A few years ago, French food in India either meant massively sauced steaks and blotchy macaroons served by local cafes, or ostentatiously priced, strictly non-vegetarian food, served in celebratory restaurants. The cuisine has come a long way since then. There are serious connoisseurs of French cuisine, and restaurants have evolved to put together wholesome experiences. Chefs are making persistent efforts to popularise French cuisine.
But making Indians fall in love with French food wasn’t easy. “India is not a bread eating country, (at least leavened breads), and the same goes for cheese and wine. So, it took a while for French to become popular,” says chef Prem K Pogakula of The Imperial. Indians found French food too ‘cerebral and celebratory’, and therefore, intimidating. “Complex presentations, too much fanfare and high prices often prevented people from trying it. Limited knowledge of wines that pair with French food also became an obstacle,” says chef Bobby Jacob, The Lalit New Delhi.
No fusion scene
The absence of fusion dishes also put off many. While Italian and Chinese cuisines had their ‘Indianised’ versions, fusion wasn’t a possibility with French. “French cuisine is a form of art. An Indian spin would have made it lose its authenticity. Therefore, we tried spreading knowledge of French instead of attempting fusion,” says chef Jacob.
No more fairytale
Chefs adopted an anti-elitist, informal approach. Myths that French food is about fat-laden dishes and strange looking snails were debunked. “There’s nothing mind boggling about French. We often cook French at home unknowingly. When you make a steak with black pepper, it’s French. People are realising that French is one of the simplest cuisine in the world,” says Naina de Bois Juzan, consultant, Le Bistro Du Parc. Simpler menus and precise translations have made the food relatable.
Lighter, healthier approach
Inspired by global trends, chefs replaced heavily sauced dishes and overpowering marinades with refreshing, aesthetically plated dishes. Old World preparations took as long as two days to prefect. Now the focus is on quick dishes. “Simple dishes such as a steak with salad, quiches made with leftover cheese, or fish in court boullion (short broth), served with a quick lemon pepper sauce are quite popular,” says Juzan.
Green options, bigger portions
The presence of vegetarian options on the menu is also creating new fans. “Vegetarian/vegan French restaurants are doing well in Paris. We, too, have many green options such as Eggplant Spinach Rouleau (eggplant rolls stuffed with cheese and spinach) and Ratatouille Niçoise (medley of squash vegetables) on our menu now,” says chef Pogakula. Chef Bobby says that simple green dishes such as Carrot and Ricotta Quiche (A savoury filled with carrot, ricotta and custard) and Cauliflower au Gratin(creamy cauliflower sprinkled with breadcrumbs and grated cheese) are popular.
The trend of eating seasonal, locally sourced food has also helped the cuisine grow. “In France, you eat local products — fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, vegetables from your garden, eggs from the neighbour’s chicken coop and bread from the village bakery. The growth of slow food movement in India has popularised French cuisine,” says chef Pogakula.