Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gaston Lenôtre, a Parable

I suppose one might see the life of Gaston Lenôtre, which ended today, as a parable of recent French history. Born in l'Eure in 1920, he was rooted in the great tradition of Norman cuisine. His parents were cooks. He was an innovator who prospered during les Trente Glorieuses by throwing off the shackles of the tradition that simultaneously nurtured him:

«Mes collègues pataugeaient dans le conformisme», dit-il. Lui veut rompre avec les codes traditionnels de la pâtisserie et conçoit des gourmandises plus légères et aux saveurs nouvelles. Il invente des gâteaux tels que «Succès», à base de pâte de macaron et de crème de nougatine, au nom prédestiné.

And with succès came notoriety and the lure of expansion, incorporation, multiplication. With Paul Bocuse and Roger Vergé he opened the Pavillon de France at Disneyworld (!). He operated the Restaurant Panoramique at the Stade de France. He sold his name to the Accor hotel chain, a global conglomerate. His passing drew comment from Nicolas Sarkozy, who said that he had raised pastry-making to an art. One is reminded of Yasmina Réza's snarky description of Sarko swallowing mouthfuls of bonbons at a reception somewhere in the fin fond of France.

Le coeur d'une civilisation change plus vite, hélas, que le coeur d'un mortel.

1 comment:

TexExile said...

Coverage of Gaston L's death is one of the reasons I love this country -- with Gaza, the gas war, the financial crisis, etc, all dominating the air waves, France pauses to salute the greatest pâtissier of the 20th century. What a country! But it says much about the times in which we live that it is the obituary pages to which I look for a little something to brighten my day...