No longer the butt of culinary jokes, British cooking has advanced to a point of — dare we say? — royalty.At its widest point, the english Channel separates France and England by 150 miles. At its narrowest, there are 21 miles between the two countries. Proximity, however, creates little similarity. In so many ways, they are polar opposites.
IF YOU GO...
The Fat Duck
High Street, Bray
Dinner By Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
Leiths School of Food and Wine
16-20 Wendell Road
41 Jews Row, Wandsworth
Citizens of the two countries speak different languages, have different forms of government, use different currency and drive on opposite sides of the road. Tea is a national passion in England; in France, it is not. The French love fine wine; the English prefer potent ales. Cricket is treasured in England; in France, it is a novelty.
In terms of their reputations involving food preparation, the divide is even greater. The two are, at best, on separate planets. In the culinary world, a classically trained French chef represents royalty, which the English, with their monarchy, can appreciate. Not that long ago, describing someone as a classically trained British chef would have been closer to a Monty Python sketch than a compliment. But here’s a wonderful part of the British persona: Self-deprecation is a trait that is embraced.
“The great thing about English people is that we’re quite humble,” says Camilla Schneideman, managing director of Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. “We’re good at laughing at ourselves. We’re good at recognizing when something is not good. I think Brits in general, if you’d asked us 10 years ago what the food is like in England, we would have been quite apologetic.”
British cooking has been slammed for years. Highbrow critics said the food was boring, bland and overdone. Former President of France Jacques Chirac contributed to the stereotype when, at an international meeting in 2005, he said: “One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad.” The mystery is this: How could Britain have been so close to France and not had comparable cooking skills?
Cynthia Ochterbeck, editorial director of Michelin Travel Partner, laughs at the question and says: “If I could explain that, I would be the premier food authority in the world.”