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Is France's cassoulet set to take over the world?

Is France's cassoulet set to take over the world?

AFP/The Local · 7 Apr 2016, 09:22

Published: 07 Apr 2016 09:22 GMT+02:00

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The drive to promote the dish rooted in the Hundred Years War is ambitious, according to Jean-Louis Male, the "grand master" of the guild based in the cassoulet capital, Castelnaudary.
For one thing, "every country already has a dish based on beans," he said.
For another, cassoulet has a bit of an identity problem.
"There are as many recipes as there are cooks," Male said.
"In Castelnaudary it's goose or duck, in Toulouse it's sausage or mutton, and when they're in season, Carcassonne partridges," said Pierre Poli, head of the Universal Cassoulet Academy.
Now Poli's academy has teamed up with Male's guild to promote the dish around the world, working through France's diplomatic missions in countries including Canada, Belgium, Britain and Japan.
The hearty stew has already made inroads in New York, where it is served in around 30 restaurants, and it is gaining ground in Chicago and Houston.
In New York last September, 25 chefs competed in a "cassoulet-off" with Pierre Landet of the Felix restaurant triumphing in the category of authenticity.
"It's my duty to show French tradition," Landet told AFP, dismissing a rival in Harlem as "too Jamaican" with his recipe featuring black and red beans and ginger-flavoured sausage.
But another chef, J.J. Johnson of the restaurant The Cecil, won the special public prize.
The true origins of cassoulet are lost in the mists of time but are irrevocably linked to the Hundred Years War, the 116-year religious conflict between France and England in the 14th and 15th centuries.
As legend has it, the residents of Castelnaudary invented the meal to combat famine while under siege by the British.
And the favourite dish of French people is...?
Virtual religion 
Proponents of cassoulet have made a virtual religion of it, with high muckety-mucks of the guild donning red robes and hats for special gatherings.
The guild - the Grande Confrerie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary - even has a hymn in its praise sung in the local Occitan language.
Story continues below…
An early high priest of cassoulet was Prosper Montagne, who in 1929 spoke of a trinity of recipes composed of Castelnaudary the Father, Carcassonne the Son, and Toulouse the Holy Spirit.
Purists reject variations on the original beans and duck, from pizza- and crepe-based concoctions to even cassoulet ice cream.
In 2011, Castelnaudary's market nearly erupted into violence when a mischievous British duo staged a stunt in which they professed to offer "genuine" cassoulet with flavours including orange marmalade and mint.
The name is said to come from the cassole, a large earthenware pot that the dish was originally cooked in.
Of some 85,000 tonnes produced each year, 22,000 are top quality, Male said, adding that Castelnaudary represents 90 percent of the best quality cassoulet.
Every summer Castelnaudary's five-day cassoulet festival draws some 60,000 people.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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