|Visiting Michelin-starred French chef Akrame Benallal with his counterparts from |
the 14 Delhi-NCR restaurants participating in the worldwide Gout France dinner
being served by 2,000 chefs across 150 countries in five continents.
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. Tonight, 2.000 chefs across 150 nations in five continents will serve a French dinner at their restaurants in a one-of-its-kind celebration of a country that is synonymous with gastronomy and haute cuisine.
The Ambassador of France in India, Alexandre
Ziegler (right), welcomes Michelin-starred chef
Akrame Benallal (Restaurant Akrame, Paris),
who's in New Delhi to curate the Gout France
dinner at the Embassy of France tonight.
One keeps hearing that French cuisine doesn't have much of a following on our side of the world, yet India is No. 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 multi-starred chef Alain Ducasse since 2015. As many as 66 restaurants, including 14 in Delhi-NCR, are participating in Gout France this year, only after getting the seal of approval from an international committee of chefs. "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 will be a delightful interlude and an opportunity to celebrate French cuisine worldwide."
French gastronomy, incidentally, is on the UNESCO list of the intangible heritage of the world and Gout France draws its inspiration from 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.
In Delhi-NCR, too, each of the participating restaurants, which include Le Bistro Du Parc, Qla, Olive Bar & Kitchen, Pluck at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity and Nostalgia at The Imperial, will serve a French menu tonight. And one of the lucky diners will be eligible for a trip for two to France being sponsored by the French tourism development agency, Atout France (for contest detail, go to Zomato).
The high point of the event, which sees 150 French embassies around the world pitching in, is a dinner being curated by 35-year-old Akrame Benallal, chef-owner of the Michelin two-starred Restaurant Akrame in Paris, who spent yesterday (March 20) afternoon with the chefs from the participating restaurants. A protege of Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria, whom he calls "the Rolling Stones of the kitchen", Chef Akrame, who likens his menus to fashion collections, opened his restaurant in 2011, got his first Michelin star within six months (a rare occurrence!). Today, he owns a fine-dining restaurant each in Paris and Hong Kong (which also has a Michelin star), two bistros in Paris, and a wine and cheese bar, also in Paris.
The Ambassador of France in India, Alexandre 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 who moved to Paris a century ago, clarified that French cuisine is not only haute cuisine. "People tend to believe that French cuisine is very expensive and quite complicated, but gastronomy can also be a daily life experience," Ziegler said. "My best culinary experiences have been in my grandmother's home, village cafes and bistros. You can travel across France only to discover its gastronomy."
Ziegler reminded me that France is the world's No. 1 tourist destination -- 86 million people visited the country in 2016 -- and the number of Indian visitors went up to 500,000 last year, representing a growth of 45 per cent over the last two years. More and more Indian visitors to France are showing a "growing interest" in "new experiences" -- and these include gastronomy and wine tourism.
Tourism, Ziegler said, is an essential component of people-to-people exchanges that bring nations closer to each other. "Partnerships between nations are not made only by diplomats signing MoUs," the ambassador added and shared three important bits of statistics:
- More than 3.5 lakh Indian nationals are employed by French companies operating in India.
- There's been a 20 per cent increase in the number of Indian students going to France for higher studies.
- Around 250,000 French tourists visited India last year and whereas in the earlier years, 80 per cent of them would limit their itinerary to Rajasthan, today, they are exploring destinations in South India, especially Hampi, and old cities such as Varanasi.
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.