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.


      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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