The 20th Century: Nouvelle Cuisine

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Back in the 18th century, François Marin and his colleagues described their bouillon-based cooking as nouvelle cuisine, or the “new cooking.” In the hands of Carême and Escoffier, that nouvelle cuisine was augmented with a few new sauces and became classic French cooking, the standard throughout the western world for fine dining. In time, the classic system became increasingly rigid and predictable, with most chefs essentially preparing the same standard dishes from the same precooked sauce bases. The 20th century brought a new nouvelle cuisine, along with the New Novel and the New Wave in cinema. In the 1960s a number of well established French chefs, including Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard, the Troisgros family, and Alain Chapel, led the way in rethinking the French tradition. They asserted the chef’s creative role and the virtues of simplicity, economy, and freshness. Foods were no longer to be distilled into their essences, but were to be presented intact, as themselves.