My Paris Kitchen
My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Photography credit: Ed Anderson © 2014
My Paris Kitchen. No, not mine. I don't have one. But David Lebovitz does. He moved to Paris ten years ago from San Francisco where he cooked professionally for several decades, including 13 years at Chez Panisse. Since then he has written excellent dessert and ice cream cookbooks, published a very entertaining and appetizing blog, and made what appears to be a stimulating and comforting life in France.
My Paris Kitchen is also the name of his newest book (Ten Speed Press, ©2014, hardcover, 346 pages, color and black and white photographs, $35.00) which tells a very personal story of how Lebovitz headed to Paris without a plan and speaking no French, but nonetheless made a new home with new friends, new work, a new understanding of French food and ingredients, and while not new (it was found on the web and rescued in Lille), a big white sink that became the heart of his kitchen. And then there's the cooking.
There are 115 recipes, from mis-en-bouche to les desserts, including a virtuoso Bûche de Noël. But this is not just a cookbook. It is also a book to read. He tells of the meals made in his first tiny kitchen in an apartment he rented sight-unseen; getting acquainted with Paris customs and manners -- such as you never arrive on time for a dinner, instead always at least 20 minutes late; how globalization is changing French cooking (you'll see that in the recipes); why buying mustard is not such a simple thing; planning a cheese course; a primer on butter; why la soupe for dinner; and even a hilarious account of the full-body experience of shopping in a Parisian supermarket.
Despite his meaningful culinary credentials and pastry prowess, David Lebovitz is a city cook. After all, this is about living and cooking at home in Paris. He cooks and entertains often, loves to shop for ingredients from neighborhood merchants, has worked hard to demystify the food mythologies and legends of this most food-centric of all cities, and will travel a distance to get perfect olives or rotisserie chicken. Even if once he gets there he's greeted with "rupture de stock," or as we know it: sold out.
Finally, what a pleasure to have a book of wisdom, candor and accessible recipes that lets me cook some of the world's greatest flavors without pretention or intimidation. And yet, because he is still a serious chef, there is no dumbing anything down. Okay -- he does include Counterfeit Duck Confit, but the only thing counterfeit is how he revises the traditional cooking method to get you to exactly the same result in less time and with less fuss. And once the confit is done, he shows you how to use it in one of the greatest French classics in the repertoire -- Cassoulet.
The book has five recipe categories: Appetizers (16 recipes), First Courses (16), Main Courses (28), Sides (16), Desserts (26), and Pantry (13). Recipes include both traditional French dishes as well as ones that result from culinary globalization, and many accompanying stories to heighten their flavor. Here are just a few:
Appetizers: 3 kinds of tapenades plus Rillettes de Sardines, Beet Hummus and traditional Hummus, Pissaladière (onion tart), Spiced Meatballs with Sriracha Sauce, and Comté and Ham Wafers.
First Courses: Leeks with Mustard-Bacon Vinaigrette, Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts, Winter Salad, Hard-Cooked Eggs with Chervil Mayonnaise, and Soupe au Pistou.
Main Courses: Fresh Herb Omelet, Salt Cod and Potato Purée, Cassoulet, Roast Lamb with Braised Vegetables, Salsa Verde, and Chickpea Puffs, Coq au Vin, and Le Grand Aiöli.
Sides: Potatoes cooked 4 different ways including frites that are baked and use only 4 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 pounds of potatoes, Green Beans with Snail Butter, French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts, and Herbed Fresh Pasta.
Desserts: Coffee Crème Brulée, Warm Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce, Tangerine-Champagne Sorbet, a primer on making Madeleines, Honey-Spice Bread, Duck Fat Cookies, and that tour-de-force Bûche de Noël.
Pantry: Chicken Stock, Harissa, Mayonnaise, Salsa Verde, and Vinaigrette.
And more and more. Some of the recipes are challenging. Others are easy. If you pay attention to what Lebovitz writes, you'll learn how to shop better, be resolved when sourcing ingredients, have the right tools, and only then get to work in the kitchen. Challenging or easy, he's telling us how the effort that takes place away from the stove is what lets us achieve flavor and satisfaction. And a final note on the recipes: I really appreciate how he recommends what to serve with various dishes. I always like this with a new cookbook because at least for the first time I make a recipe, I won't be sure how to match it with sides or other courses, so this is very helpful.
Within a couple of days of owning this book I had made his recipe for Beet Hummus, using canned beets as Lebovitz offers as an option. It was a beautiful rose color and ever so slightly sweet. It took minutes to make and it was outstanding with raw vegetables. The next day I cooked the Green Beans with Snail Butter. No, there are no snails in the recipe; instead the beans are tossed with the same ingredients as when making escargots -- butter, garlic, lemon, parsley. It turned a dish of plain haricots verts into a luscious side. It also explained to me why my friend Noush always wants both tips of the beans cut off: he is Parisian and that is the Paris way.
We've been given permission to share two recipes with you. First, an appetizer -- one of the book's three tapenades -- this one made with artichokes and rosemary oil. You use canned artichokes but be sure to buy really good green olives (taste before you buy). And as a main course, Chicken With Mustard, a classic French flavor combination that is also the gorgeous dish showcased on the cover of the book.
But beyond the cooking there is Lebovitz's superb and engaging voice. The book may be worth having if only to read his essay on "au pif," which essentially means "by the nose." Here he writes about how important it is to cook by feel and to have confidence in your own judgment about ingredients and technique. Read this essay yourself and then share it with someone who is just learning how to cook.
It's always easy to find new recipes. But a book that can help us eat this well, understand a great cuisine, and become better cooks, all written by a chef who is also a home cook and a teacher -- this is rare. With David Lebovitz's help we just might get to have our own Paris kitchen.