On our first visit to France and we found ourselves in Hauterives on a pilgrimage to see the Palais Ideal the work of a retired postman who spent most of his life building a do it yourself concrete folly--Think Ankor Wat meets the Sagrada Famiglia. After a mind blowing morning wandering around this extraordinary site we decided to walk to the next village in search of lunch. Its the classic French dream a small bistro on the edge of the town. Fresh mirabelle tart on the scrubbed pine presentation table, flowers, thunderstorm then sunshine and a new menu to explore. We order quenelles de brochet sauce Nantua, a local Marsanne then the tart.... walk to the hotel-- France at its best. The next day we are at yet another bistro and the temptation to try the local speciality again is too great to resist. By some miracle the dish is exactly the same as the previous day—you’ve got it by now. The first wave of the sous vide revolution is at its peak in France. In the seventies sous vide cooking hit France by storm. "Georges Pralus in the mid-1970s working with the Restaurant Troisgros (of Pierre and Michel Troigros) in Roanne, France who were looking for a new way to to cook foie gras, which shed 30 to 50 percent of its original weight in cooking. Pralus found that when cooking foie gras using Sous Vide techniques its original appearance did not lose excess amounts of fat and had better texture."
"Bruno Goussault was working along the same lines in the 1970's, but instead at an industrial level. In 1974, Goussault worked on a study that was presented on the sous vide cooking of beef shoulder at an international frozen-foods conference in Strasbourg, France. It was found that cooking the beef sous vide extended its shelf life to 60 days."
The supermarkets were full of famous chefs’ branded signature dishes but the local palate and media dismissed it as a fad a bit too close to mass produced fast food. It was thought [ in a gastronomic sense] that while it works well for foie gras for those that have not tasted it freshly cooked, it was just a little too industrial for take home food and the restaurants realised that their "brand" was being diminished by mass marketing in a country that still largely cooked at home and went out or to the local traiteur for fancy food. A few months later I am trying to survive in London buried in a basement room of a claustrophobic horror show hotel in Baker Street. The only job I can score is a twee bistro in Islington that has a parent restaurant across the road. The job involved following an intricate set of recipes [loosely used] that gives instructions like
Bag 1 to MW 2 for 15 secs on 4
Bag 2 into WB for 2 mins
Garnish: warm squeezebowl 1 to rim
Salad mix 1 centre
Bag 2 to top
Bag 1 over.
The owner chef of the flagship shop across the road cooked and bagged the whole restaurant menu at the big kitchen with one sous chef and my job was to run the bank of microwaves and pots of water to the simple instructions provided. His food was quite good, solid European cooking, good stocks fresh well picked greenery and good dressings. It took 2 days to get a hold of the system and while completely mind numbing the job demonstrated a minimalist modernity that had a certain perverse attraction if you looked at it from a strictly logistical perspective. We did twice as many covers as his excellent real charcoal grill across the road I came 20 minutes before first orders and left 15 minutes after the last hot dish. The waiters did the pud in a similar way. Luckily a good job in Soho rescued me from who knows what?
You can argue for low temperature setting of proteins, minimal cell disturbance along with post preparation Mallardisation or any other pseudo industrial modernity that takes your fancy but I love to play with fire and juggle a hot pan with a slow steamer, checking a wood oven while reducing a couple of stocks to splash on some freshly roasted meat to serve at the same time as a slow braised stew and a couple of serves of grilled fish. Yes I know sous vide may streamline our service, minimize wastage but I still remember how my mothers freshly cooked foie gras tasted and stumble along to the Stones classic.....