The French have long made a meal over what they eat, even if the culinary ritual that starts with an aperitif, proceeds through at least four courses with bread and wine and finishes with a digestif is rarely an everyday event.
Now, having persuaded the United Nations to add the country’s renowned gastronomy to the grandly named “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”, Emmanuel Macron has said he is creating a “centre of excellence” to promote France’s culinary traditions.
The president made the announcement during a visit to Lyon at the weekend; the idea, he said, would be to train future chefs like footballers, rugby players and athletes so they can “achieve excellence in major competitions … and win international honours for France”.
The centre is the brainchild of Guillaume Gomez, 43, the Élysée Palace’s award-winning head chef, who has worked in the presidential kitchens since the age of 16 and who in February was named Macron’s “personal representative in the service of French gastronomy” in February.
Macron suggested the centre should be based in or around Lyon, France’s third largest city and the self declared “gastronomic capital of the world”, which has more than 4,000 restaurants, including 17 with Michelin stars.
It would be “a training centre of excellence for all the culinary industry”, he told a gathering of leading chefs, aimed at “training for major competitions and preparing you as athletes to win prizes on behalf of France”.
With a hotly contested presidential election battle next spring, Macron already has a lot on his plate. But he used the opportunity to thank those present for having “held strong” during the Covid-19 crisis, during which restaurants closed for a total of 12 months: three months during last year’s strict lockdown and between October and June this year.
France’s hospitality industry has been seriously hit by the global health crisis that first forced hotels, restaurants and other establishments to shut and then face the absence of tourists from the US and Asia.
“You have continued to innovate … do not lose this spirit to win,” Macron told them, adding that he was sure the tourists would be back. “Gastronomy is at the heart of the art of being French.”