While there have been periods in the past when British cooking was mocked by the rest of the world, the French have always been recognised for their savoir faire in the kitchen.
But it could also be argued that French recipe books, with their tricky, buttery sauces, have historically been seen as frightening to your average domestic cook.
This month would have been the 100th birthday of American chef Julia Child, the subject of the Hollywood movie, Julie and Julia, and the person who is heralded as having succeeded in making France’s trickier dishes more accessible to cooks in the USA.
In honour of Julia’s birthday, we tracked down one of the county’s French-trained chefs for tips on two of the classic recipes with which Julia’s name became so interlinked... French onion soup and boeuf bourguignon.
Jennifer McStay is chef at the family-owned Strawberry Fields Food Emporium in Rothwell. Originally from South Africa, she also used to live and work in France, where she did her training.
The food served up at Strawberry Fields has an international feel and often classic French dishes make it onto the menu. Beouf bourguignon is also served as a popular filling in freshly-made pies.
Jennifer said: “With classic cooking you don’t deviate. I would say boeuf bourguignon is one of the most enjoyable things to make and fantastic for a big family. You can use things like shin or skirt or any beef that takes a long time to cook.
“I always marinate the meat, I put it aside and let it marinate overnight.
“I drain it by putting it in a colander and once fairly dry, get a handful of flour, salt and pepper and dust lightly all over the meat. Never over-flour. If you see the pan going black when you start cooking, then wash it, don’t let it get stuck in the pan,
“You cook the meat off nicely, then put it aside. I would like to stress how important it is that meat should always rest. When you let it rest it relaxes and lets the juices out.
“Then I put in the diced veg and cook until they turn into nothing. You put in some red wine and let it cook until the meat is soft, about two to two and a half hours.”
The recipe for French onion soup starts with heating some butter and oil in a pan and putting onions in, with a lid on top of the pan, until they caramelise.
Jennifer said: “You don’t move your onions until they start to caramelise and almost turn black, that is when you want to stir your onions and it will give a lovely flavour. Don’t put the garlic in until the onions are cooked, you can put your herbs in though. You can then de glaze, most people would use brandy. You can then put in vegetable or beef stock. It is better to make you own stock but there are some good stocks out there to buy.”
She added: “Julia made people sit up and take notice and she brought this cooking to the home and made people realise you don’t need a hoity-toity chef to make it for you.”
Julia Child’s complete recipes are widely available online or in her book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking.