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  What should be more French than an outdoor market on a sunny Sunday morning? The air is filled with vital fragrances from the fruits and vegetables piled high in the greengrocers’ creative layouts. A trace of the Atlantic blows off the shellfish on the fishmonger’s bed of ice.

  This, you think, is the very essence of France, until read those little signs that tell you the tomatoes (which are really pretty tasteless) come from Moroccan hothouses, the grapes from South Africa, and the kiwis from Chile.

  For generations, the French have prided themselves on their distinctiveness. Nothing has stood for France’s sense of exceptionalism more famously than its cooking. Gallic talent, taste and techniques have been exported all over the world. And therein lies part of the problem. From the Thames to Tokyo, non-French cooks have cracked the codes of the best French cuisine. Meanwhile, what was mediocre elsewhere has been imported. (Believe it or not, one restaurant associate with a famous Paris chef serves steak with a sauce that’s indistinguishable from the stuff on a Big Mac.) The result: many tourists—as well as the French themselves—no longer see what’s so special about French cooking.

  The decline goes well beyond recent surveys that show growing complaints about mediocre quality and high prices. More and more restaurants-owners say that government tax and economic policies are limiting their profits, and thereby hurting their capacity to invest and hire more staff. They have got stuck in the red tape for which France is infamous—not to mention regulations from Brussels that affect everything from sales taxes to the bacteria in the Brie cheese. Many warn that expanding the European Union to the east will hurt small French farmers, who remain the backbone of traditional cuisine—and, hence French identity: Unfortunately for the French, there are few reassuring answers to these questions.

  France’s problem isn’t the lack of creativity, but rather an unfavorable political environmentfor creativity. If you’re choked by bureaucracy and taxes, as so much of France is, “there is not much you can do,” says Raymond Blanc, born in the Jura region of France and chef of the two-star hotel-restaurant Manoir aux Quat’saisons. “I can open a business in England in five days. In France it would take three months.” The manoir aux Quat’saisons, by the way, is in Oxford, Britain, France’s ancient rival. And, when it comes to cooking, a future one as well.




  对于几代法国人来说,他们都为自己的独特而感到骄傲。没有什么比烹饪更能代表法国的优越性。法国人的烹饪天赋、品味以及技术已经遍及世界各地,但是 却存在着问题。从泰晤士到东京,非法国本土厨师已经破解出了最高水平法式烹饪的秘诀。与此同时,其他地方平庸的烹饪技艺被引入法国。(信不信由你,一家号 称有巴黎名厨的餐馆做牛排用的酱料与做巨无霸所用的酱料别无两样。)其结果是:许多游客——连同法国人自己——根本就看不出法国烹饪到底有什么特别。

  这种衰落与最近一项调查吻合。这项调查显示人们对法式烹饪的平庸及高价的抱怨在不断增加。越来越多的餐馆老板声称政府的税收和经济政策使他们的利润 减少,因而削弱了他们进一步投资或者雇用更多员工的能力。他们陷入繁文缛节使得法国声名狼籍——更不用提布鲁塞尔的那些条条框框,从销售税到布里干酪里的 细菌含量,这些条条框框的影响远处不在。许多人警告说,欧盟东扩会损害法国小农场主的利益,而这些人是法国传统烹饪的支柱——因此出现了法国的身份问题。 让法国人感到不幸的是,对于这些问题,至今没有找到让人放心的解决办法。

  法国的问题并不在于缺少创造性,而是政治环境不利于创造性的发展。如果官僚作风和税收压得你透不过气来,就像法国一样,“你根本就没办法有所作 为。”瑞蒙德.布朗说道,他出生在法国的钕拉地区,现在是一家叫做四季庄园的二星级宾馆的主厨。“在英国,我能在五天之内开店,而在法国则要花上三个月时 间。”顺便说一句,四季庄园开在英国的牛津,法国的老对手那里。在烹饪方面,英国在未来仍将是法国的竞争对手。


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