Don't take it to heart if you don't know what a kiwi is: 99 percent of the French think it's a bird from New Zealand--it is--and 99 percent of Americans think it's a brand of shoe polish--it is. But the kiwi in question--enfant terrible of the nouvelle cuisine--is a fruit that hails from northern China: it's kelly green inside, brown and furry outside. Now kiwis aren't all that bad. In fact, they might be downright tasty if they hadn't come to symbolize the self-consciously exotic nature of much of what is being dished up today in the name of nouvelle cuisine.
Don't get me wrong. There's still much to be said for the culinary closet-cleaning now under way in France. But the trick these days is not where to find nouvelle cuisine, but how to tell the genuine article from the myriad malodorous mélanges being served in restaurants from Bordeaux to Bligny-sur-Ouche.
When a group of Lyonnaise chefs commonly referred to as la bande à Bocuse announced that they were launching a new style of French cooking a few years back, even cautious connoisseurs agreed that French cuisine could use a bit of shaking up. For decades it had staggered along, buried in béchamel, drowned in demiglace, sagging under the weight of Escoffier's elaborate directives. French chefs were judged on their ability to reproduce the classic repertoire, not on imagination.