The Rustic French Food Story

13 07 2009

My latest copy of Food and Wine magazine arrived this week, bearing a little gift.

As I was leafing through, reading a little here and a little there, I came upon one of those photo spreads, of a gorgeous meal in a breathtaking old French farmhouse. Like Bon Appetit, Gourmet, or Saveur, any upscale food mag has these sorts of stories. Attractive people, perhaps a celebrity, maybe an already famous or up-and coming chef, or even some carefully chosen “civilians,” striving to make a meal that the reader has been shown (through market research) to aspire to having. The setting is key, aerial shots of lush gardens, ocean views, long rustic tables packed with beautiful people having a good time.

Entertaining Porn.

It’s all in good fun, especially when you are relating to someone who seems kind of like you, except that they and their closest friends have been chosen for the honor of being featured in the magazine. I always think that they must have carefully invited only the pretty people they know, keeping the whole event a deep secret from their gnarly, fat friends, at least until the photos are done. Or hired some models.

Enviable outdoor pizza ovens are built, hogs are spit roasted for an adoring crowd, tables groan under platters of casually gorgeous food. And with the recipes at the end, you can do it, too!

So, having read so many of these rather stagey, fantasy pieces, I was skimming along, not really paying attention to the article. Oooh, nice courtyard. The French chef is H-O-T, his wife and daughter are photogenic as all get-out. He is friends with locavore hero Dan Barber and the big name French chefs. Yes, predictable, familiar, leading to the payoff we all know is coming, right? The perfect party, the flowing wine, the recipes.

And suddenly, the hot Frenchman starts talking about his latest culinary passion. Foie Gras? Spleen Sausages with Blood Gravy?

Mais Non, ma Cherie.

He is way into Vegan Food.

Rub your eyes and read that again. The hot chef is totally down with eggless, dairyless, meatless cuisine and is serving it at the party, gorgeously strewn on the platters, mouthwateringly photographed. It seems that the produce at his perfect, sustainable farm is so good, and his commitment to flavor and purity has taken him to a place that I just didn’t see coming.

Clever, clever devils those F and W writers. They actually figured out that if you give the chef and the food the same respect, the same Entertaining Porn flourishes, the readers would go along for the ride. Just imagine, a few years ago, the same story would have been treated more as some kind of spa thing, perhaps apologizing a bit about how spartan the menu was, there in wacky France. The riche must be cleansing from months of decadence by eating vegetables for a week, how stylish.

To be fair, the Chef’s name is Alain Coumont, he is fabulously successful as the founder and owner of a chain of restaurants called Le Pain Quotidien, and he has earned every moment of his success. That he sees vegan food as the future shows that he is forward thinking and his efforts to introduce it quietly into his restaurants show he is a savvy marketer and businessman. All of us who celebrate vegan food should thank him for helping raise the consciousness and get plant-based food some respect in a serious food magazine.

It’s just that it always takes a guy like that to get vegan taken seriously.

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