“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.”
Albert Camus (French Algerian philosopher, journalist, 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature)
This year New York City was commemorating the French Restaurant Week September 17-30. I was delighted to check out A.O.C. L’aile ou la Cuisse one of the French restaurants with my girlfriends this last weekend. We ordered Moules Marinieres, Moules au Safran and Les Legumes Grilles. The tastes and the atmosphere took us to a different place and for a little while, New York City transformed into France. These moments made an invigorating difference for us.
Most of us are not aware how the idea of a restaurant came to exist and how it is tied into the major French historical event such as the French Revolution. To most of us going to a restaurant symbolizes belonging either to a family or a group which rejoices the spirit. One thing we can assume is no matter which part of the history we look into, this joy could not be made quite exclusive.
Many of us do not know that an attempt to take this finest thing in life, to enjoy food and restaurant has failed to a point which changed the history of France and rest of the world. What Albert Camus was referring to in his quote may have a myriad of meanings. However, last thing we would think about is the transformative historical role food played.
Around 1760 merchant class in France developed a taste for healthy light broths, which they called restoratives and which will transform in what we know today as a restaurant. However, at that time, few decades of heavy taxation by monarchs and aristocrats to support their luxurious lifestyle took a toll on people and ushered the masses to what we know as French Revolution.
After the affluent fled to the countryside and abandoned their loaded kitchens, their skilled chefs and fine wines almost 50 graceful restaurants opened in Paris. Soon these became connoisseur temples which catered the latest class of French delegates and businessmen and were ascribed in travelogues throughout Europe. As a new “delicious” word and definition of French restaurants spread, Parisian restaurants turned into tourist attractions on par with Notre Dame which last until our day.
Perhaps next time we cheer at the restaurant, we should remember to salute to the French as well;
À votre santé!