PROWEIN 2017 SPECIALIST ARTICLE NO. 1
Bistronomy: Tradition responds to modern challenges
What exactly is Bistronomy?
It’s the elevation of France’s bistro culture and cuisine to its highest level and most artful expression. Fresh, high quality, local ingredients are thoughtfully combined, and skillfully prepared, often with a bit of a modern twist. It’s a response and rejection of both molecular gastronomy and the foodie movement where one dined was as important as what one dined on. Most of all, it is an embrace of tradition and a celebration of culinary culture.
Rising from the stuffy renaissance of haute cuisine in 1990s Paris, Bistronomy’s roots can be traced back to the opening of La Régalade by classically trained chef Yves Camdeborde1. Determined to craft high quality yet elegant dishes that were affordable for all, little did Yves know that now, some 25 years on, people would be looking back at his modest restaurant opening as the start of a revolution, but spark a movement it did. There have of course always been small and sometimes sneaky establishments abiding by the core tenets of what we now call Bistronomy, mainly intimate dining rooms, top quality, if not lavish ingredients, finely executed technique, and reasonable pricing, but not at the scale that one finds today.
That scale has been driven by multiple influences: first and foremost the faltering economic times we are all limited by, as well as a certain culinary fatigue that has taken hold of much of the gastronomic world as we passed quickly from fusion to regional, slow to molecular, and finally a return to what was always there, local and simple.
Today though, we expect more. While Bistronomy served as a tremendous ambassador for French food, introducing countless consumers to the delights of the country terrine and crispy pig’s feet, they have been a boon for the wine industry as well. It might seem a bit odd that the wine industry is where we find the most enduring influence of the Bistronomy movement, but it reminded people that Beaujolais and Muscadet, for example, are great choices for more casual moments, leading to a renaissance for both that endures with increasing passion to this day. One could argue in fact that the marketplace that created the space for Bistronomy as an alternative to pricier and more formal fare, is a direct corollary to the void left by the ever more ambitious pricing of wine mainstays such as Bordeaux and Burgundy that propelled formerly underappreciated, and certainly undervalued wines to greater prominence.
There are notable parallels between the wine world and the world of Bistronomy that lend credence to this theory. As we move through the third decade of this movement we are seeing some distinctive trends emerging. Establishments are getting bigger, more expensive, and more diverse with the Bistronomy ethos now embraced by operators inspired by cuisines that range from Korean to Italian. At the same time we are seeing broader audiences and rising prices for Beaujolais and Muscadet as they are discovered by consumer priced out of Burgundy and Chablis, while the country wines of Portugal, Spain, and Italy are all enjoying a renaissance from relative obscurity.
That is the cycle. Out of fashion yet high quality come together, and for a period of time offer great value before recognition changes the dynamic. Change of course can be good, and in the case of Bistronomy change has broadened the offerings, keeping chefs interested and engaged, not falling into the trap of repetitiveness and standardization that was the bane of the bistro’s existence.
While Bistronomy was born of a break with the past and a new way of interpreting tradition, it’s second incarnation is seeing more interpretation and less tradition. Just as we see in the wine world, with the introduction of, say extended lees contact in Muscadet and barrel time in Beaujolais, producers must adapt to a consumer base that becomes ever more sophisticated and demanding. Sitting on one’s laurels is the fastest way to be forgotten in today's ultra-competitive worlds of food and wine.
For the proponents of Bistronomy, both chefs and sommeliers, staying up to date with the wines of the world is integral to ensuring a complete experience is provided to their consumers. Most clients making an effort to seek out these bastions of affordable and inspired fine dining are expecting that their wine selection will match the efforts put forth by the kitchen. At the same time we all hope that all hands remain on deck as much as possible to ensure the continued successful execution by the restaurant team. Time is money, and quality, and relationships, after all.
If you are in the Bistronomy business, which to a certain extent all in the hospitality world are as they strive to offer every customer a satisfying experience that fits their means, then there is no better use of your time than attending ProWein 2017. Held each year in Dusseldorf Germany, this “professionals only” wine fair is the best place to not only taste wines from around the world, but to talk with the producers as well. Putting a wine on a list is not simply about finding a tasty Muscadet, but finding one that aligns with your ethos. For that reason, the many face to face meetings one can schedule at a seamlessly organized event such as ProWein is simply indispensable for the wine professional.
Every so often there is a surge of interest in the Bistronomy movement, popping up on radar screens as it has in the New York Times in 20072, The Guardian in 20113, and most recently with the publishing of Jane Sigal’s cookbook: Bistronomy, which captures the essence of the movement dish by dish. As we enter what is arguably the third phase of the Bistronomy movement, maturity if you might, where the heights of cuisine and service begin to match those of its parents, we see how the movement has fundamentally changed the restaurant landscape and opened doors for the young and the talented. From its success has come the food truck revolution: fine food on wheels, and the embrace of the casual yet truly fine dining market. One can only imagine what surprises the fourth wave will bring us. From the world of wine one can already see the emergence of natural wines, and wines made with the most ancient of traditions, think orange wines and amphorae, forming the core of the next generation of wine lists. You can try them all soon at ProWein 2017 (www.prowein.com)
Gregory Dal Piaz, founding Editor-in-Chief of Snooth.com, has been working on the front lines of wine education for over a decade and is currently concluding work on first book, on the wines of Chianti.