Text of Speech given by Jean-Pierre d'Estienne d'Orves, Secretary General of the French Food Spirit Awards, at its Awards Dinner for Max McCalman on Jan. 27, 2011 in N.Y.C at the restaurant "Robert," located atop the Museum of Arts & Design.
Mr President, dear Prizewinner, dear Friends of the French Food Spirit, dear Friends of Cheeses:
First, a few explanations about the "French Food Spirit" and the awards that carry its name.
In 2002, ANIA, The French Federation of the Food and Drink Industries, issued a charter assigning specific characteristics to France's food culture, namely: variety, regional diversity, "terroir," science, accessibility, responsibility, and entrepreneurship.
It was named: "L'Esprit Alimentaire - The French Food Spirit."
With support from ANIA and SIAL, the world's largest food show organization, I created the association, "Friends of the French Food Spirit," to host specific awards.
In 2003 we hosted the first edition of the FFSA. It took place in the glittering venues of the President of the French Senate, the Salons de Boffrand of the Palais du Luxembourg.
Based on the values defined in the charter, three non French personalities from around the world were recognized for achievements that exemplify the French food culture. The British writer, Peter Mayle, received the Trophy for Culture; the Japanese chef, Hiroyuki Hiramatsu, the Trophy for Entrepreneurship; and Sister Noella Marcellino, a cheese microbiologist from the Benedictine monastery of Bethlehem, Connecticut, the Trophy for Science.
Tonight, if I may say, Cheese is back on the stage.
We celebrate a Maître Fromager and a Garde et Juré of the Guilde des Fromagers de St. Eguzon: The American Cheese Expert, Max McCalman.
After having honored the Cheese Nun in 2003, we celebrate tonight, the Cheese Advocate. As a matter of fact, our nominee has been for nearly two decades a fierce advocate for artisanal cheese production, and defender of the biodiversity it is based on.
Not the biodiversity of the Brazilian forest or of the swamps of Florida, but the microbiological richness of the billions of organisms leading to the French cheese plate. With 900 years of tradition and practice, today's French cheese makers produce some 1000 different cheeses that harness microbes.
Max, endowed with great talents, passion and determination, made part of this treasure accessible to U.S. consumers for almost two decades.
Max is a genuine Cheese Entrepreneur: he created in the early 90's the legendary cheese program at New York City's Picholine Restaurant; then, again in 2001 at the Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie, and, again, at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, all in the Big Apple.
The city's first Celebrity Maître Fromager imports cheeses, matures them, and creates cheese plates to be sold to the public or to restaurants.
He is also a writer: "The Cheese Plate," "Cheese, a Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best," which won a James Beard Award, and, more recently, "Mastering Cheese, Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager," are three of the most reputable reference books on the subject.
May I quote Max from "The Cheese Plate:" "The French possess a unique and profound appreciation of good things in life. It's deeply embedded in the national psyche. Wine, cheese, food, architecture … all expressions of the French soul, of that certain sense of style and joie de vivre. And so, without prejudice toward any other country, it must be stated that when it comes to cheese, France is king … There is no match for its powerful combination of attributes - tradition, inventiveness, quality and flavor. Furthermore, for sheer numbers and variety, nothing comes close to French cheese, a multiplicity that reflects the country's tremendous diversity and cultural depth."
In 2007, Max McCalman was the herald of the French Cheese Promotion Program. He got a superb idea: he created 15 different cheese plates for daily consumption, and special plates for specific events, such as the Super Bowl, Valentines Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Max was also a teacher as Dean of Curriculum of the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center. The testimony of one of his students, Cynthia Sin-Yi, shows a specific talent for passing his knowledge and passion: "I felt like a timid amateur in the presence of a master. The amazing thing about the whole experience though, was that Max never once made me feel like I was an amateur. He's made cheese approachable and opened my eyes to the possibilities of pairings - not just the pairing of cheese and wine, or cheese and other beverages, but the concept of how food and drinks complement or detract from each other."
Passing on the knowledge to the new generation is of utmost importance, especially in light of the fact that UNESCO last November decided to register the "repas gastronomique à la Française" on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. One of the prerequisites is to keep it a reality. And cheese, of course, is a chapter of the story.
In addition to that, Max as an expert appears on TV shows such as Television Food Network, CBS Evening News, CBS Morning Show, the Cable News Network, the Daily Show, Martha Stewart Living, and others.
Tonight for this 7th edition of the Awards, we are not in one of the palaces of the French Republic: the Senate, or the Palace of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. For the first time, we are not in France.
Instead, we are in a country from which eight of the former winners are coming: Brad Bird, Professor Adam Drewnowski, Philip and Mary Hyman, Mother Noella Marcellino, Professor Paul Rozin, Patricia Wells and Meryl Streep.
It's a pleasure to be back in New York City, getting together in this outstanding venue, Chez Robert, on top of the newest museum of your city, the Museum of Arts and Design, which I visited today for the first time.
In the name of the Association of the Friends of the French Food Spirit, I want to express my recognition to CNIEL, to Laurent Damiens of the Cheeses of France, to Denise Navarro and to her local staff, and to the French Cheese Exporters for having organized this dinner. I hope they had a fruitful meeting today with their U.S. friends of French cheeses.
I want to thank the outstanding menu of the Chef.
Cheese is art de vivre.
Cheeses are New Frontiers of Gastronomy.
When I have a cheese on my plate, I have in mind the long chain of attention, the amount of knowledge, the endeavor leading to this piece of pleasure and well being. I see the diversity of the landscapes of France's regions, and terroirs, and the beauty of the countryside. I never forget their protectors and curators: the stockbreeders and their herds and flocks. I also think of the hundred of cheesemakers, from the farms, to the huge industrial operations processing the white streams.
Considering all these points, the international jury of the FFSA 2010 decided to give to Maître Fromager Max McCalman the Award for Entrepreneurship.
Jury members are Gérard d'Aboville, Jim Bittermann, William Christie, François-Xavier Demaison, Claude Fischler, Astrid Lulling, Keiko Minamitani, Jean-Pierre de Launoit, Sonia Poussin, Stanley Prusiner, Hervé This and Bertrand du Vignaud.
In the name of the 12 jury members, I give you the Trophy Enterprise 2010.
Your name is engraved in this crystal sculpture manufactured by Daum. Ms Evelyne Dreyfus, manager of Daum Boutique, after this long address will elaborate about this artwork.
Vive l'Esprit alimentaire et honneur aux fromages, à ceux qui les font, à ceux qui les affinent et à ceux qui les aiment!
Given by Jean-Pierre d'Estienne d'Orves, Secretary General of the French Food Spirit Awards
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