The topic for last night’s Big Debate at King’s Place was Is French Food A Spent Force? The evening was part of the foodie-themed events programme that makes up half of London Restaurant Festival, the other half being the special Festival Menus at around 600 restaurants across the capital.
The Big Debate drew some big names. Arguing in favour of the motion were Rosie Boycott (the Mayor’s food adviser) and Janet Street-Porter. Food critic AA Gill and broadcaster Jonathan Meades were against – arguing that French food is still a major culinary force.
The entire debate lacked some clarity, I thought, about whether “French cuisine” referred to the food in France, food inspired by French cooking, or the French method of cookery itself (maybe all three?) But some interesting points were raised.
The ladies’ case centred on the fact that the quality of food in France – at restaurants, supermarkets and markets – has shown a marked decline in recent years, while the British equivalents are booming. The men pulled the history card, saying their first experiences of French food had been a revelation and that since British cuisine has French cookery as a basis, it’s still a force to reckoned with. Meades, who lives in France, also denied that local food there had got worse.
The debate was then opened to questions from the audience that, truth be told, often wandered off on tangents depending on the asker’s personal experience.
Getting personal myself, I don’t know that either side was entirely convincing, and I was slightly disappointed that none of the debaters seemed to get beyond France or the UK to discuss the position of French cuisine globally. However, the well-informed crowd (and debaters) obviously enjoyed the tussle.
In the end, an audience vote declared in favour of the blokes – that French cuisine is not a spent force. Vive la France !