Books & Cookbooks

Pastelarias, Here I Come!

Pastelarias, Here I Come!

Last year, Maxence and I went on a little week-end getaway to Lisbon. A blissful, dazzling few days of walks along the narrow little streets, funicular rides up and down the hills, stunning views of the city, and sunny drives along the beautiful coast.

But all of this wouldn’t have been quite as magical without the stupendous Portuguese cuisine : seafood galore — grilled marinated fried salted or otherwise smoked — tasty little nibbles, scandalously underrated cheese, head-spinning port, the freshest fruit and, last but by no means least, out-of-this-world pastries.

In Lisbon, you cannot walk one block without hearing thousands of sweet little voices calling your name from pastelaria windows, teasing you with promises of puff pastry, custard fillings, orange flower water, almonds and nuts, fruits and chocolate, crispy crusts and spongy dough.

The interesting thing was that they didn’t look all that appealing to me at first : they have a much more homely, unsophisticated look than French pastries, which admittedly tend to look like they’re dressed to go to the prom. They also look a bit like they’re all the same, to the untrained eye at least, cancelling each other out somewhat.

But I can tell you, all it takes is a few bites to turn you into an absolute, enraptured, die-hard convert to the Religion of Portuguese Pastelaria. And I, for one, belong without a doubt to the Church of Queijadas de Sintra

Continue reading »

The Belly of Paris

Le Ventre de Paris

Le Ventre de Paris, translated into The Belly of Paris, is a novel written by Emile Zola in 1873. It is the third of the twenty novels of his naturalist cycle of books, Les Rougon Macquart. The series is about two branches of a large family and their members — the rich and powerful Rougon, and the poor and miserable Macquart — whose lives intertwine from the middle of the 18th to the late 19th century.

Each novel focuses on certain nodes of the family tree, and is the occasion to cast a sharp and crude light on the different social layers, situations and worlds of that time : miners, farmers, department stores employees, priests, financial magnates, small-town inhabitants, workers, prostitutes, artists, doctors, soldiers…

In this one, Zola takes a dive into the fascinating universe of the Paris food market, Les Halles. Since the 12th century, this area in the center of Paris has been devoted to food vendors of all kinds, selling a vast profusion of goods, coming in fresh every morning. Huge halls of iron and glass, Les Pavillons Baltard, were constructed in the 1850’s to organize the different markets, and each street around the pavilions was specialized in a type of product. In 1969 however, the area had become too small to accommodate all the activity, and the traffic was terrible : Les Halles were moved to Rungis, in the South of Paris, and the beautiful Pavillons Baltard were torn down, to the scandalized clamor of the Parisians. The only remnants of that era are some buildings and restaurants, and the presence of many cooking apparel stores, E. Dehillerin in particular.

Continue reading »

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential

[Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly]

Anthony Bourdain attended the Culinary Institute of America 25 years ago, has been in the restaurant business ever since, and is currently the executive chef of the restaurant “Les Halles” in New York. His book “Kitchen Confidential” is both an autobiography and an essay on the world of restaurants, and is written in an unusual tone of honesty and bluntness. A highly entertaining, instructive and fascinating read.

Continue reading »

In Which She Finally Gets Her Hands On Pierre Hermé’s Book

In Which She Finally Gets Her Hands On Pierre Hermé's Book

Last fall, I met the friend of a friend at a party and discovered to my great excitement that he worked for none other than pastry chef Pierre Hermé, at his rue Bonaparte pâtisserie. I had been coveting his new recipe book called “Mes Desserts Préférés” for a little while, and when I mentioned that to my new friend, he said he could try and have a copy signed for me. I nodded. Vigorously.

It took a number of weeks, missed calls and missed appointments to arrange it, but my daydreams about this beautiful book easily carried me through the wait. I finally went to collect it at the production center in the 15th arrondissement, in a small pastry shop with a discreet sign which the untrained eye would miss. It was just before new year’s eve, and this was where the huge quantity of holiday orders were being made and assembled, fresh from the morning. A lot of these are orders for Pierre Hermé’s signature macarons. (A macaron is made of two disks of light almond meringue, held together by a layer of cream.) Since nothing but the perfect macarons make it into the gift boxes, my friend was sweet enough to also give me a few small broken ones, which I shared with my parents and Maxence (aren’t they the luckiest bunch?).

Continue reading »

The Cookbooks To End All Cookbooks

The Cookbooks To End All Cookbooks

Introducing the most beautiful cookbooks of all times : Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse and his little brother Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse – Desserts et Pâtisseries, both generous Christmas gifts from my parents.

Alain Ducasse, for those of you who may not be familiar with the character, is one of the greatest (and probably richest) French chefs of this era. A creative genius, he owns and operates restaurants in New York, Monaco and Paris, and also runs a cooking school. I can’t imagine how busy his life must be, but he reportedly manages to take part in all the decisions – large or small – that concern his business.

And these books you see here, ladies and gentlemen, these books contain The Knowledge. In it, Ducasse shares the recipes he has elaborated and perfected over the 25 years of his career. Targeted at professionals, the first volume has over 700 (yes, seven hundreds) savory recipes, while the second one offers the key to more than 250 desserts and pâtisseries.

Continue reading »

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.