Why nouvelle cuisine guarantees a simpler touch

Harbour City Focus

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“French women don’t get fat,” so the saying goes – a theory so famous that it even became the title of a 2004 best-selling lifestyle book by Mirielle Guilano. But with a diet seemingly full of buttery croissants, creamy cheeses, rich red meats and heavy sauces, how can this be? 

Despite those preconceptions, French cuisine has actually got a whole lot lighter over the past few decades. Much of this cleaner style of contemporary cooking can be put down to the influence of nouvelle cuisine, an approach popularised in the 1960s by prominent French food critics Henri Gault, Christian Millau and Andre Gayot, who used the phrase in their renowned Gault-Millau restaurant guide. In a deliberate contrast to the more traditional cuisine classique style of cooking, nouvelle cuisine took a lighter, more delicate approach – where dishes were pared back to focus on simpler ingredients, preparation and cooking techniques.

The Gault-Millau’s “ten commandments of nouvelle cuisine” include many of the elements behind the lighter style of French gastronomy that we know today – for instance, the move away from rich sauces and heavy marinades and reduced cooking times that preserve the ingredients’ natural flavours, leading to healthier methods like steaming and poaching becoming more eminent. They similarly espoused rejecting the unnecessarily complicated recipes of traditional cuisine classique, instead emphasising simple dishes that allowed those fresh quality ingredients to shine. 

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As a result, many French menus now showcase lighter proteins such as fresh fish and seafood, whilst seasonal lightly-cooked fruit and vegetables have increasingly come to the fore – both as the focus of dishes or instead of the heavy cream-laden accompaniments of yore.

Take contemporary French restaurant Epuré in Harbour City, where the emphasis is on “light, seasonal and healthy flavours” that are “free from complications and distractions”. The importance of nouvelle cuisine techniques can clearly be seen in Epuré signatures like the Homard Bleu of chilled blue lobster, celery root remoulade, apple and coriander; Le Champignon de Paris white mushroom soup with baby spinach gnocchi; and simply sautéed escargots served with tomato confit, pink Lautrec garlic, cabbage, sorrel and beetroot red wine sauce. For the evening, executive chef Nicolas Boutin has even created two separate dinner degustation menus comprising of different dishes to suit lighter or more indulgent appetites.  

Also in Harbour City, Le Café de Joel Robuchon offers a more casual, all-day dining experience – but one equally focussed on providing less rich options for its guests. There are plenty of seafood options for lighter palates, including seared Hokkaido scallops with baby vegetables and orange dressing or crab crepe with egg, tomato, spinach and green salad. Meanwhile, their take on French classic duck confit is served with fresh figs and cabbage for a significantly less heavy dish than the traditional accompaniment of pommes de terre sarladaise (potatoes roasted in duck fat). 

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Finally, it’s worth remembering that one major tenet of the French food philosophy championed by books like Guilano’s is quality, not quantity – to eat better, rather than often – and by choosing top-class fare at these French restaurants, that’s pretty much guaranteed. 

Epuré, Shop 403, Level 4, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 3185 8338
Le Café de Joel Robuchon, Shop 2608-2610, Level 2, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2327 5711

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