The word “French cuisine” brings many tastes in the mouth; usually a mix of nicely presented food with loads of butter and cheese and a glass of red wine at the side. French cuisine has evolved greatly over the years, but there’s no single type of cuisine; there are many cuisines based on different regions and the availability of ingredients. But, the style of cooking and the technique unifies regional cuisines to form the popular French cuisine.
French cooking has seen many influences including Roman and Italian.
Major characteristics of the cuisine at this time were elaborately laid-out banquets with elegant presentation and bright colors; multiple courses served all at once; heavy flavors and thick sauces; meals ending with a dessert. The commonly used ingredients were mustard, honey, vinegar, aged cheese, spiced wine, salted beef, smoked pork, bacon and sausages, brined and dried ham, food preservation using salt or honey, whale, dolphin, porpoise, and poultry. Major herbs included tansy, rue, pennyroyal, and hyssop, which are not used anymore in current form of cooking. Spices like pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and mace were used a lot. The major chef of the time was Guillaume Tirel, popularly known as Taillevent.
Haute cuisine meaning “high cuisine” started in the 17th century by a famous chef named La Varenne who later wrote a book of haute cuisine standards for desserts and pastries. The chef changed the style of cooking significantly. In the middle ages the dishes were rich and elaborate, while the new style concentrated on creating lighter dishes that were relatively easy to prepare.
Marie-Antoine Carême, a major chef, was born in the late 18th century. He played a significant role in refining the French cuisine. He created mother sauces that formed the basis of his cooking style. These included espagnole, velouté, and béchamel sauces. Souffles were also first made during this time.
The major chef of the late 19th century was Georges Auguste Escoffier who is known for modernizing the haute cuisine and organizing what later became the national cuisine of France. Many hotels were opened in France due to his influence. He created the popularly known brigade system which divided a professional kitchen in five stations including: garde manger that prepared cold dishes; the entremettier prepared soups, vegetables and desserts; the rôtisseur prepared roasts, grilled and fried dishes; the saucier prepared sauces; and the pâtissier prepared all pastry items. Many cooks worked on the same dish as per this system and reduced the preparation time. Another renowned chef, Le Guide Culinaire destressed the use of heavy sauces and created lighter fumets. This style created sauces that added to the flavor of the dish, not hide flavors which the sauces of the past did. Common ingredients replaced the expensive ingredients.
Chefs like Paul Bocuse, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Michel Guérard, Roger Vergé and Raymond Oliver rebelled against the “orthodoxy” of Escoffier’s cuisine in the 20th century.