What you can learn at a French food festival about 'gastro diplomacy'
Food brings people closer in a discordant universe.
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In a world where divisive politics rules the news, imagine people following discrete religions, speaking different languages and having varied skin tones united by the adhesive power of food.
On the night of March 21, 2,000 chefs across 150 nations in five continents served a French dinner at their restaurants in a one-of-its-kind celebration of a country that is synonymous with gastronomy and haute cuisine.
India, in fact, was number 3 on the crowded world list of Gout France, or Good France, which is the name of the initiative being steered by the French foreign ministry with the legendary Michelin multistarred chef Alain Ducasse since 2015.
As many as 66 Indian restaurants, including 14 in Delhi-NCR, participated in Gout France this year. “The common point of this event,” in the words of Ducasse, “is generosity, sharing and the love of what is beautiful and tastes good.”
It draws its inspiration, incidentally, from the doyen French chefs, Auguste Escoffier, who launched the Dîners d’Épicure (Epicurean Dinners) initiative — the same menu, the same day, in several world cities and aimed at as many diners as possible — in 1912.On the Gout France night, chefs such as Priyam Chatterjee (above) wear French national colours.
All this information set me thinking. French cuisine may be the world’s gold standard for good food, but Indian gastronomy today is ranked right after French, Japanese, Italian and Chinese, although the Spaniards may like to consider themselves to be ahead of us. Yet culinary tourism is not even listed as one of the 20 objectives set by the ministry of tourism for itself.
It is time for us to turn the tide, take inspiration from a global event of the scale of Gout France and get the world talking only about Indian cuisine for just one day. Given the global footprint of Indian cuisine, and the appetite of the Narendra Modi government for mega events, it is not a Herculean mission.
Imagine, what a grand statement it will be for India’s ultimate soft power. It will also open doors for people-to-people exchanges, which increasingly are seen as an important accessory to public diplomacy.
As the Ambassador of France in India, Alexandre Ziegler, put it so expressively: “Partnerships between nations are not forged only by diplomats signing MoUs.” Ziegler, who’s from Sauternes, home to the world’s finest dessert wines in Bordeaux, and who owes his Germanic name to his Swiss great-grandfather, kept repeating that French cuisine is not only haute cuisine.
“People tend to believe French cuisine is very expensive and quite complicated, but gastronomy can also be a daily life experience,” Ziegler said.
The magnificent spread of Indian cuisine, and its many regional avatars, needs to be shared with the world — and what better way to do it than to have a different celebrated chef from India cook at each of our embassies around the world on one day.
That is just what the 35-year-old Akrame Benallal, chef-owner of the Michelin-starred Restaurant Akrame in Paris, did during dinner at the French Ambassador’s residence on March 21. A day before the dinner (March 20), he spent the afternoon with the chefs from the partner restaurants — again, contributing to a better understanding of French cuisine.
Gout France may be a one-night affair, but it underlines one salient feature of the emerging world civilisation — food brings people closer in a discordant universe.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)