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Can the French embrace cuisine sans booze?

Why the wine-loving French are experimenting with low or no alcohol drinks

The no alcohol trend is picking up in France. (Photo: Irina Kapustina, Pexels)
The no alcohol trend is picking up in France. (Photo: Irina Kapustina, Pexels)

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It remains an uncomfortably foreign idea for some, but even the wine-loving French are experimenting with non-alcoholic drinks these days.

Being pregnant or the designated-driver in France -- or attempting a "Dry January" after a booze-soaked festive season -- has tended to leave few exciting drinks options when dining out.

"When I was pregnant, it was annoying to go to a restaurant and be stuck with water for the whole night," said Argentinian sommelier Paz Levinson.

She works with Anne-Sophie Pic, the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world, and they have pioneered new approaches to drinks-pairing, such as a Brazilian coffee infusion served with the venison at their triple-starred Valence restaurant.

"It's starting to catch on," said Pic. "Everyone is trying it."

Paris-based mixologist Yann Daniel admits he was "fairly dubious" about the idea at first, but quickly realised how many people were thirsty for low- and non-alcoholic concoctions.

"It's a trend that is growing in France, following the Anglo-Saxons who are always a bit ahead of us in these things," he told AFP.

He was commissioned to put together a menu of light cocktails based around spices, herbs, roots and teas for a hotel chain this autumn, while his colleague Matthias Giroud published a book of cocktail recipes called "No Low" (no alcohol and low alcohol).

Not everyone is convinced.

Guy Savoy, the best chef in the world according to The List, says the trend is better reserved for countries without a world-beating wine industry.

"In the number one country for great wine -- I'm not judging, but it doesn't fit," he told AFP.

But the data seems clear: French alcohol consumption has fallen steeply, with the average intake per adult down from 17.7 litres a year in 1960 to 9.2 litres in 2014, according to Our World in Data.

And many restaurateurs are also excited about the opportunities for new inventions.

At his eponymous restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, two-Michelin-star chef David Toutain pairs his lobster with an infusion of fir-tree buds, the eel with an apple juice mixed with fennel vinegar and the pigeon with a beet-carrot nectar.

These options now sit alongside wine selections on the menu.

"It's taken me years to put all this in place," Toutain told AFP.

He prefers it to pairing with wines, which are never made specifically with the dish in mind. "It takes you deeper into the experience," he said.



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