For a long time, the French classics – from the elaborate confit de canard (duck confit) to the humble crêpe – were relentlessly mimicked by chefs the world over. Gallic techniques, sauces and other preparations were the cornerstones of a respectable culinary education and a fantastic dinner out. But recently, things have changed.
Peek into the kitchens of Paris’ most coveted restaurants and you’ll observe the greatest testament to the city’s food philosophy today: diversity. On all levels of the kitchen hierarchy are chefs hailing not only from around the world, but also from vastly different culinary traditions. Indeed, what defines Paris’ current culinary style is a bricolage of flavours, an emphasis on inventive techniques and a creative voice that is wholly unique to each chef.
It took a couple of decades for this to happen. Tastes evolved in the early ’90s through the mid-2000s, as the buttoned-up dining experiences that once earned Paris its premier gastronomic reputation were no longer resonating. Much of the food that was being churned out was either cheap and mediocre, or expensive and elitist. By then, cities like Tokyo, Copenhagen, London and San Francisco had caught up and flexed their creativity, earning the accolades once reserved for Paris. Something had to be done.
Change soon came in the form of bistronomy. First observed in Paris’ restaurants, this culinary movement blends gastronomic techniques with affordable ingredients, unfettered dining rooms and laid-back service. The pressed tablecloths and fine china that once went hand-in-hand with dining were supplanted by rough-hewn wood tables, simple ceramic plates and servers donning linen aprons and Stan Smiths.
With the doors to change wide open and the dining population more curious, Parisians increasingly patronised the city’s global food offerings – think Middle Eastern doner kebabs, Ethiopian injera (flatbread) spreads and the piquant offerings of Vietnamese diners – of its diverse immigrant population. Other untapped dining genres also began to emerge, from street-food stalls and fast-casual canteens to eateries helmed by chefs with roots in other cultures.
While some of these chefs stay true to the spirit of traditional French cuisine, many others are putting a different spin on established recipes, incorporating aspects of their own culinary heritage or drawing from their experiences cooking in kitchens all over the world.
If there’s a traveller’s obligation to do anything in Paris today, it’s to taste the panoply of flavours that characterises the local cuisine – now more borderless and dynamic than ever.