The foundations of gourmet cuisine may be changing. Open the James Beard Award-winning Indian cookbook From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey. Turn to the index, start at “A” and immediately note the French cooking term “aubergine” (oh-behr-ZHEEN) eggplant. The term is not British, Italian or even Latin. Pick up the latest, bestselling bread book, and there are the terms “baguette, batard, boule, brioche.” The names of our breads are French. In Vietnam, they eat sauce “Béarnaise.” In New Zealand, manufacturers use “sous-vide” techniques to process lamb. Every great chef knows that French cuisine--its techniques, tastes and terms--are the real foundation of modern global cuisine.

The influence of French culinary art is seen and felt in every corner of the world. Every cooking student in every country learns the basics of French cuisine on the way to becoming a chef. Even modern food processing owes a nod to French food science…remember pasteurization?

Shortly after the French Revolution, many great French chefs found themselves out of work. Prior to French independence, only the royal families could afford the luxury of a professional chef and culinary support staff. When the guillotine "liberated" the royal families, much of their wealth also was liberated and found its way to the new middle class. Chefs opened restaurants that were patronized by the nouveaux rich. The pioneer chefs became celebrities of their day; some named dishes after themselves. The proof of how good these were is in how they have stood the test of time. Hollandaise, veloute, morney: these and many more sauces, some developed in the 1800s, are still in use. (How many food developers believe the products they are working on still will be sold in 2303?)

Yet, even in the birthplace of gourmet cuisine, times are changing.

Factors Impacting the French Culinary Scene

As a young chef visiting Paris for the first time 20 years ago, this author was spellbound. Here were all the great foods and the famous restaurants that had been studied and read about. How and what the French ate and how it was prepared made lasting impressions. A few weeks ago, a return to Paris found the same cafés and restaurants. Again, there was amazement as well as amusement at the changes observed. New dining and food preparation trends were clear to see, some even imported from America!

In 1993, the Maastrict Treaty established the European Union. While European countries have not yet put away their age-old differences, the barriers truly have come down in one area. Food TV is universally accepted. Whether in Paris, New York City or Porte Monte (Chile), one can see Rick Bayless teaching the joys of Mexican gourmet cuisine. Emeril Lagasse is showing the world how wonderful American barbecue is, and Alton Brown is helping the world understand basic cooking science.

Additionally, an astounding array of recipes is free and immediately available to anyone with an Internet connection. This open exchange of culinary entertainment, along with the opening of trade barriers, has allowed new and exotic foods to cross Europe's once-closed borders. It has led to a new age of culinary awareness and acceptance. Here are a few sites and sounds now seen in Paris:

n Tapas and Tex-Mex. The Latina Café (Paris) sits front and center in the very heart of Paris. Situated at 114 Avenue des Champs Elysees, there is perhaps no better restaurant location in the City of Lights. Primarily a tapas/Latino restaurant, one entire section of their menu is also devoted to fajitas. Throughout Paris, a great number of Latin, tapas and Tex-Mex concepts can be seen doing brisk business. Mexican cuisine clearly has found its way to France.

n Tapas and Tex-Mex. The Latina Café (Paris) sits front and center in the very heart of Paris. Situated at 114 Avenue des Champs Elysees, there is perhaps no better restaurant location in the City of Lights. Primarily a tapas/Latino restaurant, one entire section of their menu is also devoted to fajitas. Throughout Paris, a great number of Latin, tapas and Tex-Mex concepts can be seen doing brisk business. Mexican cuisine clearly has found its way to France.

  • Japanese/Asian. The menu of the international French chain, Hotel Sofitel (Accor, Paris)--whether in Paris or Chicago--clearly shows that Japan has made its mark on French cuisine. Patrick Filatre, general manager of the Chicago property, says, “The style, beauty and attention to detail seen in Japanese cuisine appeals to French diners. The insistence on absolutely fresh ingredients ensures the highest possible quality. Japanese cooking techniques can be seen in restaurants the world over.” The flavors and ingredients of Asia, in general, are becoming standard everywhere.

  • Fast food, American style. The secret shame of most French gourmands is this: citizens of France love American-style fast food. Though they passionately argue against this fact, the biggest growth area for McDonald's (Oak Brook, Ill.) in Europe has been France. Everywhere, Parisians can be seen lining up for a Big Mac and Filet-O-Fish.

    At least one European competitor also has been quick to note that value, cleanliness, speed and consistency truly do have universal appeal. Quick (Berchem, Belgium), a hamburger restaurant that began in Brussels, Belgium, quickly found success and now has more than 100 restaurants in that country. However, this American-style fast food concept has found even greater success in France, where there are over 300 outlets.

    Hot dogs, pizza, fried chicken and french fries also can be found in every part of Paris. When European corporations begin “knocking off” successful American restaurant concepts, those trends are in France and the E.U. to stay.

    Certified Organic

    Perhaps the “hottest” trend seen today in Paris is the move toward organic foods and sustainable agriculture. Mad Cow Disease, cancer scares and a never-ending line of international news stories detailing the dangers of food have driven the movement toward a more natural way of eating. Ask Parisians for their opinion on the subject, and they will offer a lively debate. Given a choice, every Frenchman will take the product bearing the Certifie Agriculture Biologique.

    At many locations throughout Paris, Moisan (a natural, artisan bakery chain based in Paris) sells le pain au naturel--only organic breads and pastries. The prices at these shops are much higher than those at the hundreds of corner bakers found throughout Paris. Yet customers queue outside these shops for the chance to buy fresh-baked “certified organic” breads.

    In supermarkets and small shops all over France, the certified organic label is seen on foods of every type. Restaurants are beginning to designate such products on their menus. This is not a short-lived fad; some of these products have been on shelves for decades.

    Future Culinary Trends

    Chaine des Rotisseurs (Paris) is the world's oldest and, perhaps, most prestigious gourmet society. Created in 1248 by order of the king of France, it was originally a royal guild of chefs skilled enough to cook for the royal family. Membership in the Chaine (pronounced “shen”) is by invitation only. After a rigorous peer review, a small number of elite chefs and gourmets are inducted into this Paris-based group every year. Being in the food business in continuous operation for nearly 700 years, gives an organization a unique outlook regarding food fads and trends.

    Bruno Descamps, a member of the society, owns and operates Quintesence--Epicerie Fine (Paris), one of the city's most upscale and trendy gourmet food shops. Located a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, Descamps has his finger on the pulse of European culinary trends. He says, “The Tex-Mex trend is coming to an end. Tapas are dead. The trend now is toward more-sophisticated, gourmet Latino cuisine. Classic Spanish cuisine is beginning to be the trend, in that area.”

    “The best restaurants in Paris are going away from melded, complex flavors and sauces,” Descamps believes. “We are seeing a new style of cooking and presentation being developed. Each dish is being built with individual distinct layers of flavors and texture. Brighter, individual colors are being seen. Sauces, when used, are being kept separate, and the flavors and colors are clear and identifiable from the other items on the plate. Today, people want to know what they are eating. They want to be able to tell what they are putting into their mouths. They are using fresh, organic ingredients, and everyone wants you to know it.”

    Global Cuisine

    Paris always has been an international crossroads, and France continually shines as a leader in new culinary techniques and food trends. Today, international trade, satellite communications and Internet usage are impacting European culinary trends. Food associations like the American Culinary Federation (St. Augustine, Fla.), the Research Chefs Association (Atlanta) and the Institute of Food Technologists (Chicago) share information instantly with members worldwide. France is still on the cutting edge of culinary art and food science, where there is a developing trend toward a “global cuisine” made up of the best flavors, ingredients and techniques available. Paris will forever retain its unique culinary identity yet, clearly, the trends now forming there will make their way to the rest of Europe; many of these same trends may find their way to the rest of the world.

    A Tip on Cream Flavors

    Years ago at one of France's premier culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu (Paris), a student in class offended the instructor. He had requested olive oil as a substitute for cream and butter in a cream sauce, remembers research chef Paul Pszybylski, also a student at the time.

    Decadent sauces, like egg-thickened Béarnaise or hollandaise, constitute the norm for much of French cooking. “They are found anywhere from sauces to farces, pie fillings to soufflés and also in savory and sweet mousses,” says Pszybylski.

    However, when low-fat diets took the world by storm, it left cream sauces back in France. “I think the direction that cooking is going focuses on specialized ingredients that keep it simple and light.

    “I think [cream sauces] are suffering, because people believe they are not healthy alternatives,” opines Pszybylski. Nevertheless, diners look forward to heavy cream sauces like butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. There really is no substitute for these sauces in desserts, but cream flavors for savory applications do exist, he says. It is difficult to replace cream with half-and-half or milk in custard, but chefs can use more stocks and vinaigrettes to achieve the cream flavors desired in savory dishes.

    Using stocks or reductions of basic oil with herbs, onions or shallots can sacrifice the mouthfeel and creaminess of cream but, with support from a flavor house, the missing richness can be restored.

    “It's definitely a great way to get rid of cream all together,” says Pszybylski. As the battle between haute and nouvelle French cuisine ensues, food processors are finding that many cream sauces are not shelf-stable, cannot be reheated and must be prepared immediately prior to consumption to reduce the chance of syneresis. Some cream recipes are complicated and can result in coagulation if heated incorrectly.