France has become known as one of the world's most refined culinary locations, with more than 9,000 restaurants in Paris alone. The French passion for good food drives the variety that emerges from each region of the country. From ingredients and cooking techniques to décor and presentation, each area boasts its own gourmet cuisine, style and traditions, taking on some of the characteristics of nearby countries. Chef Tougne's beautiful region of Alsace has a strong German influence on the fare. As its nearest neighbor (and home country on and off throughout history), German cuisine and immigrants have greatly influenced the people and culinary culture of Alsace.
In addition to being known for its beauty, Alsace has a great reputation for wine and beer production. With a rich history in libations, many factors have contributed to the growth and change in the industry, including commercial interests, political factors and even the weather.
Wine and cheese have been long known as a French staple. In addition to bread and water, wine and cheese are a common accompaniment with every meal, matching the wine to the food being served. Brought out just after the main course, but before the dessert, French cheeses also vary by region. For example, the region of Champagne is well-known for its wines, but also fine cheeses including Langres with its strong aroma and complex, slightly salty flavor. Another favorite is the quintessential soft-ripened Camembert from Normandy. The taste of a ripe Camembert is reminiscent of wild mushrooms.
Dinners can be served in many forms, with the most common in French restaurants being the elaborate affair of many courses paired with wines that are enjoyed over a several-hour period of time. Presentation of the dish, as well as the table, is very important in French cuisine. Traditionally, lavish and colorful displays are used and the more color the better. Many French diners consider the act of eating dinner an art form, rather than a simple meal.
The lavish décor and ornate presentation suggest that French cuisine is complicated, but it is precisely the opposite. French chefs prefer to prepare dishes with quality, fresh ingredients and love, rather than complex recipes and extravagant ingredients.
The traditional bistro restaurant started in France as a small restaurant, usually family-owned without professional staff. Customarily menus weren't printed, using a daily board or servers to share the foods being offered. Regional cuisines and simple recipes with simple ingredients were (and still are) the focus of the kitchens.
Ingredients vary according to the season with locally-grown vegetables, salads and fresh fruits used more frequently in the summer. Mushrooms emerge as summer ends and hunted meats are favored throughout the rest of the year. As winter turns to spring, shellfish hit their peak.