THE CULINARY news from France is that nouvelle cuisine has been invaded by the kiwi fruit, a visitor from New Zealand, which has suddenly started to turn up in all sorts of dishes, whether it combines happily with them or not.
Technically, its use in the kitchen should be rather limited. In taste and texture it resembles the honeydew melon. Would you put honeydew melon in a stew?
There does not seem to be any particular gastronomic reason for making kiwi fruit an integral part of the New Cuisine, though it is difficult to assert that it is out of place there in the absence of information about the character of nouvelle cuisine itself.
For a different sort of reason, the association of nouvelle cuisine and the kiwi fruit is logic itself. Nouvelle cuisine represents nothing new in the realm of cookery and is strictly a publicity operation. The sudden prominence of the kiwi is the result of a publicity operation, too.
"New" is a magic word, as any advertising manager for a detergent manufacturer can tell you. In this case it proved a humdinger. The phrase nouvelle cuisine was on all lips, including those of persons who would have had a hard time explaining what it was, except that it was practiced by chefs whose common denominators were showmanship and a willingness to use expensive raw materials, neither of which is a purely gastronomic characteristic.
Gastronomic writers and their faithful followers, the reading public, took to referring to all famous cooks under the age of 60 as practitioners of this art, whatever it was. I suspect that most of the chefs so honored harbored no illusions about belonging to a new school of culinary practice, but the label sold well, so they went along with it, maintaining a healthy, if concealed, attitude of saving cynicism.
I have a friend who makes it a specialty to know all the famous chefs of France. He was invited to lunch by one of the leading lights of the new cuisine. The chef outlined to him the luscious menu he proposed to put on the table. "But what about the nouvelle cuisine?" My friend exclaimed. "My god!" said the chef, "You didn't think we were going to eat that stuff, did you? That's for the customers!"
It is difficult to discover what common bond unites those who are being hailed as practitioners of nouvelle cuisine unless it is that a great number of them seem to have developed their skills under the influence of one man, who might be discribed as the father of the present generation of chefs. They served their apprenticeships under the late Fernand Point, who presided over the fabulous Pyramid restaurant of Vienna.
I would not describe the outstanding cooks of the post-Point generation as iconoclasts. They are not breaking with the established cuisine, they are improving it and carrying it to superlative heights.
Paul Bocuse is frequently named as an exponent of the new cuisine, but I have noted no disdain for the great traditions in his cooking either, and those who equate the new cuisine with thinning diets would be hard put to fit him into this pattern.
When a new food appears suddenly and spontaneously all over the map as the kiwi has now done (and is doing), it is a pretty sure bet that it has been, as the French put it, "orchestrated." In other words, somebody behind the scenes is deliberately promoting it; I think I know who he is.
There is one man in France who, as an importer of exotic foods, is able to supply the demand for such items and as a supplier and close collaborator of luxury restaurants, is also able to create the demand.
Some years ago he had all France eating green peppercorns, an interesting spice with dishes such as raw (not smoked) salmon or with wild duck. But it was a trifle overdone when green pepper began turning up in almost everything except ice cream.
The original exploitation of the kiwi was not that which is now being witnessed in France. It started a decade or more ago in New Zealand, which I would guess is its native heath. The gospel according to kiwi says that it originated in northern China, and its original name was, indeed, the Chinese gooseberry, but I have been hunting for traces of its existence in China -- north, south, east and west -- for several years now without finding any.
This could be one of those many geographical names applied to foods by persons far form their sources (a striking example is the turkey) who have a vague idea where it was to be found in a name representative of a wide area. The kiwi was known vaguely to come from somewhere far to the east of those who named it, and how could the Far East be symbolized better than by China? -- hence, the Chinese gooseberry. That the taxonomists perpetuated this attribution by calling it Actinidia chinensis does not necessarily locate it. They have made many mistakes in geographical nomenclature in the past and left them uncorrected in the seientific vocabulary.