France Puppet Festival
I’d been in France a few times before we shot there our shows (three in total) but I only visited Paris and the south. I’ve always enjoyed the stinky French cheeses, to a degree of obsession. Onion soup (with cheese) and their pastry were other favorites but not until we got access to visit some of the kitchens of Michelin restaurants that I truly appreciated French cuisine.
The Attitude: the chef’s approach to the serving dish is like artists with their canvas. They would put the food gently on the plate, look at it, turn it around a bit, and then start to arrange other food as décor on top or on its side. Finishing touches of an herb, nut or sauce would be added as with a paintbrush. A final glance for approval and voila! My background at the Kibbutz included work in the kitchen, making soup or mashed potatoes for approximately 600 people at the time. The dining room served the Kibbutz’ general population and everything would have had to be cooked in masses. Once, I had to fry countless liver steaks that were previously marinated in milk and that was considered a gourmet day at the Kibbutz. The stink from our working clothes is still fresh in my memory. Oil and strong detergent combined.
My admiration to the detail, the individuality, of the French chefs was great and a bit intimidating. The richness of products, the attention to the quality and the self-pride they took in their craft is what distinguished them from anything I’ve seen before in the kitchen. Although for me, my grandmothers were both the best cooks in the world, with one specialty being the Argentinean Empanada, and the other, what I called Yiddish dishes (brought by the Jewish emigrants to South American from Eastern Europe), this new world of French cooking introduced me to another height. The generous use of cream and butter was almost extravagant, especially because my past was smeared with margarine. The meat was perfectly proportioned, even if it was braised brain. The vegetables, like delicate cabbages I have never seen before, were arranged in perfect form. Then comes the art of eating. Observing beautifully clothed people at the restaurant can be embarrassing because you don’t want them to catch you staring. Even the simple use of fork and knife looked beautiful to me: cutting tiny peaces, savoring each bite by actually chewing the food. Resting the cutlery between the bites to converse with one another. How civil!
My grandfather used to eat so fast that he would yell to my grandmother “what’s for dessert” when we were still working on the first bites of our schnitzel.
We have eaten in many countries (and got a few viruses along the way) and each place has its highlights:
Glorious salad bars in Brazil
Dim sum in Hong Kong
Seafood in Japan
Fermented salads in Korea
Kebabs in Turkey
Juicy steaks from grass eating cows in Argentina
The spices of India,
and the list go on. But… nothing beats French cuisine.