Monday, March 14, 2011

French Culinary Diplomacy Through Stamps and Airport Food

As an expat American who has lived in Paris for several years, pastry chef and author David Lebovitz blogs about France's coveted gastronomic offerings, his own mouth-watering dessert recipes, and the frustrating inanities of French bureaucracy. With an air of self-deprecation and a healthy sprinkling of wit and beautiful pictures, his blog long ago became part of my daily internet routine. So I'm not entirely surprised that his most recent entries both speak to a type of French culinary diplomacy... or perhaps a missed opportunity for such.

In French Food Stamps, he recounts his surprise discovery of beautiful snail mail stamps featuring artistic renderings of various French regional food specialties. The stamps are works of art in and of themselves, and the fact that they feature food only makes me wish I had some way of getting my own hands on these babies (you can see them here, although Lebovitz's blog has some more appealing close-ups).

Special edition American-cuisine food stamp?

Lebovitz notes, however, that La Poste seems to have missed an opportunity by making these stamps only available for domestic mail. Stamps and snail mail might not represent the cutting edge in information and communication technology, but what a beautiful way to, quite literally, project attractive images of a country through its cuisine to foreign publics.

As for foreign, and even domestic, publics travelling into, out of, and through Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, Lebovitz poses the question, Why is the food so abysmal at Charles De Gaulle Airport?. In this capital of gastronomy, it seems only fitting that one's first and last impressions should be tempted and reinforced by food options at the airport. Just as Vegas has slot machines in McCarran Airport, as gateways to new places, airports can help reinforce a nation or city brand. Lebovitz lists the airport offerings in my hometown foodie city of San Francisco: "wood-fired oven pizza, teriyaki, traditional Italian pastries, sushi, dim sum, or a pretty decent burrito". (In my own travels, I always pick up a slice of cheesecake from the Just Desserts stand in the United terminal whenever I'm flying in to SFO). Yet the Paris airport offers very little by way of good food in its inner sanctums. Lebovitz expands on several suggestions for how to rectify this situation, which range from the obvious (cheese shop, wine bar, bread bakery), to the innovative (planting a garden in CDG's circular Terminal 1 with its criss-crossing plastic-enclosed escalator tubes).

Pre-flight snack?

It does seem rather a pity that Paris, birthplace of haute cuisine, lacks good airport food, both for practical purposes and culinary diplomacy objectives. Closer to home, it might be asking a bit much to get a Ben's Chili Bowl outlet in Dulles, but surely even we can do better than Wendy's and cold sandwiches?

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