IT may be revered as one of the best cuisines in the world, but to Nigella Lawson French food does not get much better than bread and butter.
In a stinging put down of Gallic gastronomy, she criticised the country’s foamy sauces, plate decoration and egotistical chefs – while insisting she had nothing against France.
Speaking at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, she told an audience she had written her latest book, Nigellissima, about Italian food after visiting Italy as a student because it was not France.
"My parents were great francophiles, and my father now lives in France,” she said.
“If I want to annoy him, I'll say, 'Oh, France, isn't it that irritating country you have to drive through to get to Italy?' But I don't have anything against France."
Rubbing salt into the wound, she went on to draw on an old saying about French chefs.
"I think it was probably an Italian who said, 'Italian cooking draws attention to the food and French cooking draws attention to the cook', and there is some truth in that,” she said. “I know I'm sounding anti-French and I'm not.”
Asked by an audience member what her favourite midnight snack would be, she chose a baguette with blue cheese.
When it was pointed out that this sounded rather French for someone with so low an opinion of French chefs, she said: "I didn't say the French weren't good at eating.
(But) I can't do all the foamy sauces they go in for these days, or all the plate decoration. But the bread and butter, I'll give them that."
She did concede, however, that “you only have to have a coffee éclair to know you can't beat French cooking at its best."
Her remarks went down badly with one French chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli, whose British restaurants have twice been awarded a Michelin star.
"Having witnessed her for the last 30 years of my life, it's rather amazing for someone who has looked well over 60 for more than two thirds of her life from behind, and who has scavenged a big part of her starting life on mostly amazing French basic cooking," he told The Times.
"She is obviously too busy making silly comparisons with no sense of respect [towards] where she got a big part of her learning from.
“And the most important thing is she is not even capable of supporting her own native cuisine, farming and agriculture, especially in this time of recession. In her position, she should fully use her energy to support British cooking."
Rosa Silverman, Telegraph.co.uk