John M. Edwards explores the popular Foodie movement of “Cuisine Minceur” (small food), invented in Les Landes, France, wherein gullible gourmands counting calories get much less food for much more money. . . .
I feel sorry for the people who use the term “FOODIE.”
It is a term less about the ends justifying the means and more about just being mean.
Whenever I hear the euphemism, I flinch involuntarily, as when your PC (“pretend concern”) dining companions refer to the tacos or tamales you are eating as “ethnic food” in front of the waitstaff, aiming pepper shakers the size of rifles at you and saying, “Fresh Beppa, Fresh Beppa?!”
Most Foodies know almost zilch about food and nada about wine, and yet they send in unsolicited restaurant reviews to ZAGAT anyway, with out-of-context blurbs like “A perennial haunt of the Beautiful People!”
Or, my favorite, “Foodie Heaven!”
They don’t really know what “moules frites” means.
They assume “Slow Food” means terrible service.
They eat “locavore” because most restaurants are too cheap to transport foie gras from France, or even Arianne Daguin’s “D’Artagnan’s” farms in New Jersey.
They are all preternaturally enthusiastic and just want to socialize, with the rank scent of cold sweat and sweet perfume and turning fruit wafting like female arousal or Cutter (™), in atmospheric dining dens that resemble Saveur sets in which “to be seen,” now that the once-legendary Gourmet is out of business and Food & Wine only accepts features from friends that they already know.
They speak of restaurants as having five stars, when only a Foodie og doesn’t know that the limit for Michelin Guide honors is three “rosettes.”
They raise a finger and say, “Garcon!” (pronounced “gherkin”) when the proper way to receive the check in France is to say, “Monsieur, l’addition, si vous plait!”
None of them can really speak French but chirp “Bon Appetit!” anyway.
But worse, they do not know the difference between “gourmet” and “gourmand.” Gourmets do all the work, while gourmands sit on their fat asses and eat whatever is in front of them—without being able to name many of their ingredients. “Uh, cilantro?”
However, somehow hey have heard of “Cuisine Minceur,” probably the most important recent trend for table matters after “Slow Food.” Basically, the “small food” movement offers hardly any food at all for a great amount of money.
Invented in Les Landes, a rural département of France associated with historical Gascony, “Cuisine Minceur” is the magnum opus of master chef Michel Guérard. His spa “Les Pres d’Eugenie” in Eugenie Les Bains is the perfect place to take the waters. Take time to digest the difficult name before hiring transport to get you there, especially since it is hidden out in the countryside, among vernacular Romanesque churches, pigeonniers, and windmills. Monsieur Michel Guérard is also the recipient of three Michelin rosettes and is possibly now the best restaurateur in the world, topping even Thomas Keller, not to mention Wolfgang Puck, Anthony Bourdain, Jean-George, and that guy from Copenhagen.
Hence, while I was house-sitting a 15th-century Gascon farmhouse as winter caretaker, complete with signature beret-basque and yellow-mud-covered Wellington’s, and with a backyard view of the snow-capped Pyrennees, I had the chance to make the pilgrimage to nearby Eugenie Les Bains to meet the master chef himself.
On the way I passed a sign which read “The First Slimming Village of France.”
In the départment of Les Gers, near my house-sit, I had frequently dined at two restaurants with Michelin rosettes, Andre Daguin’s “Hotel de France” (inventor of “magret de canard”) and Coscuella’s “Le Ripa Alta” (popularizer of “palombe” [wood pigeon]). But neither beat Michel Guérard’s “Les Prés d’Eugenie,” where for the first time I tried the best dish I have ever had period: “la torte rustique” of duck and quail swarming with local foie gras and marvelous morels. What’s more, I could lose weight while waiting, admiring all the truffles.
Guérard’s cookbook Michel Guérard’s La Cuisine Minceur (William Morrow, NY, 1976) is perhaps not as famous as Julia Child’s The Joy of Cooking, but nevertheless it was de rigeur on the bookshelves of regional “gites d’etaps” (guest quarters). There are very few other hotels in Les Landes.
Once there, I oohed and aahed while walking the pristine premises until I steeled my courage and entered the “Les Prés” restaurant wing, where we were greeted by a gratis “Pousse Rapier” (thrust of the rapier), a local aperitif made from Armagnac and Champagne ™ and crushed orange and ice in a glass.
The girl behind me was not mine, but she smiled anyway.
Michel Guérard had the air of a man who knew he was famous, and my just-shaked hand tingled slightly. Born in 27 March 1933 in Vétheuil, Val-d’Oise, Michel is considered the top chef of nouvelle cuisine, and he really was the first to propose the maxim that you can lose weight by eating the right foods and in smaller portions.
In 1965, Michel opened a restaurant in Paris called “Le Pot-au-Feu,” where over time he won two Michelin rosettes before his place was razed to make room for a road widening reminiscent of Baron Haussman. After meeting his future wife Christine Barthelemy, the couple moved to Eugenie Les Bains and began their health food op to slim down fat farmers.
By 1977, Michel’s spa had won 3 Michelin rosettes, and was a must for sophisticated travelers, who made it a matter of pilgrim pride, like taking a journey for merguez in Mecca at least once if they can afford it, to eat at this remote gastronomic superstar 800 kilometers south of Paris and roughly two hours from Bordeaux and Toulouse right in the middle of nowhere.
Though I didn’t have a chance to undergo spa treatment at the onsite “La Ferme Thermale,” such as wallowing in their much-vaunted lemon-balm infusion, I had fun at the “Cuisine Minseur Active” (®), ordering for a denouement some lemon verbena ice cream with raspberries and strawberries instead, and then walking around the mock village, with its single street, radiating Second Empire “magic” (yes: the correct word).
Henri IV, who famously quipped “Paris is worth a Mass,” when he became the king of France in a partly Roman Catholic and partly Protestant Huguenot demesne, praised the natural springs here when he took the waters in the 16th century. But it was the Empress Eugénie, married to Napoleon III, who put the place on the map in her own honor, followed of course by the trendy Victorians always in search of new places to build promenades and unfurl parasols.
But back to the food.
With most meals containing less than 600 calories, like in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, starring Jaque Tati, guests may well feel like playing a little tennis afterward. With virtually no butter, eggs, or sugar in his mixes, the La Prés “slimming menu” is perfect for those with Type II diabetes. Rather than order a “tasting menu”–a sure sign of passive Foodie unsophistication rather than gourmand gluttony—I stuck with the impossible-to-replicate, ittybitty “amuses bouches” (happy mouths) and “amuses guelles” (happy faces).
I would end up splurging å la carte for the non-locavore lobster with parsley mousse, asparagus, and caviar (Beluga or Sevruga).
Plus, the “pulses” of beans, peas, and lentils.
Of course, food columnists with variant-spelled names like “Gael” who insist on putting prices in quotes that no longer correspond to the menus after naming every dish—hardly writing at all–rave about the polyunsaturated fatty acids of Omega 3 in many of his signature fish dishes. Low in carbs, high in protein, the “Cuisine Minceur Active” ® is perfect for those who prefer lean poissons and poulets to carbs and cassoulet. More recent master chefs like Boulud and Ducasse have visited on the sly, and seem to concur.
Add a glass of Rose la Rose Tursan Rosé from the Guérard’s own vineyard and you have it made. (Wine tastings at their cave start at 210 euros.) Gascony’s best wine is also not to be trifled with: AOC Madiran, VDQS Cote de St. Mont, and Pachenc du Vic Bilh lead the pack. Ah, your heart and arteries have never pumped so well, as you drink instead of spit, one of the reasons many docs think that French people live so long.
While I was there I saw a room full of what looked like mostly inebriated famous people (except for me), including a well-dressed man resembling Gordon Ramsey having a violent orgasm.
This was certainly the most memorable meal I had ever had, and I couldn’t resist: I photographed the amazing carousel of plats like many over-excited Foodies would do, and I intentionally overtipped.
Why mess with “prix fixe”?
I have forgotten how much the meal cost, or the inevitable overnight stay. Just look it up in your Guide Routard.
As many Foodies in France so aptly put it, if you have to ask, you cannot afford it. . . .