Minister slams Elysée’s cooking as ‘disgusting’

Not all Parisian restaurants live up to their billing, including the presidential palace it seems. A French minister described the grub served up by the Elysée chefs for a state banquet for the Chinese leader this week as “disgusting”.

Minister slams Elysée's cooking as 'disgusting'
Chefs gather at the Elysée Palace to celebrate French gastronomy gaining World Heritage Status. One French Minister described the palace's own grub as disgusting. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

France certainly rolled out the red carpet for the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping in a bid to do everything it could to impress the leader of the far-eastern giant.

That included a slap-up official meal at the Elysée Palace, where the resident chefs were charged with cooking up the best of what French cuisine had to offer. 

We will probably never know whether the food went down well with Xi himself but one French minister was certainly not impressed.

In an embarassing gaffe Nicole Bricq, minister for foreign commerce, aired her views with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his wife Brigitte. Unluckily for her, the conversation was held in the vicinity of dozens of journalists’ microphones.

Bricq said that the meal, which included the famous French delicacy foie gras, a viennoise de champignons, was “dégueulasse”, or disgusting. 

Comparing the cuisine to that served up at the Prime Minister’s residence, known as Matignon, Bricq was heard saying: “I told Brigitte, that really, compared to Matignon, the Elysée doesn’t even come close. It was nowhere near. It was disgusting. You just have to say it."

The video below, released by the Elysée shows the chefs preparing for the no-expense spared state dinner.

For France’s sake we have to hope Xi Jinping did not have the same opinion. The state meal came after he had overseen the signing of €18 billion worth of vital trade deals in France and the French government is desperate for China to increase its investment in France even further.

On the first leg of their trip, in Lyon, XI and his wife Peng Liyuan were treated to sea bass with lobster sauce followed by hay and thyme-flavoured lamb cooked by a selection of France's most celebrated chefs.

It is not known what was on the menu of the state dinner, but on his official Facebook page, Elysee chef Guillaume Gomez appeared to react to Bricq's comments by thanking those who had sent him messages of support.

"Along with the squad, we will continue to do our job with the same passion and the same devotion," he wrote.

One of those messages of support said Bricq was clearly "too spoilt".

"In any case, next week she will be fired. It was her last dinner at the Elysee," the commenter added, referring to the strong likelihood of a government reshuffle after the second round of local elections Sunday in which the ruling Socialists are expected to get trounced.

Wednesday's state dinner was followed up on Thursday night by an enormous state banquet at Palace of Versailles, where Xi was treated to 18 courses of classic French gastronomy, served up by the country's top chef Alain Ducasse.

The courses rolled out of the kitchen at a rate of one every eight minutes. Click on the link below to see what was on the menu.

The lavish 18-course banquet France served up to Xi Jinping

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?