Greasy food, unusual, doubtful combinations, unattractive appearance: British food hasn’t got the best reputation. Even worse, according to some rankings, it would be the worst in the world. It seems like those clichés are hard to tackle. For many years, English cuisine seemed to be odd, not suitable for every palate; but things have changed now, many foreigners have a very different opinion. According to a study by Visit Britain (a British tourist agency) amongst 26.000 people in order to find out what tourists taste in British foods as found that Russians, Irish and Americans are the most positive, though French, Italian and Spanish citizens keep on giving poor reviews to British food.
Besides, a majority of those people agree with the sentence: “I have always wanted to eat an English breakfast”.
Russians are the most enthusiastic about it, while Germans are quite reluctant. The French however are average. And yet, English breakfast is somewhat surprising, consisting of: a hot beverage (usually tea), orange juice, toast with butter, jam and marmalade, but also baked beans, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, and sometimes black pudding.
So of course, it might be an issue for some gourmets. This meal is not the only one suffering from a bad reputation; tourists are really reluctant to try the famous “jelly”. This sugary, colourful see-through jelly is England’s pride and joy. Usually served in small glasses, this mixture is mostly prepared as a dessert, but sometimes it finds its place in the main course, as a side dish, with meat and vegetables.
This is the reason why this union is pretty scary for French tourists, less used to sweet and savoury food. British cuisine also has to deal with another cliché: the high use of fat, and particularly cooking oil. For that matter, even English people joke about their traditional fish &chips: some of them say the paper around it is better than the food itself. However, in the last decade, it seems like the trend tends to go to this cuisine, despite being criticised by a lot of people. A great majority of those people haven’t actually visited the United Kingdom yet. If we take another look at the Visit Britain study, tourists who came to the United Kingdom haven’t got the same idea when leaving.
“Simple”, “surprising”, and “different” are the adjectives they use the most to describe English meals. Indeed, despite some unpleasant combinations, English breakfast is “absolutely exquisite”. Brunch is only a variation of this breakfast. As far as fish and chips are concerned, lots of the French are crazy about them. This specialty is now served in some restaurants in Paris. On top of it, this English gastronomy has received quite a lot of starred chefs, such as Alain Ducasse or Hélène Darroze.
However, this elitist cuisine is not people’s favourite. In fact, after Marks & Spencer, the British fast-food chain Prêt à Manger has set up in Paris, near the Champs Elysées. The opening was of course a pleasure for English expatriates and tourists, but also for French citizens more and more fond of British specialties. As Maxime Bathier explain in his column in Le Point: nowadays, quite a lot of French people are willing to try Lancashire Hotpot, pies and cupcakes. According to Alice Quillet and Anna Trattles, anglo-french chefs at the Bal Café, there is two reasons to this trend: “we have noticed a come-back of the traditional and local meals in England, more and more revisited by young chefs”. They also add: “They have more freedom too; they have no obligations, while in France the cuisine is really settled”. We notice and understand very quickly that English food is now famous for its simplicity and the noticeable taste of its ingredients.
Yet, English gastronomy has a complex history. Influenced by former British colonies like India, English meals often combine simplicity and exotic flavours. Both chefs insist on the fact that “English recipes are less intimidating and easier to realise thanks to the new chefs”. Some of those English chefs have become very famous, and part of the UK elite, like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay or Nigella Lawson. They have completely revolutionised English cuisine, thanks to TV shows, and try to convert even greater number to the delights of British cuisine. When we think about those new chefs, it is always the same name that comes in mind: Jamie Oliver.
According to many magazines, he is the revelation of the last decade; he is the one who restored English cuisine’s image. He is probably one of the many reasons leading to this new enthusiasm for British cuisine. Quickly recognised as a great chef, he created a revolution on television with his food shows made at home, with simplicity, dynamism, and easy to follow recipes. He is also the author of many cookbooks about English cuisine and its origins: So British. When we take a look at the show summary, we instantly understand that he is trying to highlight all the different aspects of British cuisine:
“In this new six-part series Jamie Oliver travels the length and breadth of the country in search of new ideas and inspiration for recipes and to find out what makes British food great.Jamie discovers that many of the dishes we think of as British classics aren’t `British’ at all, but full of influences from around the world through invasion, exploration, colonisation and immigration.”
He has now become a reference in terms of family meals. His different trips around the world increased his reputation and popularity, and as his fellow chefs, he is trying to extend the boundaries of English cuisine. In addition to his books about classic British food, he also tries to adapt it to worldwide cuisine. Extremely fashionable, he fits into the classic English clichés; charming, easy to go and to talk to, his simple and friendly cuisine makes him very much appreciated.
Jamie Oliver created a trend to British cuisine, besides; nowadays a lot of chefs are training in UK. According to Alice Quillet: “some French chefs are studying in England, in order to get a British touch, and surprise their customers with new flavours”. But with a two hours train journey from Paris, an increasingly number of gastronomes cross the channel to try something new.
Blogger Jean-Baptiste Bernard enthusiastically writes: England is a delight for taste buds: “I often spend my holidays in England, and I am always disoriented by its cuisine. There are a lot of sweet and savoury mixtures, very unusual for us French. I often come back with a lot of new ideas to share with family and friends. I hope this will shake up French cuisine a little”.
However, if we take a closer look at it, we notice desserts are actually the most attractive food, like those famous cupcakes. Those little colourful English cakes made for one are very fashionable at the moment; we can see them everywhere, from bakeries to decoration goods. These little cakes mostly attract women, especially since they’ve made an appearance in an episode of Sex and the City. According to The Washington Post, this enthusiasm comes from their flashy colours and their multiple designs. According to Amy Grier, this passion won’t stop anytime soon:
“Ever since Carrie and Miranda sat on a bench outside the Magnolia bakery in Sex and the City – women in particular have equated the cupcake with something that goes beyond cake” she said. “They might signal friendship, sharing (but in an individual sense) and even seduction – depending on how you eat your icing. Or it could just be that we like being able to scoff an entire cake in one go and not feel guilty about it. It’s miniature, after all. They remind us of our childhood, particularly for anyone who grew up (like me) making and eating dry fairy cakes.”
It is important to notice they have become famous because of their over-exposure. From now on, cupcakes are a major part of English cuisine. The enthusiasm is easily noticeable, from Christmas decorations to dog clothes; the shadow of those little cakes is everywhere. Even the Medias put them in the light, and use cupcakes as a common theme. For example the TV series 2 Broke Girls shows tribulations of two girls creating a cupcake bakery. We can also mention the TV show Cupcakes War where: “4 bakers compete to make cupcakes with best taste and presentation. 3 rounds eliminate a contestant. The 2 finalists create a 1000 cupcake display. The winner gets to showcase their cupcake presentation at a major event”. Even some magazines are only dedicated to cupcakes, as they do for knitting or fishing, it has become a real hobby.
Those little cakes are a great example on how British food culture has influenced the others. Their tiny size makes them very attractive, but also very handy; usually used for snacks; they are a reminder of the traditional afternoon tea when people usually gather around a cup of tea and a lot of little snacks, like triangle sandwiches, scones, cakes, cookies, and so on. A French version of it appeared a few years ago: “le café gourmand”. Very m uch appreciated by women as a light dessert or an afternoon snack. According to a survey on auFéminin.com, a great majority of young women, students or at work opt for a late afternoon café gourmand with friends and/or family, more healthy and friendly than a glass of alcohol at the local bar.
As a conclusion, we can say that British cuisine’s bad reputation is not justified. Even if some clichés are still persistent, and are stuck in collective memory, after recent different transformations, a great evolution English gastronomy truly exists. Now, Great Britain can boast about their many star chefs, and its famous, tasty and legitimate cuisine. It is now fashionable to like and eat British cuisine.