On Thursday, March 19, more than 1,300 restaurants in 150 countries will offer special dinner menus designed to celebrate French gastronomy in all its forms.
Participating chefs include some of the top names in French cuisine — among them Paul Bocuse, Guy Savoy, Joël Robuchon, Raymond Blanc, and Marc Haeberlin — along with scores of other French and non-French chefs working in France and abroad.
Known as Goût de France, the initiative was spearheaded by superstar chef Alain Ducasse and Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. The duo was inspired by legendary culinarian Auguste Escoffier, who launched the “Dîners d’Épicure” in 1912. Escoffier’s idea was to promote French cuisine by serving the same menu on the same day in cities all over the globe.
Ducasse says that Goût de France will "honor the merits of French food, its capacity for innovation, and its values: sharing, enjoying, and respecting the principles of high-quality, environmentally responsible cuisine." (The event is also being called Good France, as opposed to the literal translation of its name, Taste of France).
In everything from rustic bistros to gilded Michelin-starred dining rooms, those lucky enough to get a table will enjoy a set-price French-style menu featuring a traditional French apéritif, a cold starter, a hot starter, fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, French cheese, a chocolate dessert, and French wines and digestifs.
The chefs are free to highlight their own culinary traditions and culture, but have been directed to base the meal upon fresh, seasonal, and local products, with an eye to lower levels of fat, sugar, salt, and protein.
Menu prices are at the chefs’ discretion, and all participants have been encouraged to donate 5 percent of their proceeds to a local NGO promoting health and/or environmental protection.
French embassies abroad will also be involved, staging their own Goût de France dinners with ambassadors present. A grand dinner will be held at the Château de Versailles for foreign ambassadors posted in Paris along with other dignitaries.
After an open call for applications, Ducasse and his 40-chef committee chose the finalists based on the “coherence and quality of their proposed menus.” Participating U.S. restaurants are listed here. Restaurants in France are here. To find a restaurant in another country, click here.
At his three Bouchon Bistros (in Las Vegas, Yountville, and Beverly Hills), Thomas Keller’s Goût de France menu starts with foie gras cromesquis (foie gras that’s been cured, poached, breaded, and fried, like a fritter), then moves on to saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage in brioche, with marinated vegetables, Dijon mustard, and garden mâche) and selle d’agneau rotie et farcie (herb-stuffed Elysian Fields lamb saddle with spring beans and English peas with mint-scented lamb jus). The cheese will be Camembert Le Châtelain (with rhubarb compote and black pepper pistachio pain de campagne), and the dessert, an opera cake (almond sponge with coffee and chocolate butter cream). The menu is priced at $65, with wine pairings offered for an extra $45. Seats are still available at all three locations.
“Even though this is a one-day event, for Bouchon it’s all about paying homage to the core values we embody as a French bistro every day,” Keller told The Daily Meal. "For Americans, Goût de France is really about discovering an appreciation for French culture through cuisine that’s responsibly prepared with high-quality ingredients and execution. We’re proud to represent the United States in this worldwide celebration.”
French chefs have come under fire in recent years for many reasons, including serving frozen rather than freshly made food, high menu prices, failure to keep up with global culinary trends, failure to innovate, and the sin of “aesthetic snobbery” — meaning hiring only the prettiest people and seating guests according to attractiveness.
Ducasse and his culinary comrades have worked tirelessly to counter these attacks through a wide range of initiatives, of which Goût de France is the latest. ''In the space of around two months, we received and approved applications from over 1,300 restaurants throughout the world,'' he says. ''This is certainly food for thought for all those who love to talk about the decline of French cuisine.” (And what will Ducasse serve on this special night? His restaurants and their Goût de France menus and prices are here.)
“France is well known as the country of art de vivre [the art of living],” says Parisian chef Guy Savoy, “and cooking, of course, belongs to that art de vivre. As cooks, our craft is to make our guests happy… and we want to share it, show it, promote it." He adds, “French cuisine is built on ancestral know-how, and is wide open to the future.” Savoy’s menu is here, but the dinner (at about $400 per person) is fully booked.
At the restaurant Pavillon in the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Michelin-starred chef Laurent Eperon calls Goût de France an exceptional way to preserve the ideals and pleasures of French gastronomy. “In my humble opinion as a Frenchman, French is the best cuisine of all!” he proclaims. “I’d love to see Goût de France happen annually. The world could always use more French cuisine!” Eperon’s $160 menu for the occasion is here.
“When I look at all the chefs participating,” Ducasse says, “I’m struck by their great diversity... all generations and styles of restaurant are represented. The influence of French cuisine can be seen in this human chain of men and women, whose professional roots extend far back into great French culinary traditions. It’s a brotherhood of professionals who share and uphold the same values worldwide." But, he adds, “The main point of this event is generosity and sharing, and a love for what’s beautiful and tastes good.”
Julie Mautner is a writer, blogger, and travel planner based in St. Remy de Provence, France.