The culture that is French

Concern over France’s diminishing importance in world cuisine has prompted the government to create a gourmet university, which it yesterday promised will be nothing less than the “Harvard for the art of French cooking”.

The university will open in October in Reims, in the heart of Champagne country, and admit 70 French and 30 foreign students in its first year, according to Renaud Dutreil, minister for small business and consumption.

And why is French haute cuisine in crisis?

The suicide of Bernard Loiseau, France’s best-known three-star chef, drew attention to the difficulties the best restaurants experience in reconciling innovative menus and silver service with the commercial realities of high wages and massive fixed costs.

Mr Loiseau’s suicide coincided with widespread frustration at international criticism claiming that French chefs have failed to move on from nouvelle cuisine and have fallen far behind Spanish, Italian, American and even British rivals.

… many restaurateurs have been frustrated by the government’s failure to lower VAT on sit-down meals.

The election pledge by Jean-Pierre Raffarin, prime minister, to reduce the rate to 5.5 per cent from the current 19.6 per cent is facing German opposition in Brussels.

Did you get that right? London is now a more interesting dining spot than Paris. The core problems involve an overregulated French labor market and excessively high French taxes. Here is the full story.

On a related note, it is now the case that 35 percent of all French movies are shot outside of France, most commonly in the Czech Republic. French filmmakers are asking their government to set up a specially subsidized studio complex, to restore French cinematic competitiveness. It is time we start realizing that government regulations involve an aesthetic price, not just an economic burden.

Addendum: Here is additional commentary on relative French culinary decline, with useful links.