
the Italian influences bought in
Catherine de Medici were out.
replaced by a robust French style,
To help him in his endeavour, he installed in his kitchen
Francois Pierre de La Varenne
he was also the author of a seminal
called Le Cuisinier Francois.
turned into a ritual communion
between the Sun King and his scoff.
pheasant, partridge, salad, mutton with gravy and garlic,
It would often last through the evening and into the next day.
to be overawed by the king's
this is the first time in history,
that food had been linked to power
and the French state itself.
And this man eats like a god."
became so much a part of legend
who in April 1671, was ordered to organise a meal for the Sun King
and 2,000 of his closest friends.
to keep up, he had after all,
if sickly, Chantilly cream.
In the sumptuous 2001 film Vatel, the chef is played brilliantly
by Gerard Depardieu who is seen overseeing the mighty feast.
with fish as the headline course.
Catholics eat fish on Friday.
But fish was a risky choice,
as it had to come from over 100 miles away in Boulogne.
And if the weather turned nasty there would be no fishing -
waits for the fish to arrive,
the suspense is unbearable.
When he is told that there have
with a Gallic shrug of indifference
elite in Paris and Versailles
in the rest of the country,
the dish of the day had not changed
In this, the French weren't
in their attempts to experiment
with their diet with anything they could find, even rats like these.
in France, the poor made bread
out of the bones of the corpses
a respectable bourgeoisie roasted the carcasses of her children.
She did this over five days.
everybody knew that the court, under the successive reigns of Louis XIV,
as if it was going out of fashion.
The target of the accumulated
with her extravagant banquets
Marie Antoinette is provocatively played here by Kirsten Dunst.
It is the perfect incarnation
who, when told that the French populace had no bread to eat,
Marie Antoinette's famous remark has
cruelty of the aristocracy.
But there is more going on here
does to make a loaf of bread.
that was about to engulf France
no-one wanted to hear common sense
a poor, silly, foreign queen.
But the anger at the inequality
and a vast seething underclass
The whole world knows the tale
the storming of the Bastille,
the victory of the sans-culottes,
and one that has fuelled many
the victory of the bourgeoisie
from the wreckage of the Revolution
possession, total political power.
bakers, merchants and lawyers.
there had only been a handful
the long French tradition of dining
One of the grandest restaurants around was here at Le Grand Vefour.
Politicians and philosophers mixed
the triumph of French civilisation
with all the ruthless finesse
So, there you go. Vol-au-vent, a revolution in puff pastry.
One of the restaurants clients
was a young Corsican freedom fighter
an almost untranslatable word
that Napoleon was gastronome.
He was bored silly by food.
Like a kid who can't wait to get
But even though he was the very
Napoleon understood the political and cultural significance of food.
he instructed his foreign minister
and grand gourmet Talleyrand,
Talleyrand on a mission, purchased the magisterial Chateau de Valencay,
on the Loire with 1.6 million francs of government money.
He bought with him his own secret weapon, Marie-Antoine Careme,
to talk to one of his disciples
achievement was to convince
other nations of the inherent superiority of French cuisine.
All good dinner party hosts
know that nothing seduces more effectively than a good meal.
Napoleon took this to new heights
when he charged his chief diplomat Talleyrand and his cook Careme
to conquer Europe in culinary terms
So, at the Congress of Vienna,
to secure more French votes,
rations he may have been saved
that was to be his undoing.
But his untimely death in 1821
did little to stop, the now time
of mixing food and politics.
Having turned Paris into the city we know today, with its cafes,
boulevards and public squares,
the building of a vast food market
in the centre of the capital.
Les Halles, as it was known,
was to be a showcase of the very best food in the known world.
A beautiful structure filled with fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat
and wine from all over France,
to the working and drinking
This was truly the Democratic
you can a sense of Les Halles
Which is, in fact now, the largest
Massive aisles are set apart for fish, vegetables and here, meat.
"and alley ways always leading to
The people here had their own slang
It was a semi-criminal underworld
stretching from North Africa
known as the "queen of the world".
abruptly and without warning.
Germany, the old rival to the East
had long coveted the disputed French territory of Alsace-Lorraine.
In 1870, the Germans deliberately
and really quite dim Napoleon into declaring war on Germany.
He had walked quite blindly
The German armies mobilized
in the winter of 1870 - 1871,
On the 25 of December 1870, one restaurant created a menu that
and his furry friends on the ark.
For starters there was butter,
Then there was camel roasted
bear ribs and pepper sauce.
Wolf legs with venison and antelope
Don't fancy that... and I am
how about the kangaroo stew?
the zoo menu was off limits.
Haute cuisine, safari style
Instead, they had to do with
and the ever adaptable rat.
Butchers at the time were known
plumper and smelling of ale than
Following a prolonged siege,
losing the provinces of both Alsace
and Lorraine, the French found a silver lining on the food front,
The first beer pump was installed
Frederic Bofinger in his brand new
19th century ideal modernity.
By the 1890's the convulsions of the recent past seemed a world away,
as Parisians threw themselves
as the capital of pleasure.
The 1890s city was also attracting
a euphemism for specifically
On the 22nd of September 1900,
were summoned to celebrate the anniversary of the first republic.
But the aim of the banquet was not just to feed the great and good
to make a public spectacle of it.
of Louis XIV some 300 years earlier,
literally "la gloire" on a plate.
The catering company behind this epic blow out, is still
with us today, and commanded
What this banquet was all about
More to the point it celebrated
held dear to their hearts -
civic democracy and fine cooking.
What better and unbeatable emblem
But the banquet was only part of Loubet's grandiose initiative
the Grand and Petit Palais,
and the Gare du Lyon were all built.
From the outside, the station evokes the belle epoque fairly discreetly.
This is a place that began life
as the Gare du Lyon station buffet
but there is nothing modest or humble about what's on offer now.
The restaurant, Le Train Bleu,
of French self-belief optimism
It's about food, romance, gravy and glory all rolled into one.
No room for understatement here.
France was now a very rich country
In this temple of gastronomy
are not random images of foreign places to distract the traveller
the world of French civilisation.
in search of new and exquisite
fertile ground that had produced it.
The end of the 19th century
the Frenchman's personal chariot
which allowed him to set out and discover his native land anew.
On the new little routes national -
it was possible to set off from Paris in your new-fangled automobile
your way through the country
armed with a useful new guide
With this one historic publication,
and food were brought together and, in the now well-established
French democratic tradition,
The figure we know in English
The phrase comes from the Latin
"Now is the time to drink"..
one early guide for motorists
advised the new knights of the road to take brandy or Belgian beer
on the new routes national.
The best place to eat on the route, and arguably in all of France
made rich by the silk trade.
was the capital of the world,
of anti-Parisian ideas in food
delicious food in the world
The staple diet is ears, feet,
It's not a place where the phrase "Meat is Murder" holds much sway.
found that Lyonnais delicacies needed a little explanation
a sausage made out of pig's stomach,
"Is like politics," he said, "It needs to smell of shit."
the tastes of Lyon's delicacies are perhaps a little unsettling
but the Frenchman has always
of apparently challenging dishes
I've dined with French people who have quaked with terror
with an Anglo-Saxon-style curry
but, for the French, the wilder
But this detail of history seems
The ensuing war of independence
brought terrorism to the streets
fanatics challenged the might
gave Algeria its independence
in 1962, France was faced with
Both communities flocked to Marseilles, Lyon and Paris,
often finding life here tougher than what they'd left behind.
In a modest attempt to remember
they bought to these cities, the smells and tastes of their cuisine.
One of their greatest exponents
without question, delicious
has a political significance.
Gruyere is supposed to be the mark
Actually nobody knows why this is
and, to my mind, always leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
The Right was the dominant force
but what separated President George Pompidou from de Gaulle
In the 1970s, the country was undergoing a cultural revolution,
everything new and futuristic.
even infected architecture.
AS IF FROM FUNNELS: The architectural style of the Pompidou centre,
surely the ugliest building in Paris, is a perfect example
of the perverse and arrogant belief that newness for its own sake
is what explains the fashion
a minimalist technique perfected by the super-chef Paul Bocuse.
Actually, it's all just an exquisite form of culinary showing off,
about this culinary minimalism
that had gripped the French
But essentially it was a fad
covering over the brutal truth
stale and, well, a bit worn out
The unthinkable was happening.
French food or bouffe had gone bad.
bad foreign food, then it meant
the noxious stuff the French housewives bought in supermarkets.
"that old France was dead or dying
Even President Francois Mitterrand,
an absolute ruler in the mould of Louis XIV, could do little
to halt the tectonic shifts
Anglo-American world in politics,
the nail in the coffin came with
Paris and then the whole of France
and its plucky Belgian cousin Quick.
But you could also argue that the
as shown in Quentin Tarantino's
You know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?
quarter pounder and cheese?
what the fuck quarter pounder is.
They call is a royale with cheese.
Royale with cheese?! That's right. What do they call a Big Mac?
but they call it Le Big Mac.
FRENCH ACCENT: Le Big Mac?!
What do they call a whopper? I don't know I didn't go in to a Burger King.
What Tarantino is picking up on
has become assimilated into French
This restaurant may look like a normal McDonald's from the outside,
but inside, it's a different world.
For one thing you could also have
a petit express, I don't know,
a pain au raisin, or a croissant.
Today France is the most profitable McDonald's market outside America.
Meanwhile, traditional bistros and brasseries are closing down
with a frightening rapidity.
A crisis that was keenly felt even
like the three-Michelin-starred
Fusion food has replaced nouvelle cuisine as the fad of the day.
Its modern, its multicultural,
You could also say that this fusion
applies to the current president - Nicolas Sarkozy - a man on a mission
and sees any future French success
by hard-headed pragmatists,
where cooking takes second place
dazzling the great heads of Europe
anti-Mitterrand - he doesn't drink,
the very opposite of what Mitterrand
power, glory and the great food
But don't worry I am not going to throw myself off the Eiffel Tower
the country I first came to.
This is a nation on its way
business in the globalised world.
You can see this everywhere,
And, most of all, you see it
of the quality of French cuisine.
There's literally no time to eat well in the fast-moving
The story of French cuisine
was available to everybody.
to the Franco-Prussian war,
to the Algerian war of Independence,