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Liberté, Equalité, Fromagerie

July 2, 2010

You can tell a lot about a country from its official national day. National holidays and the way they are celebrated over time reveal much about the values of a country’s people and Government. Australia is often described as a ‘young’ nation, but the origins of its national day beat the French by a year.

In a truly Australian fashion, Australia Day is a little bit dodgy, celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the proclamation of British sovereignty over Eastern Australia. White guys triumph over ‘terra nullius‘, hooray! Hence the dodgy aspect of our national day, as a symbol of the beginning of the dispossession of the Indigenous population. Australia Day was a celebration which began from above, with the first recorded festivities held by Lachlan Macquarie in 1818, on the 30th anniversary of settlement, appropriately commemorated with a 30-gun salute and a massive party for the military. Now a ‘popular’ celebration of course, it is shunned by the likes of me and my educated small-l liberal compatriots. The drunk, sunburned bogans at the Big Day Out, with their signature southern cross tattoos and Australian flags in lieu of clothing, can keep it as far as we’re concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I love Australia and everything it stands for. I just don’t like Australia Day and everything it stands for.

In contrast, France’s Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale, is a national celebration I can come at. It’s not my national celebration, but it is far more compatible with my core values and beliefs. A medieval fortress and prison, the Bastille was a symbol of the ancien regime and the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI. As the country plunged into economic crisis, the people grew restless. On 14 July 1789, an unruly and violent mob stormed the gates of the Bastille in search of weapons and ammunition, as well as to free the political prisoners held behind its walls of stone and tyranny. In one of the classic LOLs of history, the expensive fortress and garrison had already ceased to function as the Gitmo of its day, and there were only seven prisoners inside: four forgers, two ‘lunatics’ and a ‘deviant’ aristocrat. Be that as it may, the unruly mob made its point, and the incident was a flashpoint in the French revolution, with the people wresting tyranny from the soon-to-be-cold-dead hands of the monarchy and wielding it themselves.

Prise de la Bastille 1789, Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

It isn’t so much the unmitigated violence evoked by Bastille Day which draws me to it, but the guiding principles of the revolution embodied in the lofty ideals of universal liberté, equalite and fraternité. If I’m 100% honest though, the main reason I celebrate Bastille Day is because I love French food and wine. Who doesn’t? Practically no-one does better French food than the French!

Over the past 4 or 5 years, my housemate and I have shared a special Bastille Day tradition. We take turns year by year cooking ‘French onion soup’, which I assume is called something different in its native country, get a nice bottle of imported plonk and watch a French film. The first film we watched was the delightful Jean de Florette, starring the ubiquitous Gerard Depardieu. A must-watch film for anyone considering a Gourmet Farmer-style tree change, we faithfully waited a whole year to watch its sequel, Manon des Sources, only to realise after 15 minutes that it was so bad we couldn’t even finish it. We finished the bottle of wine though, and a good time was had by all!

This is my favourite recipe for French onion soup. The trick is in the long, slow cooking of the onions, which brings out the most incredible sweetness and depth of flavour. There are also very few savoury dishes which can’t be improved by adding a layer of grilled cheese, and this tasty broth is no exception.

But first, a musical number perpetuating satirising hilarious cultural stereotypes from New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo to get you in the mood. Bon appétit!

French Onion Soup (Recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveller)

100 g butter, coarsely chopped
2 kg onions, thinly sliced (the V-slicer is your friend!)
1 litre (4 cups) beef stock
4 thyme sprigs
3 parsley stalks
1 fresh bay leaf
8 1cm-thick slices of baguette cut on diagonal, lightly toasted
250 gm coarsely grated Gruyère

Melt butter in a large, wide heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until onions are soft. Remove lid and cook for 1 hour or until soft and starting to caramelise. Add stock, ½ a cup at a time, and simmer for 5 minutes or until stock has almost evaporated. Repeat three times more until 2 cups of stock has been added. Using kitchen twine, tie herbs together, add to onions with remaining stock and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, scraping the base to remove any caramelised bits, for 40 minutes or until thick. Makes 6 cups.

Preheat oven to 200C. Ladle soup into 1½ capacity oven-proof bowls and transfer to an oven tray. Scatter with half the cheese, top each with two toasted baguette slices and scatter with remaining cheese. Place in oven and cook for 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

If I was on Masterchef, Donna Hay would say that this is 'too brown', to which I would reply 'Yes Donna Hay, that's because of all the colours in the culinary rainbow, brown is one of the most consistently delicious.'

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2010 18:26


    Ah, fuck Donna Hay. It looks fantastic!

  2. Horatio Bunker permalink
    July 2, 2010 20:08

    Good read!


  3. Kelly permalink
    July 2, 2010 22:05

    Foux de fa
    I’m here (or there) right now and occasionally have thought of your tweet about you being here when you were a young gal and what a great time you must have had eating and drinking around the city. Tres Bon

  4. Kelly permalink
    July 2, 2010 22:06

    PS Donna Hay is a bush pig

  5. July 3, 2010 12:42

    Brown is definitely the most consistently delicious colour. Donna Hay should know better. Or not, I guess.

    So which film will you watch this Bastille Day?

  6. July 3, 2010 16:01

    well one thing that isn’t dodgy is your post gorgeous! Equalité for brown food I say … and, now I’ve got a hankering for French Onion Soup!!

  7. July 3, 2010 17:36

    Soup looks the SHIZNIT baby. Me wants

  8. Vignoramus permalink
    July 13, 2010 17:58

    be nice to the Don…

    I kind of think you’re putting words in her mouth and generating hate?

    She might judge the quality of the photo – but commend you on giving it a good go don’t you think?
    in all my dealings with Donna Hay she’s been extremely nice every time.

    I’m not sure why there’s such a campaign against her?
    She started in exactly the same sort of position as you and every other foodie and has simply succeeded.
    No she’s not a Chef. She never claims to be.
    She’s a food stylist with a degree in food science.

    People tend to get rather agro which I don’t get.
    No one has pointed out Matt Prestons Gluttony?
    if any woman behaved towards food or her body like that they’d be ostracized by a hungry image conscious patriarchal mob.

    Why not support another woman who encourages people to create in their kitchens just like you?

    What happened to Equalité? You’ve dropped Fraternité from the equation and it shows.

  9. felixexplody permalink*
    July 13, 2010 18:06

    Whoa, steady on, you have misinterpreted my tone! I wasn’t criticising Donna Hay, but repeating something I saw her raise on Masterchef as a food stylist, being that ‘brown’ food doesn’t photograph well, clearly demonstrated by my lacklustre photography. My comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, not critical.

    Donna Hay’s cookbooks were very helpful to me when I started out in the kitchen, although I rarely refer to them now because they don’t have the level of sophistication I’m looking for these days, and I do think that in some cases style wins over substance. I am very inspired by her eye for presentation and design though.

  10. Vignoramus permalink
    July 13, 2010 18:30


    I hear you, but what you write generates the hate;
    “fuck Donna Hay”
    “Donna Hay is a bush pig”
    “Donna Hay should know better. Or not, I guess.”

    What i’m trying to communicate is by writing ‘If I was on Masterchef, Donna Hay would say ‘…
    seems a bit unfair. She might just give you some great snaps and a tip on how to make it look more appetizing?

    Why not say ‘if I ‘was’ a great food stylist such as Donna Hay this would not look so brown even though of all the colours in the culinary rainbow, brown is one of the most consistently delicious’

    if you’re inspired by someone in the past but progress to more sophisticated cooking, surely they played a part? why dress them down without their having a choice in it?

    making any sense?

    • felixexplody permalink*
      July 13, 2010 18:40

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I write in a certain style, and people can and will respond as they wish. I’m not going to tone down my (attempted) humour because of the comments it will potentially provoke. I think it’s pretty clear that my style is light-hearted.

      In defence of brown foods everywhere, it is true to say that contemporary food styling is biased towards colour and contrast, so I suppose I was making a comment about that. You couldn’t really make French Onion soup look any more appetising, because that’s what it looks like! And because my blog isn’t the cover of Gourmet Traveller, it doesn’t matter.

    • July 13, 2010 20:26

      A little disclosure may be required right about now: Vignoramus?

      • July 13, 2010 23:43

        Who the fuck goes trawling the web for opportunities to defend the good standing of Donna Hay ? Christ… Do you PR people never sleep ?

  11. Kelpenhagen permalink
    July 13, 2010 18:48

    In defense of Felix her comment didn’t generate ‘hate’. As she said, it was in reference to Hay’s comments in season one about ‘brown’ not shooting well.

    My comment was as I see it. I had that opinion before Felix’s post.

    I also comment regularly about Matt P’s lardy arse, and the way George shouts like he has special needs.

    If we want to link Felix’s post back to the French revolution then you can liken the Internet to the printing press. It gave the Everyman the ability to comment, jest and jive on whatever topic they wanted. And often this meant making jest of public figures. Ms Hay puts herself out there and has cultivated a very public persona. This does not mean we all have tobow down and scrape to it. Some of her own public comments about her peers in the food industry have been less than complimentary.

    To address the gender imbalance that is also bothering you I think Jamie Oliver is a twat.

  12. July 13, 2010 19:53

    Very chouette article! Pity you didn’t like Manon des Sources, I loved both of them when I was little! (Maybe I shouldn’t watch it again now though… I might be disappointed)
    The soup looks delicious, have a great Bastille Day!

  13. July 13, 2010 23:08

    Lovely Felix, love ‘French Onion Soup’ – you’ve made me want to eat some, followed by boeuf bourgignon and then chocolate mousse. I’ll eat it on my brown sofa.

  14. July 14, 2010 10:29

    You don’t have to ‘agree to disagree’ with a moron who fails not only at basic reading comprehension, but also at constructing a coherent sentence.

    Generate that hate.

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