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Almost 50 years post Cuisine Minceur

Updated: Feb 19

"This was far and away the most influential cookery book of the latter half of the last century. It affected almost everything we eat today, although we don't give it another thought now."

Matthew Fort

No we don't because it has got a bad name over the years of pretentious, over-the-top diet food for the rich; closely related, and indeed, often confused with nouvelle cuisine which has an even worse reputation for big white plates on which are tiny portions of beautifully styled food, that costs a fortune.

But Matthew Fort is right - the influence of Cuisine Minceur is so very much with us via the current emphasis on healthy, fresh, seasonal, food, and dietary fads, not that Michel Guérard would have condoned some of those. And the man is still with us, still going strong:

"The Guérard family, Michel, now 84, his wife Christine, their two daughters and son-in-law, with the help of a couple of hundred staff, run a small empire of three hotels and a network of health spas" Guy Hibbert/France Today

Actually, now 89 - he was born in 1933. I think still alive - there are no obituaries.

Three Michelin stars for over 40 years. Quite an achievement, of which Guy Hibbert, the above writer from France Today said:

"this, dear reader, is the real deal. This goes beyond mere luxury accommodation and first-class gastronomy: this enters the realm of unforgettable lifetime experience, that holy grail of the travel and tourism world." Guy Hibbert/France Today

So an empire has been built on the back of being told he was overweight. If you have the money you can simultaneously indulge in health and indulgent food. But indulgent in the sense of haute cuisine, not in terms of oodles of butter, cream, sugar and wine. No most of the meals served there - at least to those who have gone for the health package - have only 600 calories in them.

The French are really into spas - we have now stayed nearby several of them. Indeed the nearest we came to purchasing a house in France was close to the town of Avène - home of all those expensive, but apparently efficacious skin creams and lotions. So when Michel and Christine married, they moved to Eugénie-les-Bains in Gascony because Christine's family owned it I think, and also because Michel Guérard saw the opportunity of serving healthy but delicious food to those spending time at the spa. Or as Paul Bocuse put it:

"For the first time, cuisine and dieting are no longer contradictions. Michel is the one who is doing something really original and new. He's the most imaginative of us all." Paul Bocuse

So it's interesting that later in life Mr. Bocuse also said in a rather famous quote:

"Life is too short for cuisine minceur and for diets. Dietetic meals are like an opera without the orchestra." Paul Bocuse

He must have missed his butter and cream. Julia Child too:

"In the 1970s we got nouvelle cuisine, in which a lot of the old rules were kicked over. And then we had cuisine minceur, which people mixed up with nouvelle cuisine but was actually fancy diet cooking."

Which is not at all how Michel Guérard saw it:

"I wanted to produce a complete festival of light meals for slimming, with salads as fresh as children's laughter, gleaming fish, the heavy scent of forbidden peaches, and roast chickens as deliciously perfumed as those of my childhood picnics." Michel Guérard

Now somewhat belatedly I will tell you that I am looking at Cuisine MInceur because this book is the next one on my shelf, and this is a first recipe post. And like the book itself it's a long time before you get to the first recipe. And when we do get to the first recipe we get to the reason why I don't think I have ever made anything from this book. Maybe a tomato tart.

Well, of course, as this is a classically arranged cookbook the first recipe is for stock which is introduced by these somewhat daunting words - at least to the novice cook - which I was back then:

"There is no such thing as a really, high quality commercial stock , or fond, whether veal, chicken or fish. ... It is not as difficult as it looks. In just the same way as you lightly undertake the annual ritual of making jam for the family, I urge you to give up a couple of afternoons to making up these three recipes for fonds. Once you have mastered the somewhat mysterious art of sauce-making, you will be very pleased with yourself, and your friends will be faint with envy." Michel Guérard

"lightly undertake the annual ritual of making jam for the family ... give up a couple of afternoons" Really? I wonder how many people have a ritual of making jam - I suppose I do but I do know I'm not really normal. Spend a couple of afternoons making stock - I don't think so. Suffice to say the recipe has 16 ingredients and covers two pages. And so it is with most of his recipes. They are daunting. and not simple as many have noted:

"Even Guérard, though, admitted they were complex, and damn hard work: his alternative to a classic cream-based sauce entailed blending low-fat fromage blanc with an artful puree of freshly cooked veg including mushrooms, carrots, leeks and at least two seasonal légumes." Jon Henley/The Guardian

I actually think they are really too daunting, even for special occasion cooking, and certainly not for everyday.

"There are beautiful recipes that I still use although you lose nearly as much weight putting them together as you do eating them!" Cath Kerry

Actually I skipped the first recipe which is for the tisane that he contrived and called Eugénie Tisane - to be taken as an apéritif or between meals. Here is the recipe:

"Equal amounts of heather flowers, maize silk, horsetail, ova (bearberry leaf) and cherry stalks (all obtainable from herbalists). Take one level tablespoon of this mixture for each 250ml of water. proceed as for a classic tisane. During the infusion, add to the water half a lemon, half an orange and a small bunch of fresh mint. To serve, strain and save in a tall glass with ice cubes. Sweeten with sugar substitute to taste. Add the juice of half a lemon, decorate with attractive fruits in season and few fresh mint leaves"

"All obtainable from herbalists." Again - really? In France maybe - even your standard pharmacy there has a very wide range of such things. But, here I suspect you might have to search high and low and definitely online. Do even health food shops have such things. But doesn't it look lovely?

And here is the first photograph in the book of a completed dish - there are only a very few - this is called Creamed eggs with caviar and although I think it has evolved over the years, still seems to be on the menu there:

"a simple hen’s egg filled with flavours of smoked potato, herring, egg, caviar and asparagus, served with a little toast soldier" Guy Hibbert/France Today

This is very definitely a haute cuisine book - for the rich. Maybe I should have another look, now that I have a few more years of cooking under my belt but I suspect I would never be able to accomplish such dishes. Below are a couple more that are served and which seem to crop up here and there. The first is Oreiller moelleux de mousserons et de morilles aux asperges de pays, which is a large mushroom filled ravioli (I think it's mushrooms) served with a foamy kind of mushroom sauce and asparagus. Then there's a roast lobster which looks rather spectacular and the last is Sauce vierge (the recipe for which you can find on the Food52 website) - which actually I could attempt and which he is credited with inventing by some. A delicious and fresh and light tomato sauce.

Poor Mr. Guérard. Well not poor - he has obviously made a fortune, but Cuisine Minceur has sort of disappeared, at least in the form in which it is presented in his book.

"This was far and away the most influential cookery book of the latter half of the last century. It affected almost everything we eat today, although we don't give it another thought now." Matthew Fort

Michel Guérard wanted us to cook from his book regularly however:

"You should not treat each recipe in isolation but should decide that once, twice - or ten times - a year you will have a week entirely devoted to Cuisine Minceur."

And perhaps we sort of do. We fast intermittently, we are chivvied by everyone to buy fresh and to eschew loads of sugar, butter and cream, not to mention processed foods - which Mr. Guérard doesn't mention at all. Maybe I should have another look. I could at least try the sauce vierge.

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Feb 18
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

I like food that is good for you. Sugar is "pure white and deadly" A bit of Minceuring will keep obesity at bay! Here's hoping

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