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ELYSEE

Minister apologizes for ‘disgusting’ food gaffe

An embarrassed French minister has apologised to the head chef at the Elysee Palace after she was caught on camera describing the food at a China-France state dinner as "disgusting."

Minister apologizes for 'disgusting' food gaffe
French Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq pictured in February 2014. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Trade Minister Nicole Bricq was caught out after saying the meal served to Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the state banquet on Wednesday night was not up to scratch, unaware that microphones were picking up her comments.

"At the Elysee, it wasn't (up to scratch) at all… it was disgusting. It has to be said," she was heard saying in a video clip posted online by BFMTV.

The menu at President Francois Hollande's Elysee Palace on Wednesday night sounded impressive with foie gras truffle, roast poultry from south-western France and Viennese mushrooms, as well as a chocolate and caramel desert accompanied by fine wines all on the table.

"The minister has called the head chef at the Elysee, Guillaume Gomez, this morning, to make her apologies," said a source, adding that the cabinet secretary had taken a trip through the kitchens to assure staff that the President has full confidence in the head chef and his team.

Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were supposed to enjoy the very best that French gastronomy has to offer on their three-day visit to France.

On the first leg of their trip, in Lyon, they 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.

READ MORE: The full Elysée banquet menu

But Gomez appeared to defend his work, thanking those who had posted messages of support on his official Facebook page.

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

One supporter wrote on his page that Bricq was "too spoilt."

"In any case, next week she will be fired. It was her last dinner at the Elysee," Charlye Mazet 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.
 

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CULTURE

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?

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