Skirmish in Anglo-French food feud

9th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

A British celebrity chef is stirring up an Anglo-French culinary spat with his claim that wine-lovers have better selection in British supermarkets than in some of France's finest restaurants.

British chef Rick Stein says French only hurt themselves by drinking French

A British celebrity chef has joined the Anglo-French culinary spat that preceded the Gleneagles G8 summit by claiming that wine-lovers have better choice in British supermarkets than in some of France's finest restaurants.

"You've only got to go into any UK supermarket to see how enthusiastically we have embraced all the different wines of the world," television chef Rick Stein told this week's Radio Times magazine.

*quote1*"Meanwhile, the French stick doggedly to their own stuff, and while they still make the best, they're missing out on all those lovely Australians and New Zealands and Chileans they could be enjoying," said Stein, who recently returned from a tour of southwest France to research his latest television programme.

"The best French wines are still the best in the world," conceded Stein. "But for every one really good French wine, there are 10 bad ones," he added.

Do the French uncork too many of these?

Stein's comments come a month after the uproar caused when French President Jacques Chirac reportedly insulted British cuisine ahead of the 2012 Olympics host-city vote and the Gleneagles G8 summit.

But comments like these have been heard more and more often amongst international 'foodies' from long before the recent G8 summit. And they do indeed hit a nerve among sensitive French winemakers, who increasingly feel under siege.

The export market for French wine has been declining for several years against viticulturists from other wine-making regions. The phenomenon started in the low-cost category, but now even the premium wine categories has been invaded -- as the French tend to see it -- by foreign competitors, notably from both California and Australia. 

Is Chirac sorry he started all this?

With consumption declining within France as well, due to changes in lifestyle and recent government crackdowns on drinking and driving, French winemakers are indeed feeling the pressure. The number of French people who described themselves as regular wine drinkers declined from 47 percent in 1980 to 24 percent in 2000, according to Onivins, the national agency that regulates and monitors viticulture.

But Stein didn't stop with criticising the French tendency to drink French.

Stein, who appears on the BBC and whose award-winning restaurant is based in Cornwall, southwest England, also suggested that British regional dishes are just as good as their French counterparts, even though the French have a longer tradition as food connoisseurs.

"A well-cooked Lancashire hotpot or Welsh cawl (chicken and vegetable broth) is every bit the equal of a French cassoulet or a poule-au-pot," he said.

Take that, M. Chirac, who may well have lived to regret his joke at the expense of British cooking. 

"We can't trust people who have such bad food," Chirac is reported to have commented.

The British expatriate press in France has speculated that Chirac's joke may have back-fired and helped lose Paris its Olympics bid in favour of London.

August 2005

Copyright AFP with Expatica France

Subject: French news, cuisine, cooking, Rick Stein

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