French gastronomy/Operation Goût de France-Good France – Interview given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development Spokesman to Europe 1 (excerpts)
Q. – You’re the Quai d’Orsay’s Spokesman and today you are, in a way, the ambassador for this diplomatic and gastronomic offensive called Goût de France/Good France, and it’s a plan cooked up by Laurent Fabius, head of diplomacy, and chef Alain Ducasse. Can you tell us what this operation is?
THE SPOKESMAN – Gastronomy is one of the best ambassadors for France around the world. It’s a vehicle for fraternity, for interaction, it showcases products and it’s an industry accounting for hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Q. – Where did Laurent Fabius get the urge for this? What was the sequence of events?
THE SPOKESMAN – As soon as he arrived at the Foreign Ministry, he wanted to give economic diplomacy a helping hand and make France’s economic recovery one of the priorities of our diplomatic and consular network in the world and of our foreign policy.
Q. – You talk like a diplomat. What will happen on 19 March?
THE SPOKESMAN – There will be a French-style dinner, organized in more than 1,300 restaurants, in all our embassies and in the consulates general, bringing together people with very different backgrounds. There will also be a great dinner in Versailles bringing together all the foreign ambassadors posted in Paris.
Q. – You talk about a French-style dinner. What does that mean? When the Quai d’Orsay says so, does it press a button and thousands of French chefs all over the world serve up a French-style menu, in an embassy or a restaurant, on the Foreign Ministry’s instructions? Is there any special significance in this?
THE SPOKESMAN – First of all, it’s not a uniform menu: each person takes ownership of French gastronomy, which draws from many sources and is an encounter with other gastronomies and other ingredients. It will be a mixture, and there won’t be only French chefs, because there are also chefs with foreign nationality who excel in French gastronomy.
Q. – What must be done? Are there any compulsory elements?
THE SPOKESMAN – Indeed, there’s a menu, but not a standard one. The menu is a general framework with two starters, one hot and one cold, a fish course, a meat course, cheese and a dessert. (…) The menu isn’t compulsory. Each chef can improvise and create on the basis of this general framework.
Q. – Is there a tradition of diplomatic meals going back a long way at the Quai d’Orsay?
THE SPOKESMAN – Yes, since the birth of diplomacy, meals have been a constant backdrop to negotiations and meetings between national leaders. They played a particularly important role at the Congress of Vienna: Talleyrand had an extremely well-known chef, Carême, and he organized great dinners, sometimes with 48 courses, which played a central role in negotiations, to such an extent that in a conversation with the French king, Talleyrand said to him, “Sire, I do not need instructions but I need more saucepans.”
Q. – (…) The aim of this worldwide Goût de France/Good France operation on 19 March is obviously to sell French products and French know-how, but can gastronomic cuisine help us sell more Rafales, more planes?
THE SPOKESMAN – (…) Our embassies and consulates general constantly host meetings which often take place over a meal to help conclude contracts and promote French interests. (…)
Q. – I’d like you to listen to you what Laurent Fabius said a few weeks ago: “there are surprising moments – for example, over the course of 17 hours you’ve still got to eat. So there were very charming girls who went round with biscuits and other things, and it’s this extraordinary contrast; we were negotiating war and peace with these young girls going round”. Does this mean that the devil is in the detail – i.e. you can starve a delegation during negotiations and serve them bad “grub” to push them to the limit, in a way?
THE SPOKESMAN – Yes but often meals come at the end of a negotiation; it’s a bit like an Asterix banquet – it’s a reward after all sorts of incidents. You get tray meals during the negotiations – club sandwiches – and then, when the negotiation is over, when an agreement has been reached, there’s a more traditional, official meal reminiscent of the Talleyrand era.
Q. – This might seem to be of secondary importance, but how do ambassadors manage to have this lavishness without it costing us an arm and a leg?
THE SPOKESMAN – Quite simply through a partnership with businesses in the industry, which make their contribution – particularly for the 14 July receptions, which are held in all the embassies and are quite costly since there are thousands of guests in most of the world’s capitals. These receptions are paid for to a very large extent by French companies in order to showcase products – champagne, wine and cheese are supplied by French businesses to showcase these products.
Q. – Are ambassadors’ cocktail parties where people enjoy Ferrero Rochers fictitious?
THE SPOKESMAN – Cocktail parties are also moments of conviviality and sharing and at these cocktail parties we offer the best French products. Let’s never forget that it’s a showcase for our country, and jobs and an extremely dynamic industry contribute to our exports. (…)./.
Paris, 15 March 2015