Nouvelle cuisine (French: [nuvɛl kɥizin]; lit. 'new cuisine') is an approach to cooking and food presentation in French cuisine. In contrast to cuisine classique, an older form of haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine is characterized by lighter, more delicate dishes and an increased emphasis on presentation. It was popularized in the 1960s by the food critic Henri Gault, who invented the phrase, and his colleagues André Gayot and Christian Millau in a new restaurant guide, the Gault-Millau, or Le Nouveau Guide.
The term "nouvelle cuisine" has been used several times in the history of French cuisine, to mark a clean break with the past.
In the 1730s and 1740s, several French writers emphasized their break with tradition, calling their cooking "modern" or "new". Vincent La Chapelle published his Cuisinier moderne in 1733–1735. The first volumes of Menon's Nouveau traité de la cuisine was published in 1739. And it was in 1742 that Menon introduced the term nouvelle cuisine as the title of the third volume of his Nouveau traité. François Marin worked in the same tradition.
In the 1880s and 1890s, the cooking of Georges Auguste Escoffier was sometimes described with the term.
The modern usage is variously attributed to authors Henri Gault, Christian Millau, and André Gayot, who used nouvelle cuisine to describe the cooking of Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Michel Guérard, Roger Vergé, and Raymond Oliver, many of whom were once students of Fernand Point. Paul Bocuse claimed that Gault first used the term to describe food prepared by Bocuse and other top chefs for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.
The style Gault and Millau wrote about was a reaction to the French cuisine classique placed into "orthodoxy" by Escoffier. Calling for greater simplicity and elegance in creating dishes, nouvelle cuisine is not cuisine minceur ("thin cooking"), which was created by Michel Guérard as spa food. It has been speculated that the outbreak of World War II was a significant contributor to nouvelle cuisine's creation—the short supply of animal protein during the German occupation made it a natural development.
Gault and Millau discovered the "formula" contained in ten characteristics of this new style of cooking. The ten characteristics identified were:
There is a standing debate as to whether nouvelle cuisine has been abandoned. Much of what it stood for—particularly its preference for lightly presented, fresh flavours—has been assimilated into mainstream restaurant cooking. By the mid-1980s, some food writers stated that the style of cuisine had reached exhaustion and many chefs began returning to the cuisine classique style of cooking, although much of the lighter presentations and new techniques remained.