Say it ain’t so, Joseph

Are most French restaurant meals purchased frozen and reheated in microwaves? That’s the incendiary charge leveled by Parisian restauranteur Xavier Denamur in last week’s European Times. If true, it would indicate that even French chefs aren’t immune to the pressures of time and cost. Dare I say that just because the meals are frozen it doesn’t mean they’re bad. The great Gaston Lenôtre pioneered the use of freezers in French cuisine. Of course it’s one thing to microwave food, it’s another to be less than forthcoming about it. Still I bet the typical frozen boeuf bourguignon beats the heck out of a Riblet dinner at Applebees!

15 thoughts on “Say it ain’t so, Joseph”

  1. Is this the same method you’re going to use? (Although this is a cake, not a yeast dough.) I tried this cake a while ago, it was a dismal failure. (My mess-up, not the recipe’s, although I’m not sure where I went wrong. These cakes are so delicate.) Will eventually try it again, the cake is so beautiful and fluffy. I found a Japanese cake shop not far from my neighborhood (no bread, just cake), they have an array of these stunning cakes. Haven’t eaten there yet, but I soon will.

    1. That’s fascinating!

      It’s quite similar: a butter roux instead of starch-thickened milk. I’d expect that it has many of the same effects. Very cool. Thanks Chana. It;s something else I’ve never seen before!


      – Joe

      1. OMG, Chana! This looks wonderful and I’m making it today!! I especially liked the musical accompaniment and the instructions are so clear and amusing.

        Joe – remember when you helped me out with the Japanese Cheesecake? I still make that often as it is just so soft and lovely. Thanks to both of you.


  2. Yep, there’s been a huge dust-up over that here. But you’re right: the frozen food is not bad at all. There’s a chain of grocery stores that sell nothing but frozen food: from peas to foie-gras-filled roast of duck. Not many dinner parties happen without at least one “fresh-from-the-freezer” component–and no-one seems to judge or complain 🙂

    1. Hey Maria!

      We’re starting to see some of that trend here as well. By which I mean high-end frozen foods (I’m thinking specifically of Trader Joe’s). I understand that Britain and Europe have already made great strides in that arena. Maybe I’m too American. They way I see things, if the quality is there, do the particulars of how it’s delivered matter so much?

      I guess it’s the pretense that most people are upset about, and rightly so. If someone went out of their way to tell me how fresh and artisanal their cooking was I’d be pretty irritated to discover that it was produced in a factory. What the heck am I paying for??

      Thanks for the terrific comment, Maria!

      – Joe

  3. Whether French Frozen. Microwaved food beats MacDonald’s os not the point. Unless billed as a fast food, microwave establishment ti is dishonest, fraudulent, cynical and unaccpetable.
    The French proclaim themselves to be the hauteurs of fresh, perfectly prepared , sourced etc foods which makes this charge especially alarming.

    1. There’s no question that there’s at the very least a sin of omission going on here. I wouldn’t agree that microwaved food is by definition “fast” food, but it’s most definitely not hand made either. No wonder they’re so lathered up over there!

      Thanks very much for the comment,

      – Joe

  4. For some odd reason my mouth inadvertently salivates when that Applebee’s riblet dinner commercial is aired. Odd autonomic response, isn’t it?

  5. Unless it tends to be a specialty restaurant, in the US people have been getting [probably] JacPac individual flash frozen prime rib slices for at least 35 years. When I worked for a major foodservice provider they were by far one of the more popular items we sold. The au jus comes in a small plastic pouch, 1 pouch to 1 slab of prime rib. I can remember frozen restaurant entrees as far back as the late 70s when I did business trips. After you get the identical crap at 5 different places with purportedly independent kitchens complete with identical garniture and finishes, you start to notice.

    1. That is a FOR SURE, aruvqan. Chain casual dining restaurants in the US are virtually all pre-made, pre-frozen. We’re used to it and I think most people here have few illusions about that. The French are another matter entirely, which I think is why this whole episode has been so traumatic for them!

      Cheers and thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  6. I think there is stigma associated with the microwave – but in hotel and institutional food service, there is extensive use of convection/microwave combo ovens, with temperature probes and precise timing.

    The food writers have been gushing about “sous vide” as the latest thing – but that’s a restaurant technique reminiscent of the “steam tables” of old… a sealed baggie of food and sauce kept warm for hours until serving. How different is that from the microwaved entree? Is is “freshly prepared”?

    1. Fantastic observation, Ben! Love that comment. Is sous vide just another (albeit more high-tech) way to rationalize pre-made foods? Very interesting question.

      And again you raise the point: if the food quality is high, does the technique matter so much? It all depends on how much romance you have for what happens back-of-house!

      Thanks very much!

      – Joe

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