Books & Cookbooks

Le Fooding Guide

Le Guide du Fooding
Image courtesy of Le Fooding and Libération

If you are in or around Paris tomorrow, consider buying Libération from your favorite press kiosk. From November 17 to November 21, the daily paper will include the 2006 edition of Le Guide du Fooding. This is a guide to Paris restaurants, to which I contributed this year with reviews of the food scene in the 4th arrondissement. This was a fun and exciting project to be a part of — albeit very demanding of my time and appetite! — and I hope the guide will be useful to you. (It should also be available online starting on November 28, but a paper copy is handy to have in your purse, no?)

And what is le Fooding you ask? A Parisian movement that was created some 6 years ago by two journalists who wanted to stir things up in the world of gastronomy, and put the “feeling” (with a French accent, it’s important) back into food. Amongst other things, they organize events in trendy locations all through the year, during which you can eat food prepared by up-and-coming chefs, taste excellent wine, listen to good music — all of this for free or a nominal fee.

The next event is the 6th Semaine du Fooding, taking place in Paris, Brussels and Béziers from November 28 to December 5 — more info on their website.

Modern Culinary Art

L'Art Culinaire Moderne

I have written about my grandmother on a few occasions in the past. She is my father’s mother and she lives not too far from me, which allows me to visit and bask in the glow of her tenderness and her general wisdom on all things life.

In the past few years, my ever-growing passion for food and cooking have definitely brought us closer: as a devoted cook herself, I can see how happy she is that a grandchild of hers would share that interest and be delighted to converse endlessly about tips and recipes and tricks of the trade.

Since she doesn’t speak English and has never used a computer — much less been on the Internet — it is somewhat difficult to explain what C&Z is, but I try (clippings help), she gets the general idea, and she’s very eager to help. Most recently, she decided to entrust me with one of her cooking bibles called L’Art Culinaire Moderne written by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, which she acquired in late 1946 as her handwritten ex-libris attests.

I am fascinated by vintage cookbooks and this one is no exception. With more than 700 pages, 3,500 recipes and 270 pages of illustrations, the author’s ambition is to establish the standards of la bonne table française et étrangère — French and foreign cuisine — for the use of the home cook (needless to say, this is a woman we’re talking about here).

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Mary Frances! I’ve heard so much about you!

MFK

I had been told wonderful things about MFK Fisher (1908-1992, full name Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher), but had never had a chance to read the work of the brightest shining light in American food writing. I had been looking for her books in the English-language bookstores I frequent, but they never seemed to have them in stock and since I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, I didn’t wish to have them ordered for me.

Just last week though, I stopped by Galignani on the rue de Rivoli, went straight to the section I had been pointed to on a previous visit, and with a jolt of excitement discovered a selection of five. There was just one copy of each so I pulled them all out from the shelf, lest another customer snidely took one before I had time to examine each of them properly.

After an intense session of picking up, leafing through, putting down and picking up again, the finalists were announced: The Gastronomical Me (food memories from 1912 to 1941, from California to Mexico by way of Dijon) and An Alphabet for Gourmets, which compiles 26 of her essays and instantly won me over with the first chapter I read standing in the store: “A is for dining Alone”.

Unable to decide between the two, I did what any sensible book lover would do and bought both, even though the price tags very clearly stated: “1 arm + 1 leg”. (The cost of imported books in Paris is one of my pet peeves, so I suggest we not go there.) Now I can’t wait to finish the book I’m currently reading and immerse myself into Mary Frances’ world — but one problem remains: which one will I start with?

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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

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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.

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