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FOOD & DRINK

Five things to know about France’s victory in the ‘World Cup of cooking’

French chef Davy Tissot won the 2021 Bocuse d'Or in Lyon on Monday, the first time France has come out on top since 2013. Here's everything you need to know about the world's most prestigious cooking competition.

Five things to know about France's victory in the 'World Cup of cooking'
Davy Tissot and members of his team celebrate their victory. Photo: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP.

Often referred to as the chefs’ equivalent of the World Cup or the Olympics, the Bocuse d’Or assembles some of the best chefs from around the world.

It was created by a legendary chef

The competition was founded in 1987 by Paul Bocuse, one of the most well-respected figures in French gastronomy, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 91.

Since then, it has been held every two years during the Salon international de la restauration de l’hôtellerie et de l’alimentation (Sirha) in Lyon, the foodie capital of France. Sirha is one of the largest and most prestigious culinary fairs on the world, and also hosts the bi-annual World Pastry Cup.

These days, the Bocuse d’Or is presided over by Paul’s son, Jérôme Bocuse.

It’s a global event

Thailand’s Panuvit Khaokaew prepares a meal during the final. Photo: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP.

Held over two days, the competition usually features teams from 24 countries, although this year three teams had to cancel because of health restrictions. Competing in the tournament this time were 11 European teams, five from Asia and the Pacific, one team from Africa, and five from the Americas.

The final is the result of a gruelling qualification process, which includes sixty national eliminations before the victorious chefs then compete with teams from other countries in four continental qualifications for the chance to travel to Lyon. There, after two years of intense training, the teams have five hours and 35 minutes to prepare a meat dish and a fish dish for a panel of international judges.

The trophy has so far mainly been dominated by France and the Nordic countries – Mathew Peters won the USA’s only gold medal in 2017.

‘It’s coming home’

“It’s really coming home,” Tissot said as he celebrated his victory, and it was about time. Despite dominating the competition since its conception, France had not won gold since 2013, with Denmark, the United States and Norway winning the most recent iterations before this week.

This is now the eighth time France has won in 18 editions. Denmark took the silver medal, with Norway rounding off the podium. 

READ ALSO Macron announces creation of ‘centre of excellence’ for French cooking

The victory is even sweeter for Tissot, who was representing his country in his home city. “As somebody who comes from Lyon, my first restaurant was with Paul Bocuse more than twenty years, so I’m very happy and very proud,” he told franceinfo.

Tissot is chef-instructor at the Michelin-starred Saisons restaurant, which is part of the Institut Paul-Bocuse culinary school in Ecully near Lyon.

It’s a big deal

There were huge cheers as Tissot and his team lifted the trophy, proudly waving the French flag, which shows just how seriously people take the competition.

French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter on Monday to praise the French team, writing: “You are making young people dream, you are the pride of a whole industry, a whole country.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex praised “the energy, abnegation, talent, audacity, and finally the passion” which the French chefs displayed along the way.

Winning the Bocuse d’Or, considered the highest honour for a chef, has the potential to make careers, and certainly catapults recipients to a new level of fame.

In keeping with the times

As well as the main platter test, which this year required the chefs to create a dish using the cheaper cut of beef known as chuck steak, the competition also featured a “take away” challenge, to “pay tribute to the initiatives taken by chefs during the health crisis”.

But while many of us will be able to relate to ordering fast food during lockdown, the task here was slightly more sophisticated.

READ ALSO Michelin awards first star to vegan restaurant in France

“The recipes are not the same. The palette is more limited. If the dish is to be reheated, it should be slightly undercooked,” tasting panel member Florent Ladeyn said ahead of the final. “We must also and above all think about conditioning. It is essential to choose eco-responsible and recyclable packaging such as jars to try to reduce the environmental impact. Nor is it simply a matter of doing in a jar or in a package what you would do on a plate.”

Competitors were charged with creating a three-course meal, all featuring tomatoes, and presenting it in a box developed by the candidates themselves, using plant-based materials.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Whether it's Christmas dinner with your French in-laws or a meal with some new friends or neighbours, after you have been in France for some time you will probably be invited for dinner in a French home - so what should you expect and what manners do you need to know about? 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

In France, like every other country, manners and formalities vary – where you are in France, the age of the people you are socialising with and the social setting will all have an impact – some families are very formal and traditional while others are more casual.

Naturally the occasion matters too – a formal state dinner is very different to being invited round for a family meal with some parents from your kids’ school.

But here is a guide to some of the things you can expect, the first thing being that – in general – French dinners last longer than in the anglophone world and have several different courses, with short pauses in between that are intended to help facilitate socialising.

When you walk into your French friend’s home, the first thing you should do is say hello to everyone that is already there. Many anglophones underestimate the importance of saying bonsoir, and as such, risk being perceived as rude by giving a general ‘hello’ to the whole room.

There are some other faux-pas to keep in mind while eating in a French home, like keeping your hands on the table rather than in your lap. You can learn more from The Local’s guide on table etiquette:

READ MORE: Cheese knives, hands and wine glasses – French table manners explained

Step 1: Aperitifs

This initial step typically involves a light alcoholic beverage before food is served. Apéro has its own culture and  if you’re invited to apéro don’t expect food beyond a few little snacks. Apéro generally takes place between 6pm and 9pm, though certainly before dinner.

READ MORE: Apéro: All you need to know about the French evening ritual

But before your big meal with your French friends or family, you will likely be offered a glass of something – whether that be champagne, Kir (or Kir Breton, if you find yourself in Brittany), Pastis (for those in the south) or a light cocktail. This is the time of night where people are chatting with a drink in their hand, and that drink will likely be influenced by the region you are visiting, so if you are in the south west you might enjoy an Aperitif of sweet wine or a Pinneau if you’re in Charente.

In terms of snacks, the relatively universal trend is light and salty – so you might expect to see olives and nuts, and perhaps even some raw vegetables with a dip. 

For those looking to avoid alcohol, soda or sparkling water, like Perrier is often the go-to alternative.

Step 2: The Entrée

The entrée – not to be confused with the main course, as it often is in the United States – is the first course – the starter or apetizer. In French, the verb entrer means “to enter” and this is the symbolic start of the meal.

As with most parts of your French dinner party, the food and drink offered will depend on regional tastes, as well as what is in season. For example, during the winter, you might have an onion soup. 

The first course is often cold or room-temperature foods – like Œuf mayonnaise. Some other common appetizers are smoked salmon canapé and escargot, the latter most common in Burgundy.

If you are along the Mediterranean, you might be offered tapenade – a purée of chopped olives, capers, and anchovies, and if you are on France’s western coast you might eat oysters.

If you are given a specific utensil to eat with – for instance a special fork for snails or a long pick for bulots (whelks) – then that should be used. If you’re having oysters they are traditionally slurped, all in one go, straight from the shell.

At this point in the meal, there will likely be  bread on the table to accompany the food but remember to save some room, because there are lots more courses to come. 

Step 3: The Main Course

Now it is time for the plat principal. Hopefully you are still hungry.

Tradition dictates that you should let your host serve you with wine, and old-fashioned French households would say that this rule applies specifically to women, who should wait for a man to come pour their wine. That being said, times have changed and most younger French people cheerfully ignore this. 

The wine poured will be paired with the meal, and the French abide by the general rules that red wine goes with red meat and tomato-based dishes, while white wine goes with fish, seafood, and dessert.

One for Americans – in France it’s considered polite to keep your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right, and try to avoid the temptation of switching as you cut through the meat.

While it is considered polite to finish what is on your plate, if you find yourself getting full you can always say “C’était délicieux, mais ça suffit” (It was delicious, but that’s enough). While it may be tempting to tell your host “Je suis plein” (I am full) – be careful of false friends, you might be accidentally telling your host that you are pregnant. 

READ MORE: From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

Step 4: Dairy

This step in the French dinner timeline is not for the lactose-intolerant. After finishing the main dish, your French host will likely take out a cheese platter.

As there are hundreds of different types of French cheeses, it would take a long time to list all of the possible options you might encounter. The main thing to remember is not to use your hands (or your fork) when eating cheese. That might sound a bit tricky, so you can consult The Local’s cheese etiquette guide to prepare for this part of the meal.

READ MORE: Best Briehaviour: Your guide to French cheese etiquette

In some households – especially with children – your host might offer you a yogurt instead of cheese. This will likely be a small pot (cup) of a plain yogurt that you can add fresh fruit or compote (cooked fruit) to.

Step 5: Dessert

Dessert in France comes after cheese (not before as in the UK) and is generally quite small. Do not go into the meal expecting to leave lots of space in your stomach for a huge, sugary banana split ice cream or a sticky toffee pudding and custard. Instead, dessert might consist of some light pastries, chocolate, or small crème brûlée (when eating crème brûlée it’s considered elegant to tap the burnt sugar layer to break it first, rather than just shoving your spoon into the dish).

While eating dessert, you might be offered a sweet wine, like one from Sauternes.

Step 6: Coffee

At this point, it might be pretty late at night, but you will likely still be offered a coffee. Typically, this will be an espresso. If you want a little dash of milk in your short coffee, you can always ask for a noisette

Step 7: Digestif

This is the true end to the meal. Now that you have finished eating, and you’ve likely had a few glasses of wine, your host might put away the wine and take out a bottle of Cognac, Amagnac or similar.

The digestif is meant to settle your stomach, and they’re usually pretty strong so be careful if you have to be up early the next morning. Depending on where you are in France you will often be offered a local speciality like a Calvados (apple brandy) if you’re in Normandy.

Digestif: Do France’s after-dinner drinks actually help to settle your stomach?

Children

If you’re invited for a family meal, expect that the children will eat with you and will probably eat the same thing.

Depending on the age, the children might go away and play while the adults have the cheese and dessert courses and continue to chat but it’s usual for even young children to sit at the table and eat the first course and main course with their parents.

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