PARIS – Though perhaps not the popular opinion here in Paris, I must insist that this city, despite being known the world over as the shining, golden example of culinary excellence, just doesn’t cut it. The food here is predictable, and often mediocre. While I would agree that the quality of individual ingredients is better in most cases, the story ends there. The meat is fresher, healthier and better tasting. The produce is unlike anything I’ve seen stateside, and the cheese and charcuterie are world class. However, rely on a restaurant to take those ingredients and turn them into something amazing, and it’s almost certain you’ll be left disappointed. After spending over a year here in Paris, I can surely stand behind my opinion and back it up with hard evidence, that New York City is indeed the superior food capital.
If I had to take a guess as to why the food is so much better in New York, I would give you three reasons.
The first is that New York City embraces every culture around the world, and forms it into something completely unique. Korean, French, Mexican, Moroccan, you’ll find each and every type of cuisine in the city, as well as endless combinations and influences of these individual cuisines all woven into one, complex gastronomic fabric. By embracing the culinary diversity within the city, we’re able to experience the best qualities of each type of food and use them to create an entirely new, elevated cuisine. Perhaps that’s the real “New American.”
The second reason is that there’s more competition. In Paris, people are satisfied with a mediocre restaurant experience. Lights are bright, music is often non-existent, service is brusque, and yet people will return. In New York, if you’re not excellent, people are simply going to go elsewhere next time. It’s this constant need to keep up that keeps the restaurants in NYC fresh, innovative and motivated. A big picture comparison hardly goes unnoticed; that of American meritocracy versus French … je ne sais quoi … status quo? Too much security yields lazy effort.
It’s this very idea that also contributes to my third reason that the food is better in New York than here in Paris. Maybe the main explanation is that it’s necessary to improve each individual dish due to worse ingredients to start with. The perfect piece of meat need only be thrown on the grill. Vegetables simply plopped on a plate. But in America, food needs to be handled by an expert’s combination of technique and creativity. I think the food is more exciting in the city because of this very reason. Go to a restaurant in Paris, and it is going to be the same menu you saw at the other restaurant last weekend. But each time you enter a restaurant in New York City, the menu is one of many elements of total surprise. You never know what you’re going to find. While a glass door and two storefront windows may be ubiquitous throughout the thousands of restaurants in New York, what’s within those four walls is one of a kind, and anyone’s guess.
It would be unfair to say that Paris is not branching out, but there is no new French cuisine. French cuisine is French cuisine. It will not change, it will not find any outside influences. There are new restaurants saturating the hip, nouveau culture here in Paris; such as the Korean fried chicken restaurant, some taquerias, or artisanal cocktail bars (including one named Barbershop, for a telling example), but speak with the owners, and most have been inspired by one place only… New York City, and often times–more specifically–Brooklyn… Top of the Food Chain.