SEDALIA, Mo. It’s August, the month when nearly all of France is on vacation, but chefs Jacques Perine and Jean-Claude Tourine have chosen a destination that most of their countrymen wouldn’t think of. “We cannot sit upon our derrieres if we want France to remain the gastronomic capital of the world,” says Perine. “So we go where the latest innovations in haute cuisine are to be found.”
Un chien de mais
Perine and Tourine are touring the United States to sample the food at the nation’s state fairs, long derided by nutritionists as cesspools of fat, salt and starch, but nonetheless revered by the French who have a history of raising neglected aspects of American culture such as jazz, “noir” films and Jerry Lewis to the level of art.
“I think these congo bars are gonna take the blue ribbon.”
“In America, there is free and open competition at your state fairs for ribbons of bleu, blanc et rouge,” says Honore Dessous, proprietaire of Les Deux Pneux, a petite boit de nuite on the Left Bank in Paris. “Thees ees the only way to challenge the hidebound orthodoxies of le cordon bleu,” the official French cooking authority that regulates everything from the number of eggs in a standard-size quiche lorraine (3) to the number of tentacles on un escargot (4).
Four, count ‘em.
The two Frenchmen make their way to the Women’s Exposition building at the Missouri State Fairgrounds here to view, critique and record new developments in la cuisine Americaine, including new uses for native American foodstuffs such as Kraft Mini Marshmallows.
“Sacre bleu!” Tourine says as he slaps his forehead. “Look how they have combined yams with pork ‘n beans and the little marshmallows!”
Perine nods with approval, but he’s more interested in seeing what novel uses have been made of Rice Krispies, a cereal with baking applications that is little known in France.
Fruity Rice Krispie Kebabs
“Hmm,” Perine says as he scratches some notes on a spiral pad. “The Fruity Rice Krispie Kebabs are a fun-filled family snack that combines healthy fruits and unhealthy sugar sprinkles with a rice-based cereal that is simply to die for!”
Tourine grabs him by the wrist, causing his pen to skitter down the sheet of paper, but when he sees the sumptuous spread of Jello-brand gelatin salads, he forgives his countryman. “Look at that lime Jello-and-pear-and-green grape mountain!” Perine exclaims. “Wait until the restaurant critic at Paris Match gets a load of that one!”
The two gourmands stuff themselves with American cheese and cracker samples, then step outside to walk off their healthy repast. “You know,” Tourine says, “we should do something to repay our American friends, they have been so good.”
“You are right,” Tourine says, and he withdraws an 16-ounce can of escargots from his bag and offers it to Clell Furnell, a fairgoer passing by.
Consolation prize for Rice Krispie ‘n Escargot Squares
“Here,” Tourine says. “We have enjoyed eating so much in your country, this is my way of giving something back.”
Furnell is clearly moved by this gesture of international understanding, and is quick to express his appreciation. “Why, thanks, little buddy,” he says to Tourine, who at 5’6″ is a good five inches shorter than him. “Snails make great bait when you’re bass fishing.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Those Crazee French.”