VERSAILLES, France – A symphony of popping Champagne corks echoed across the Versailles Palace, as chefs from around the world celebrated the delights of French gastronomy in the first worldwide “Good France” event.
From Beijing to Rio de Janeiro and in the French terroir itself – over a thousand chefs across five continents minced their steak tartars, salted their foie gras and flamed their creme brulees simultaneously for the Thursday night event launched by the French Foreign Ministry and master chef Alain Ducasse.
Organizers estimated that 100,000 diners took part, making it one of the biggest food events in history.
“At this very moment, the whole world has the pleasure of savoring French gastronomy,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in a toast from a Versailles banquet table.
“Gastronomy is part of French identity, as is Versailles,” he added, referring to the palace that was besieged because of food in 1789, when Marie Antoinette was famously misquoted as saying “Let them eat cake” about hungry peasants.
Fabius’ presence here shows how seriously the French take their cuisine – declared a part of world heritage by UNESCO in 2010. France is the world’s most visited country and organizers of the event claimed that 60 per cent of its tourists cite food as one of the prime motivations for their visit.
In a world where French political influence has waned over the last century, championing cuisine is a good way to promote the country’s identity and interests abroad.
In all, 150 countries participated, with restaurants ranging from bistros to high-end eateries encouraged to donate 5 per cent of their proceeds to a local non-governmental organization promoting health and the environment.
Guests at the high-end Versailles banquet, which included the new US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, and Miss France, tucked into such delights as Ducasse’s dry roasted “Anjou quinoa” served with crisp root vegetables.
“This, for me, is the true face of French cuisine today – a living, diverse cuisine that moves with the times,” said 58-year-old Ducasse.
Several other master chefs cooked dishes for the event, including Joel Robuchon, Marc Haeberlin and Japan’s Fumiko Kono.
The idea for “Good France” came from the iconic French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier who launched an event in 1912 which saw participants in major world cities simultaneously eat a meal from the same menu on the same day.