QUICK ONE: (A Comically Small Portion of) Food for Thought

Auguste Escoffier in pop art colours.

In 1973 the food critic Henri Gault published ‘The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine’, crystallising the new movement then sweeping French gastronomy:

  1. Thou shall not overcook
  2. Thou shall use fresh, quality products
  3. Thou shall lighten thy menu
  4. Thou shall not be systematically modernistic
  5. Thou shall seek out what the new techniques can bring you
  6. Thou shall eliminate brown and white sauces
  7. Thou shall not ignore dietetics
  8. Thou shall not cheat on thy presentation
  9. Thou shall be inventive
  10. Thou shall not be prejudiced

(This is the translation given by Paul Freedman in Ten Restaurants That Changed America, 2016. There are many subtly different versions around.)

From this side of the 1980s, Nouvelle Cuisine is a bit of a joke — huge plates, tiny amounts of silly food, very expensive. What yuppies ate. But that list made us think about changes in beer that were taking place in the same period with the rise of micro-brewing and ‘alterno beer’.

Of course some of those commandment don’t directly map (overcooking, sauces) but how about if we rewrite them a bit?

  1. Thou shall not stew good hops.
  2. Thou shall use fresh, quality products.
  3. Thou shall lighten thy beer.
  4. Thou shall not be industrial.
  5. But thou shall seek out what the new techniques can bring you.
  6. Thou shall eliminate brown beer (UK) and yellow beer (US).
  7. Thou shall be transparent about the strength and ingredients of your beer.
  8. Thou shall not prize marketing over quality.
  9. Thou shall be inventive.
  10. Thou shall not be prejudiced.

Of course there are a million exceptions to each of those ‘rules’, as there were in Nouvelle Cuisine as actually practised, but that doesn’t feel to us like a bad summary of where — in the very most general sense — people’s heads were between about 1963 and, say, 2015. (We say 2015 because, in very recent years, something seems to be changing. But that’s just a gut feeling which we’re still probing.)

This feels like a connection Michael Jackson, Charlie Papazian, Garrett Oliver or even Sean Franklin must have made at some point but a quick Google (time is short this morning) doesn’t turn anything up. Pointers welcome in comments below.

To finish, here’s another quote from Freedman:

Nouvelle Cuisine of the 1970s… had two missions that have since gone separate ways: to exalt primary ingredients simply prepared, and to advocate variety resulting from breaking with tradition — new combinations such as Asian fusion.

That sounds a bit like the break between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’, doesn’t it?

13 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: (A Comically Small Portion of) Food for Thought”

  1. Hmm, I would have said much “nouvelle cuisine” *was* systematically modernistic.

    And maybe its liking for small portions is comparable to craft beer’s rejection of the pint and embrace of 330ml bottles and cans 😉

    1. If crafte biere was analogous to nouvelle cuisine people would be drinking it in even smaller measures, like thirds of a pint.

      Oh.

      1. If it’s just one third, it’s nouvelle cuisine.

        If it’s three thirds, on a wooden board, then it’s tapas.

  2. That’s BrewDog screwed on ‘Thou shall not prize marketing over quality’ then.

  3. Surely the culinary equivalent of real ale would be the insistence that any food not served directly from the saucepan with the bay leaves still left in, was inedible chemical muck?

    High quality ingredients, deliberately toned-down marketing, sympathetic rediscovery of the past, and innovation and experimentation are all features is craft beer, not real ale.

  4. “Thou shall” annoys me more than almost anything else I’ve read this morning. Use “thou” by all means, but if you’re thou-ing it has to be “shalt”.

    Of your list, I’d say that 6 and 9 don’t map on to “real ale” as we’ve known it – no drive to experiment for its own sake or to eliminate brown bitter – or 8 to the “craft” scene; and 3 and 10 don’t really apply to either of them. That still leaves 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 applying pretty well to both.

  5. I think you’ve inverted #4 as I would take modernistic to be following modernist trends, fadism of the 1980s, rather than industrialization, which could be the modernism of 1880-1914. And much of craft has industrialized in any event. Steel and blinky computer lights are industrial. As it has embraced much marketing (#8) and it is packed with prejudice (#10) such with in trade it’s against against ownership models while still far too often embracing general prejudices like sexism. #3 is still a future promise over here though, granted, the hay day of DIPA seems to have passed.

    1. The debate over pasteurising/filtering/force-carbonation/computerisation (seen as industrial practices) was *very* current in the UK in the 1960s-70s. Blimey — it still is!

      1. What debate? With respect, do we know of any breweries which are not using electronics-laced computerized mashing equipment? No motorized pumps? No chemical sterilizers? Lab sourced yeasts? My point is that craft and I expect much of real ale has heartily embraced the newest tech systems prior to packaging and many / most even in packaging. If the warning were to be not industrial in terms of systems who hasn’t broken that rule in whole or in large part? I visited a tiny two person brewery that might qualify as non-industrial more than most, Half Hour on Earth in rural Ontario, a few weeks ago with barrelled secondary fermentation but then it’s canned.

  6. Another thing that makes me think of nouvelle cuisine – tiny portions on massive square white plates – is the small central position of isolated text in the centre of white pages from the glossier up-market beer magazines. It’s supposed to focus on the quality of the words (I assume) but equally exposes the waste around it. If there’s empty space, stick in some Beryl Cook pub paintings as a background.

  7. I think it’s a mistake to read “Thou shalt not prize marketing over quality” as saying that craft brewers don’t put an enormous amount of effort into marketing; they do, often in ways as innovative as the best of their beers. The difference between them and the big brewers is that typically they are marketing that quality product, whereas the big boys are using marketing to sell something that really has no rights to sell on its intrinsic merits. So yes, BrewDog have placed enormous effort in marketing, but in all fairness their products do stand up to it.
    Eliminating brown beer – nothing to do with craft as such, it’s part of the fight against lager. Golden ales were the product of small brewers, for sure, but across the board; I still believe one of the first was from a Black Country family brewer that fell to a takeover soon after. On the other hand, Sean Franklin’s eponymous first beer was very much a bitter, and very brown.
    And industrial – if you mean industrial scale, perhaps. Many craft breweries are very industrial in the best senses possible, and quite a contrast from some of the old family brewers and also the micros that might not claim craft status. And who can think of a more industrial process than kegging?

  8. Lordy lordy I am such a silly old sausage – I see the article is dated May 11th and not this week.
    That’s what drink does to you.

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