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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 15:10 GMT
Delia teaches France to suck eggs
Television chef Delia Smith
Delia can help French cooks regain lost skills
By Hugh Schofield in Paris

The decision to publish Delia Smith in France might be seen in this country as a mark of the grossest effrontery, or at best an irrelevance.

Her How to Cook series tells readers the simplest things, such as how to cook eggs - and it is being sold in the country that supposedly invented gastronomy.

French women are just supposed to have it - and I didn't. No one ever taught me, and Delia was perfect

Sabine Samuel, housewife
Doesn't France boast the world's top chefs? Aren't the ingredients here to die for, and doesn't every town boast a street market that makes the Portobello Road look like a line of bin-ends.

Well, yes. But, more to the point, no.

Because, as anyone who is honest will admit, behind the guffaws about the rosbifs and their diet of baked beans and Marmite lies a deep insecurity.

Brits in the lead

And the shocking fact is that when it comes to ordinary families, and the tradition of cooking in the home - precisely the market of course that Delia is aiming at - the British are now in the lead.

Delia Smith book in French
Easy cooking: Delia's debut in French
"I have to admit it. I learned to cook from Delia," said Sabine Samuel, 31, a Paris-based mother who spent many years in London.

"Because the truth is I didn't know anything. French women are just supposed to have it - and I didn't. No one ever taught me, and Delia was perfect. Simple and non-fussy."

Sabine is typical of a generation of women - the first generation of women in France - who never learned the traditional arts of the kitchen from their mothers or grandmothers.

Either their mothers were too busy with jobs of their own, or the changing social climate made the pursuit of the merely domestic seem old-fashioned and humiliating.

Crisis in the kitchen

So dining at other people's houses in Paris can be an extremely trying experience. If the hosts have any sense they buy in from one of the innumerable "traiteurs" who supply top-class dinners to take away.

If the French are no longer the guardians of their own temple... they need to be taught the rituals again by outsiders

Chef Alain Dutournier
If not, then expect tinned soup and the "ping" of the microwave in the background.

Many chefs readily admit there is a real crisis.

"I can only see the translation of Mrs Smith as a positive development," said Alain Dutournier of the two-Michelin-starred Le Carre des Feuillants in central Paris.

"If the French are no longer the guardians of their own temple - and they are not - then they need to be taught the rituals again by outsiders."

But by the British of all people! Won't this cause a certain catching of the throat?

Tradition and innovation

"Not at all," says Dutournier.

"The English have a tremendous tradition. There is nothing I like better than Yorkshire pudding, or fried fish with a - how you say? - puree of green peas. And the way English cooking has opened up to new influences from India and the Far East is wonderful.

"What is disgusting is seeing the way some people eat on the street. The smell of old grease and all that kind of thing," he says.

"But I am afraid today it is exactly the same in France."

See also:

25 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Delia lays into chefs
21 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Delia concentrates on Canaries
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