Said to have been born on the first Concorde flight out of Paris, this new and lighter approach to French cooking is largely attributed to famous French chef Paul Bocuse. Nouvelle cuisine rejected rich sauces and put great emphasis on the appearance of the food on the plate. Australians embraced this style during the late ‘70s but it is remembered by many for the overuse of kiwi fruit and tamarillo.
The term nouvelle cuisine was coined by food critic Henri Gault who, with Christian Millau and André Gayot, founded a publication they called Le Nouveau Guide in opposition to the established and conservative Michelin guide. It was a reaction against the French grande cuisine or cuisine classique, exemplified by the principles of legendary chefs Carême and Escoffier. The classic methods, with rich flour-thickened sauces and an emphasis on following traditional techniques, restricted a new generation of chefs from exercising their own creativity.
Although Paul Bocuse may be the most widely known, among the early exponents were Alain Senderens, Jean and Pierre Troigros, Alain Chapel and Michel Guerard, all chefs with experience in Michelin-starred restaurants. The new approach featured dishes seasoned with fresh herbs, high-quality butter, lemon juice, and vinegar. Menus were shorter and changed regularly, based on the market produce of the season. There was a new emphasis on aesthetics, plating individual servings rather than the theatre of carving and serving foods onto a fresh plate at the table.
In 1973 Gault published “The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine:
Thou shalt not overcook
Thou shalt use fresh, quality products
Thou shalt lighten thy menu
Thou shalt not be systematically modernist
Thou shalt nevertheless seek out what the new techniques can bring you.
Thou shalt avoid pickles, cured game meats, fermented foods, etc.
Thou shalt eliminate rich sauces
Thou shalt not ignore dietetics
Thou shalt not doctor up thy presentations
Thou shalt be inventive.
The new approach had many critics, who thought it unpatriotic and destructive of everything that had set French cooking apart. Carried to extremes, it was ridiculed for offering very small serves on very small plates. However, it had a lasting effect on fine dining around the world. In Australia, it had a significant influence on what became known as “modern Australian” food.