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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Row over 'stagnant' French cuisine
Restaurant in France
A number of US chefs say they do not look to France for new ideas
A row is simmering in the kitchens of Europe after an American newspaper suggested that French cuisine had fallen behind the times.

The New York Times said in an article last month that Spain had overtaken France as the world's leading culinary nation.

A food critic for the newspaper, Arthur Lubow, wrote that French nouvelle cuisine, which revolutionised the culinary world in the 1970s, had "congealed into complacency".

Frozen whisky sour
Foam mojito
Powdered popcorn reconstituted as kernels
Tempura of rose petals
Chicken croquette containing liquid consomme
"Kellogg's" paella with seafood and puffed Rice Krispies
Gelatin blocks of pure vegetable essence
Vanilla-scented whipped potatoes
But leading Paris chef Pierre Gagnaire has responded with a public statement saying that recent developments have shown an "unparalleled vigour" in French cooking.

Mr Gagnaire said that while French cuisine was modern and dynamic it had kept to its traditions and did not seek to be sensational.

Mr Lubow's article appears not to have been prompted by US anger at France's opposition to the Iraq war, which led many Americans to boycott French food and wine.

Catalan 'mecca'

He quotes another French chef, Marc Veyrat, as saying that the most creative cooks in Europe were now Spanish rather than French.

I noticed everywhere this invidious comparison, between smug, stagnant France and innovative, daring Spain
Arthur Lubow
New York Times
A number of US chefs concurred, saying that they always looked to Spain rather than France for new ideas.

Catalonia and the Basque Country were cited as the two main powerhouses in the recent rise of Spanish cuisine.

The author cited in particular the restaurant of El Bulli outside Barcelona, which he described as "a gastronome's once-before-you-die mecca".

The restaurant's chef, Ferran Adria, leads a movement combining traditional cuisine with new techniques, he said.

"Spain rising, France resting," Mr Lubow wrote. "The more attention I paid, the more I noticed everywhere this invidious comparison, between smug, stagnant France and innovative, daring Spain."

However, Mr Gagnaire dismissed the article as hot air.

"It is not enough to just go repeating something for it to become true," he said.

"There have been considerable developments in recent years in so many directions, which reveal an unparalleled vigour in French cooking."

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