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Can the French embrace cooking without drinking wine?

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Paris (AFP) – It’s still a strangely uncomfortable notion for some, but even the wine-loving French are experimenting with soft drinks these days.

Being pregnant or a designated driver in France—or trying to experience a “dry January” after the booze-soaked holiday season—tends to leave interesting drink options when dining out.

“When I was pregnant, it was boring to go to a restaurant and be stuck in water all night,” said Argentine sommelier Baz Levinson.

In collaboration with Anne-Sophie Pic, the world’s most-starred chef, they create new ways to pair drinks, like the Brazilian coffee served with venison at the three-star restaurant in Valencia.

The photo said: “I started calling.” “Everyone is trying.”

Chef Anne-Sophie Beck says soft drinks are starting to catch on in France © Joel Saget/AFP

Yann Daniel, a Paris-based mixologist, admits he was “a little dubious” about the idea at first, but soon realized how many people were craving low- or no-alcohol combinations.

“It is a trend that is developing in France after the Anglo-Saxons, who are always a little bit ahead of us in these matters,” he told AFP.

He was responsible for creating a menu of light cocktails around spices, herbs, roots and teas for the hotel chain this fall, while his colleague Matthias Giraud published a cocktail recipe book, No Low.

Not everyone is convinced.

Instead, the trend is for countries that don’t have a world-class wine industry, says Guy Savoy, the world’s best chef according to The List.

“In the first country where great wine is found, I don’t judge it, but it doesn’t fit,” he told AFP.

But the data is clear: French alcohol consumption has fallen sharply, with average adults dropping annually from 17.7 liters per year in 1960 to 9.2 liters in 2014, according to Our World in Data.

Chef David Totin has spent years creating non-alcoholic pairing options © Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP / File

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

In his eponymous restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, two-star chef David Totin combines lobster with a mixture of fir shoots and eel with apple juice infused with fennel vinegar and pigeons with beetroot and carrot nectar.

These options are now found alongside the wine selections on the menu.

“It took me years to put all this together,” Tutin told AFP.

It is best paired with wine, which is not made specifically with the dish in mind.

“It takes you deeper into the experience,” he said.

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