Bon Appetit! We all know those words – and if we don’t associate them with France, we associate them with Julia Child – who is French Cuisine to most Americans.
The French don’t know Julia Child. And even film-mad French haven’t seen the movie Julie and Julia.
At this point in the blog, dear reader you ask, “Why would she write about Julia Child – she who continues to deny any interest in cooking?” Great question. I think I am being sucked into gourmet-land bit by bit. Or bite by bite. Truly, I have had the most amazing meals here in tiny places that don’t shriek haute cuisine. As I pointed out to a friend last year whose taste runs to simple dives, French don’t have dives. At least not in Paris. Maybe Marseilles… but I don’t think I would feel too safe in those.
An intriguing conversation began around the simple term bon appetite! I was told that the French don’t use that expression. But in restaurants, I hear it all the time. So I began an investigation and asked all the French I know. And, mais oui, but of course, all the answers were different. How can I get a handle on French culture when everyone is so dang independent!?!
Some said they say it at home when having people over for dinner. Never said to the family… okay, well, rarely said. One said it was a question of social level. He tried to explain the nuances – they would have been hard enough to comprehend in English! But it was the French portion of the conversation so I got lost. I gathered that the higher the class, the elite, the rarer it was said. It might be said TO them by waiters or a chef- but they would never deign to say it to their guests. It was mal-eleve…. Accents missing – not a French keyboard. But basically not well brought up. One was telling me how it wasn’t used when the waiter brought our plats (yes, plat not plate – the main course) and said “Bon appetite!” And she couldn’t use an argument that he thought we were American because clearly she is French and she did the ordering… and he didn’t hear my accent. Others said it was just for Americans. Shrug. I give up.
However, at the soufflé place I had a great rapport with the waiter who wanted to speak English but let me speak French. After he said, “Bon appetite,” he asked me – “what do you say in the States?” I replied – “Bon Appetit!” “No no ,” he said, “what do you say in the US?” “Bon appetite!” He finally believed me. And thought it extremely strange.
And I mused on that for a while. Why did we start Bon Appetit in the US? My belief is it’s all because of Julia! Mastering the Art of French Cooking! Here’s where I draw the line with my leaning towards cooking… I will not spend that much time on any recipe!
And maybe I don’t have to. An American friend and I walked through Aligre Marche the other day and spotted fabulous artichokes! She said she didn’t know how to get to the heart. Well, I am a connoisseur of artichokes, living near Castroville, artichoke capitol of the world! So I offered to show her. Sunday I showed up with two great chokes. She provided the boiling water. And I proceeded to prepare and cut. I guess she didn’t quite trust me, because she had read Julia on artichokes before I arrived. “Julia said…” “Julia does that…” at my every move. Apparently Julia also wanted cheesecloth to put over the cooking chokes to prevent discoloration. Nope, not me. I guess I am not bothered by discoloration – I just thought that’s the way cooked artichokes looked.
And I knew how to do it all without Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
So back to Bon Appetit! Not one of my friends ever heard of Julia Child. I have given a few a link to a video of her on Youtube. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. She is greatly responsible for introducing us to French cooking. She was an icon – Dan Akyrod on Saturday Night Live as Julia is priceless.
All news to the French.
So tonight at the table, raise your glass of wine and say, “Bon Appetit!”