Pierre Franey's Culinary Tour de France
Regional specialties from his native country are served as main course for the famed food writer's new TV cooking series
DEVOUT fans of television cooking shows may wistfully recall a series that appeared in the late 1980s called ''Floyd on France.''
In it, a rakish and wacky British restaurateur named Keith Floyd took viewers on a gastronomic Tour de France that gained more of its inspiration from Monty Python than from Julia Child.
Relations between Britain and France somehow survived. Still, this season's version of the culinary tour takes no similar chances. In ''Pierre Franey's Cooking in France,'' which premires Sept. 9 on PBS, the guide is as French as the Guide Michelin and nearly as stolid.
So let's just say it up front: Pierre Franey, you're no Keith Floyd.
That said, it may not be such a bad thing. Mr. Franey has credentials that few television chefs can match.
In the 1950s, he ran one of the most celebrated French restaurants in the United States, New York's Le Pavillon. Beginning in the 1970s and ending last January, his ''60 Minute Gourmet'' column in the New York Times helped bring good food to legions of time-strapped families.
Franey has written or cowritten more than a dozen books, including ''Cooking in France,'' a companion guide to the new series. He has starred in two previous cooking shows, ''Cuisine Rapide'' and ''Pierre Franey's Cooking in America.''
Franey knows food, especially French food. And, being French and all, he knows his way around France. What it all boils down to is that when we watch ''Cooking in France,'' we know we're in the hands of a master.
But be forewarned: There is not a lot of wit here to leaven the trip.
''Cooking in France,'' is a no-nonsense guide to the pleasures of the French table, delivered with all the polish and finesse a longshoreman might bring to the job. Serious gastronomes will be fascinated. Fans of, say, the Galloping Gourmet may want to trot on by.
Franey takes us from region to region, restaurant to restaurant, poking into kitchens, introducing us to some serious Gallic chefs and translating their step-by-step cooking instructions from French into French-accented English.
There's an undeniable charm here when Franey stands beside a Provenal chef and explains that her ancient wood-burning stove has been handed down through ''three generations - her grandmudder, her mudder, and her.''
Or when one Burgundian chef speaks passionately - and at some length - while wagging a bundle of parsley under the host's nose. Franey's translation: ''He's gonna make a pure of parsley, that's what he calls it.''
That pure of parsley, incidentally, is intended for a meal - escargot with parsley and garlic pures - that most Americans would probably just as soon skip. Franey obviously wouldn't understand, but there are people for whom the sight of a roiling pot of crenulated gray snail meat just doesn't set the taste buds to yearning.
Not Franey. ''Pierre was delighted to get his fork into those snails,'' the narrator tells us, and it's obvious from our host's grin of delight that it's true.
And here's a little tip from Franey: If you can't find good, fresh, live snails, you can buy them canned. ''But make sure to buy the snails from France - Burgundy. Because a lot of snails in the United States, they come from some other place, they're not as good.''
What we like about Franey, here as in his previous endeavors, is that he exemplifies the blue-collar sensibilities of the professional chef. There is nothing precious or trendy about his approach, nor does he try to be an entertainer. He is a chef, and a good one, and he has a lot to teach.
Sometimes, though, you might wish he'd hired Keith Floyd to write a few jokes.
* Check local listings for time of Pierre Franey's PBS cooking series.