Tag Archive | "France"

Summer in Arles? Pop in to The Paris Pop Up Restaurant

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
(1) A Summer in Provence
(1) A Summer in Provence
(2) Paris Pop Up creator Laura Vidal with colleague Julia Mitton
(2) Paris Pop Up creator Laura Vidal with colleague Julia Mitton
(3) Paris Pop Up Chef Harry Cummins
(3) Paris Pop Up Chef Harry Cummins
(4) Mixing up Le med du jardiniere
(4) Mixing up Le med du jardiniere
(11) Rock octopus, Rock octopus with black sesame, black garlic and cilantro
(11) Rock octopus, Rock octopus with black sesame, black garlic and cilantro
(10) Grilled artichokes with aioli and hazelnut
(10) Grilled artichokes with aioli and hazelnut
(9) Locally sourced vegetables and fish at Paris Pop Up
(9) Locally sourced vegetables and fish at Paris Pop Up
(8) Kitchen notes
(8) Kitchen notes
(7) In the kitchen with Paris Pop Up in Arles
(7) In the kitchen with Paris Pop Up in Arles
(6) Provence in a glass at the Paris Pop Up bar
(6) Provence in a glass at the Paris Pop Up bar
(5) Un Chat Noir with star anise
(5) Un Chat Noir with star anise
(12) Paris Pop Up in Full Swing
(12) Paris Pop Up in Full Swing

 

Story & photos by Deborah Loeb Bohren

Vibrant multicolored vegetables, tender sweetbreads, melt in your mouth Mediterranean bonita, sublimely seasoned rock octopus, deliciously decadent cherry clafouti. These are just some of the tantalizing tastes awaiting you this summer as the dynamic trio behind The Paris Pop Up — British chef Harry Cummins, Canadian sommelier Laura Vidal and fellow Canadian Julia Mitton — bring their unique bistro meets gastronomic style, creativity and joie de vivre to Arles for “A summer in Provence” pop up restaurant.

The idea of a popup restaurant was conceived by Cummins and Vidal when they worked together at Frenchie Restaurant in Paris as they pondered how to combine their love of food, wine and desire to own their own restaurant, with their perpetual desire to travel. Their solution: to “take over” otherwise closed kitchens for a night, a few days or a few weeks and make them their own. Over the last two and a half years, they have popped up around the globe from Paris, Fez, London and Barcelona, to Québec, Montréal, New York City, Oakland and Kyoto. They focus intensely on locally sourced foods and wines, as well as local traditions, to inspire their menus, and even their cocktails pay homage to their their momentary local environs.

(2) Paris Pop Up creator Laura Vidal with colleague Julia Mitton

Canadian sommelier Laura Vidal and fellow Canadian Julia Mitton

In Arles the epicenter of their adventure is the kitchen of the historic and world-renowned Grand Hotel Nord Pinus. Here they serve up their specialities in both the hotel dining room and bar, as well as on the outdoor terrace in the charming Place du Forum, immediately adjacent to the hotel. Diners have the option of a prix-fix menu or choosing from a variety of small plates, each perfect for sharing. Of course, there are also a wonderful assortment libations – original cocktails and local wines and beers – to compliment the sumptuous food.

So if you find yourself in Arles this summer be sure to pop in to the Paris Pop Up (email theparispopup@gmail.com for reservations), meet the amazing team behind the restaurant and let them guide you through the menu for a meal you will remember long after you’ve returned home. And if you miss them in Arles, you can keep track of their global wanderings at www.theparispopup.com/en.

Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.

Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.

5 Myths about France

Tags: , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

header

By Everett Potter

France is a country beloved by many Americans, yet it’s hard to name another destination that is so culturally intimidating to visitors. Perhaps it’s just a cultural clash between French customs and American expectations? That may be, but thanks to a strong dollar that will take many Americans to Gallic shores this summer, it will no doubt confound U.S. visitors yet again. So this seems like an especially good time to address five widely held myths about France.

Continue reading …

The Peak of Alpine Chic in Courchevel

Tags: , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
L'Apogee in Courchevel, France

L’Apogee in Courchevel, France

L’Apogée is the latest rarefied resort to open in Courchevel, that lair of ski-happy oligarchs in the French Alps that’s often dubbed Moscow-on-Snow. It’s situated in Courchevel 1850, the glamour-puss of the resort’s four villages (the number refers to the altitude in meters), an otherworldly locale where the sidewalks seem to sprout Parisian fashion designers and English celebrities, all jostling with those Russian magnates. This is the place, after all, that hired Karl Lagerfeld last year to give one of its cable cars a “makeover.”

Read  more at ForbesLife …

Terre Blanche, Provence

Tags: , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Terre Blanche, Provence

Terre Blanche, Provence

By Richard West
My wife travels monthly to Kiev for work. Two hundred miles east a war rages that has claimed almost 3,000 lives and driven almost half a million Ukrainians toward the west. She was in Kiev when the Malaysian passenger jet was shot down by Russian separatists. Obviously it is an ongoing anxiety-ridden, stressful part of her life. World-class relaxation is needed.

It’s called Terre Blanche.

It is a 750-acre fenced-and-gated resort estate tucked up in the Provencal hills, 35 miles northwest of Cannes, about an hour from the airport in Nice: 115 private villas, two 18-hole golf courses, a heated infinity pool, four restaurants, a 35,000 square-foot spa, tennis courts…lots to do but, for us, it personified the Italian saying, “bella costa far niente,” it is beautiful to do nothing. Not exactly Tolkien’s Mordor.

Once settled in our villa, we wandered the paths, surrounded by jasmine and lavender, mimosa and rosemary, perfumemorying the day, mapping our way from pleasure to pleasure. Aha, Le Tousco Grill, a table-groaning buffet with a taste of the region’s most famous product, the local rose, finest in the world. The rose of choice? Terres des Amour Euses with a bouquet of “gooseberry, mango, and peach.” As always, I only tasted rose wine. Nearby the infinity pool, rentable cabanas, the kid’s pool, and a Jacuzzi.

Terrace of Faventia restaurant, Terre Blanche, Provence

Terrace of Faventia restaurant, Terre Blanche, Provence

After a rest and up the path to dinner we noticed some of the 220 pieces of modern art truffled around the resort, a Jim Dine; Dubuffet’s “L’Arbre biplane, version II”; Cesar Baldaccini’s bird at the entrance of Le Faventia, our fine dining destination for Michelin two-star chef Yannick Franques six-course eatarama.
With wine parings explained by young Alexander Pauget, one of the world’s most animated, enthusiastic sommeliers. A remarkable performance without once slipping into the usual wine snob’s fatuous “it’s a naïve Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption” jabber.
 
And the food? I recall the olive oil-fennel confit in a magnetized cup set in tilted saucer; the octopus with eel shavings and Japanese seaweed; a pigeon breast…the rest a culinary blur. The days of wine and cirrhosis. No surprise if we exuded a pate de fois gras faint gas for the rest of our stay.
 
Terre Blanche’s notable attractions are the golf facilities for those who disagree with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law who quipped about the game, “It’s unsportsmanlike to hit a sitting ball.” Hitting the ball is very much the point here, not only around the two gorgeous courses, but improving the skills at the Albatros Golf Performance Center; the putting and approach greens; and at the training/fitness Leadbetter Academy.

Infinity pool at Terre Blanche, Provence

Infinity pool at Terre Blanche, Provence

Terre Blanche was named “Golf Resort Of The Year-Europe” last year and will host the French Riviera Masters tourney, October 3-5.
 
Our mission was total relaxation so we left le vie sportive behind and followed the Italian’s advice of nothing doing. That didn’t mean not having things done to us: a masterly massage at the spa by head rubdowner, Etienne Demblans (but no Hot Stones Caress or Silk Revelation); sol-searching while being served lunch and drinks in our poolside cabana, the periodically delivered fruity ices especially nectariferous ; reading while watching gliders across the hills over the medieval towns of Fayence and Tourrettes.
 
Everything at Terre Blanche spoke to Baudelaire’s “luxe, calme et volupte,” luxury, peace, and sensuous indulgence. Relaxation? When leaving I felt sure even the earth’s rotation had slowed.
 
Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort
3100 Route de Bagnols-en-Foret
Reservations: +33 (0)4 94 39 36 00
www.terre-blanche.com

 

 Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters. He lives in Amsterdam.


Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters. He lives in Amsterdam.

The Interview: Alexander Lobrano, Hungry for France

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

 

Interview by Everett Potter

The writer Alexander Lobrano has lived in Paris for three decades and his latest book, Hungry for France, is a culinary love letter to his adopted country. It’s much more than a logical follow up to his earlier book, Hungry for Paris (which was just released in its second edition). This is a lively and opinionated hybrid, a mash up of travel book, cookbook, memoir and even coffee table tome, thanks to Steven Rothfeld’s wonderful color photographs. It’s a highly selective guide to restaurants, regions and specialties but also a road map for some of the newest culinary trends in a tradition-bound country.

Lobrano was the late Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent and writes now for the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, The Guardian and Everett Potter’s Travel Report.

In short, he is a born storyteller, and his vignettes take you into his life even as he’s waxing poetic about the world’s best butter (Bordier), stating his personal belief for where the south of France really begins (Valence) or talking about buying a five franc tie from Monoprix on his 20th birthday so he could dine in the tony surroundings of Le Chantecler at the Hotel Negresco in Nice.

The recipes – for curried pork in cider sauce, buckwheat crepes with salted caramel, chard-roasted salmon with fennel salad, and apple-apricot strudel tartlets, etc – are a delicious addendum to each chapter. I spoke with him recently about the new book.

The idea of traveling from region to region of France, dining as you go, remains one of the most inviting travel experiences that I can think of. Do you see Hungry for France as a companion for such travelers, a sort of culinary road map for such excursions?

Yes, very much so. The reason that I wrote this book was to share a deeply meditated list of my favorite addresses in France after having lived, traveled and eaten from one end of this beautiful country to another over the course of nearly 30 years for reasons both personal and professional. As someone who travels constantly, I’ve come to understand that what food-loving travelers to France want most is a carefully curated menu of superb addresses rather than a phone directory length lowdown. Looking at long lists, or sifting through all of the information available on the internet I always find myself thinking, oh, dear, this is really time-consuming and how do I know which places are really good? So Hungry for France is the little black book I’d give to my closest friends, but it’s not really a guidebook either. Instead, with its gorgeous photographs and terrific recipes, it’s a combination dream book, cookbook, memoir and gastronomic primer, since I celebrate and explain the food of France region by region.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

I was going to ask you how long it took you to write this book but I guess the answer must be the 30 years you’ve spent in France. That said, was there some hard travel and research during the past couple of years to produce this labor of love?

My gastronomic knowledge of France is thirty years deep, but since I really focus on the remarkable new generation of chefs, food producers and hotel keepers who’ve emerged in France, a lot of travel was necessary for simple reason that I worked by a process of elimination. Since I wasn’t writing a restaurant directory, but rather a gastronomic gazetteer of my favorite places in France, I had to be ruthless. And to say that the travel was very much a labor of love is to put it very mildly. It took over two years to do this book.

You say in your introduction that “France still has the finest and most deeply rooted culinary culture of any country in the western world, and can also stand up to challenges from any other place on the compass.” Is that a red flag to all the France bashers out there who think it’s lost its culinary supremacy?

William Randolph Hearst proved a longtime ago that nothing sells better than a story about smashing or slashing a sacred idol. So kicking France in the shins re. the quality of its gastronomy has been a great print lede and SEO website bait for at least ten years. The reality of what’s happened is considerably more nuanced. For starters, one can eat well almost everywhere now, which means that France is perhaps a neck or two above the crowd, rather than on a misty peak of absolute supremacy. And if there’s no doubt that the French food chain has been hit by the noisome effects of industrial catering, supermarkets and the same things that have diminished the quality of food almost everywhere, what’s different in France is that the French retain an intense exigence based a real historical knowledge of cooking and their country’s best produce when they sit down at the table. This enlightened gastronomic culture isn’t elitist either—almost everyone in France could name a couple dozen cheeses and tell you where they’re from, for example. Then, too, French produce actually is extraordinary–take fish, for example. Here there’s an expression that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world–“de ligne,” as in “bar de ligne,” which means line-caught sea bass, or fish caught by an individual fisherman on an individual fishing pole, since the French consider that this fish is higher quality than that which is landed in nets. The same is true of butter, vegetables, meat, everything–the language of food in France is hugely rich with phrases and designations that signal a specific type of quality. And finally, the quality and seriousness of French culinary education, or cooking schools, is point blank the best in the world. So if you can get a really lousy pizza in a shopping center in suburban Paris like you can get a really lousy pizza in suburban Madrid or Houston. What you won’t find in these other places is the same exalted caliber of excellence that informs French food.

You make the point that “the talent pool in urban France is deeper and more cosmopolitan than it’s ever been in the country’s history. Hundreds of ambitious young cooks from all over the world, but especially Japan.” Japan? Tell us why.

There’s always been a seriously love affair between France and Japan for a variety of reasons. Both cultures exalt the aesthetics of daily life, prize refinement and subtlety, and adore good food. So France continues to attract ambitious young Japanese chefs who come in search of the holy grail of the greatest western gastronomy, and once they’re here and have done an apprenticeship or two, they often chose to stay on, because life in France is so pleasant, the produce is so good, and the French provide an ambitious chef with such a demanding but receptive audience at the table.

Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

A restaurant in Bordeaux. Photo credit: Steven Rothfeld

I almost get the sense that gastronomic traveling through the various regions of France, whether it’s Normandy, Provence or Burgundy, is akin to traveling in different countries, because each region is so distinct and so proud of what they have. Is that a reasonable comparison?

Very much so, because every region’s history and geography determine what you find on the table. They’re lots of invisible gastronomic frontiers in France, too, perhaps the most famous being between those parts of the country that love butter and those that prefer olive oil. This was pretty much defined by the Roman occupation of Gaul, but olive oil is now popular Lille in the same way that butter is well-liked in Nice. Still, every region’s vividly different history and geography explains the menu in any restaurant.

Auberge des Templiers, Loire Valley. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Auberge des Templiers, Loire Valley. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

One statement I like is “I’d defy you to find another country anywhere in the world where you can so reliably find a spectacular meal—at all levels of the food chain—in its most remote and forgotten villages.” Give us an example of one of those forgotten villages and restaurants.

Two of my favorite restaurants are in tiny little places–Auberge La Prieure, which is in the minuscule village of Moirax just outside of Agen in the southwest, and La Grenouillere, a spectacular auberge in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil in the north of France.

Was there a single big lesson that you learned while writing Hungry for France?
I came away humbled by the passion and seriousness of the hundreds of chefs, food producers, bakers, butchers, hotel keepers and others that I met during my travels. I was also reminded of how much the French love to share everything that’s wonderful about their country with foreigners. Contrary to what some people may think, they’re extremely generous and gracious.

Plates of oysters, Cancale. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Plates of oysters, Cancale. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld

Your life may look to some like an endless array or champagne, oysters and foie gras. Perhaps it is. But what is the biggest misconception that people have about what you do for a living?

I became a food writer because sharing and discovering food it’s the fastest way to understand where you are and who you’re with. Food is a deeply serious subject, so the idea of the over-fed restaurant critic who subsists on luxury produce like foie gras and Champagne is light years from the life I live. Of course I love Champagne, foie gras and oysters, but I’d be miserable if I were confined to the highest end of the French food chain, especially since street food, family cooking and comfort food–choucroute garni in Alsace, for example–is often the best eating to be found wherever you go not only in France but any country.

Finally, give us a Sunday meal you might prepare at home from a couple of the recipes in Hungry for France?

I’d go for the pan-roasted chicken with garlic and vinegar, the potato and cepe mushroom gratin and a strawberry tart–easy but delicious recipes that will leave you with some left-overs with which to see in the week.

 

Alexander Lobrano will be reading from Hungry for France at French Institute Alliance Française in New York on June 3.

Visit Alexander Lobrano’s website.

 

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Boîte à Sardine

Tags: , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
La Boîte à Sardine, Marseilles

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

It may sound odd, but as far as I’m concerned, the best time of the year to visit Marseille is during the winter. This is when the city is quiet without its growing tourist throngs, and the Mediterranean sun is more welcome than ever. The strong wind-scoured light at this time of the year makes the city rather beautiful, too. Marseille is a wonderful weekend away from Paris as well, since it’s only three hours away by TGV train and rooms in most of the city’s hotels go for low-season rates. If Marseille is never a particularly self-conscious city even in high season–it’s bluff disinterest in travelers is one of the reasons I like it so much, actually–it’s even more devoid of any social artifice during the winter.

Spending a few days here recently, I loved the fact that no one asked me about my accent when I spoke French, probably because in Marseille, France’s second largest and perhaps most cosmopolitan city, almost everyone has an accent. The only exception was when I went for lunch to my favorite seafood restaurant, La Boîte à Sardine, which recently moved to a new location near the church of  Saint-Vincent-de-Paul at the top of la Canebière, the city’s storied main artery, which runs down hill to Le Vieux Port, or the old harbor where the city was founded as a colony by the Greeks some 2600 years ago. There’s simply no better place in this port town to get a really good reasonably priced feed of just-out-of-the-water seafood, so I popped in early and took a stool at the counter, since I knew they wouldn’t waste a table at this very popular place on a single diner.

 

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

I was very much hoping my favorite dish would be on the catch-of-the-day menu—sea anemone beignets, but when I asked the owner, Fabien Rugi, who directs the restaurant from behind the bar in front of the kitchen, he told me that he hadn’t been able to get any the day before and suggested I go have a look at the fish stand (they also sell fish) to see what else might tempt me. Before I could slip off my stool, though, he slid a glass of white wine across the bar and said, “Votre accent–vous n’etes pas d’ici.” No, I told him, I’m not from Marseille. “Vous venez d’ou? Vous etes Belge?” (Where are you from? Are you Belgian?”) No, I told him, I come from across the sea.

There were a few beautiful loup de mer (sea bass) on the stand, but I knew I’d have to order quickly to get my hands on one, since the restaurant was filling up quickly, and the reason it has so many regulars is that Rugi sources his menu from local small-boat fishermen. So I darted back to the bar and ordered some shrimp as a starter and then a loup de mer. Rugi warned that it might be a lot for one person, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble finishing a large specimen of one of my very favorite fish. The grilled baby squid, spaghetti with langouste (rock lobster), and rougets (red mullet) also tempted, but I held firm.

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

 

If I had any doubt as to where I was, the shrimp–plump perfectly cooked crimson curls of juicy sea meat–came with a big spoonful of garlicky aioli as well as a lemon wedge, and I’d just finished my first one when I heard Rugi telling a businessman down the bar from me that he couldn’t have his fish if he didn’t close his iPad and devote his attention to his meal. “I just wanted to read the paper,” the man implored, but Rugi insisted. “Concentrate on your meal instead–how can you really enjoy your food when you’re reading? My fish deserves your full attention.” One way or another, the triangular shaped room hung with fish nets and decorated with nautical bric brac offered ample distractions of one stripe or another. I loved watching chef Celine Bonnieu at work in the kitchen behind the bar, and the high spirits of a table of molls with dolls  getting happy on a bottle of Champagne were contagious, too.

Some people might perceive of Rugi, a lean man in a knit cap who’s as light on his feet as a boxer, as being a little high-handed with his customers, but I rather admire it, because he’s incredibly proud of the quality of the fish he serves, and rightly so. And if I often have a magazine with me when I go for a solo meal, I rarely read it, for the simple reasons that I enjoy observing what’s going on around me and I prefer to focus on my food.

 

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

When my sautéed sea bass arrived, with sides of deliciously smoky tasting caponata filled with capers, a timbale of Camargue rice and some broccoli florets in lemon butter, the first thing I ate were the gorgeous fish’s succulent meaty cheeks. “Bravo!” I heard and looked up. Rugi was nodding at me with a smile and some curiosity. “They’re the best bit,” he said, referring to the cheeks and topping up my glass even though I hadn’t ordered more wine. “Les Anglo-Saxons never know to eat the cheeks. In fact they don’t really know how to eat fish at all,” he said and shook his head. The curious French habit of referring to English speakers by the name of a long gone early medieval tribe notwithstanding, I felt more flattered than patronized by his remark for the simple reason that it’s often true as concerns people who come from countries that prefer filets to anything whole.

With just a little dribble of green olive oil from a mill in Les Alpilles, the fish was superb–firm and delicately tasting of the sea. I was completely lost in its voluptuousness when a handsome blonde woman edged up to the bar next to me and exchanged ‘Bonjours’ with Rigi. Then she asked him if he served bouillabaisse, and I knew what was coming.  ”You don’t eat bouillabaisse in a restaurant!” he told the abashed Scandinavian. “It’s really only good when you make it at home!” After the chastened woman withdrew, he picked up a plump red mullet by the tail. “This is what she should eat in Marseille!” he said, to me and the previously scolded businessman a stool down, and we nodded. He was right, of course, but I also couldn’t help but thinking how the cameo I’d just witnessed summed up so much of the impasse between Marseille and the rest of the world. In this city, you see, they’re blunt, they’re proud and they’re honest, and the power of this trinity often startles people who don’t realize it’s well intended. For my part, I like knowing I never have to bring a magazine with me to lunch at La Boîte à Sardine, and if it were just out my door, I’d be tempted to have lunch there every other day at least.

La Boîte à Sardine, 2 boulevard de la Libération, Marseille, Tel. 04-91-50-95-95, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch only from 11am-3pm. Average 35 Euros.www.laboiteasardine.com

 

 

alec  Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bistrot Belhara

Tags: , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Bistrot Belhara, Paris

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the GreensFarmsElementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

Similarly, I loved going to restaurants, which was an infrequent pleasure for me as a child, and not only because they offered an opportunity to eat things like egg rolls or fried clams (Howard Johnson’s) that Mom didn’t make at home, but because they were so interesting. I loved watching the people, catching snatches of other people’s conversations, observing all of the little dramas unfold all around the room–here a birthday party, there a quarrel or a romance. I couldn’t have expressed it this way then, but aside from the food, what I fascinated me was that every restaurant is like a little theater where you can glean a lot of information about where your are.

All of this came to mind the other night when I went to the Bistrot Belhara, a very good new bistro deep in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. I lived in the 7th arrondissement for many years, first on the rue Monsieur and then on the rue du Bac, and so I was sort of bemused to find the same cast of characters who populated my life for many years.

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

While waiting for Bruno, I listened to the cashmere sweater drapped couple next to me planning a golf holiday in Mauritus, while the quartet to my right was fulminating about Francois Hollande. There were at least a half-dozen velvet covered Alice bands in the room and tight chignons galore. On a weekend night, the coat tree just inside the door was hung thick with loden, Barbours and vintage Burberry, as if many of those dining in this snug but handsome old-fashioned dining room with stenciled tile floors and bare wood tables were planning to head off to hunting parties in the Sologne after dinner. All told, the clientele presented such an intricate and irony-free tapestry of the habits, manners and preoccupations of the French bourgeoisie that it would have made great material for a sociological dissertation.

As I sipped a glass of white wine and studied the menu, I wondered what sort of gastronomic baseline chef  Thierry Dufroux would chose to cater to such a crowd. On the one hand, he’s had a really distinguished career cooking in the kitchens of the Grand Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, Michel Guerard, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse in Monaco, and on the other, every chef surely has to do some sort of culinary calculus in terms of what’s likely to please customers from the neighborhood in which he or she has chosen to locate. To be sure, there are some addresses that will pull people from all over Paris if the food’s good enough, and which will ring bells in the foreign press, but before that happens, he or she is very much dependent pleasing the locals. And as I know not only from the dozens of Sunday lunchs to which I was invited to by the Englishman and his French wife who were one set of landlords while I lived in the 7th–I’ll still never forget my astonishment when I realized one warm May afternoon when their windows were tightly closed and the radiator in the dining room was still hissing that they were mutedly making an attempt at match-making between me and their shy sturdy scholarly daughter–and many years of living in the 7th, what makes these people happy is a penny-wise vieille France cuisine bourgeoise.

The menu read well, though, and the restaurant was packed, so I guessed we’d eat well. In the meantime, the cordial waiter answered a question I had even before I’d asked it when he told me that the restaurant’s Moroccan sounding name actually refers to a type of very tall wave in the Bay of Biscay off of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country, a reference that might seem obtuse until you’re reminded that the chef worked in the Basque country for years and that it might be very roughly transliterated into “High Tide.” Once Bruno finally arrived from the distant suburb of Paris where he’d currently working, we ordered, and a homey well-made amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with brousse de brebis (fresh ewe’s milk cheese) and croutons announced the beginning of a very good meal.

As part of the 38 Euro prix-fixe menu, Bruno’s terrine of pheasant and patridge with foie gras was beautifully made and had a politely feral and charmingly bosky flavor, with twin tridents of Romaine referencing the fact that Dufroux had done time with Ducasse. And in a similarly autumnal register, my scallop stuffed ravioli in a light veloute of cepes might have made a pious old maid blush with pleasure and was just the sort of dish that the locals would love, because they’d never get up to anything this elaborate in the kitchen themselves. This dish tipped the kitchen’s hand, too, since it tacked safely away from cooking that might jar conventional ideas of French gastronomy while heading squarely towards a welcome haven of technical perfection and generosity informed by a well-disciplined creativity and the use of excellent produce.

 

escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.

“Escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.”

Our main courses were excellent, too. Bruno’s flaky golden petit pâté chaud was the type of exquisite dish that many of the other habituees of this restaurant that night might have enjoyed back in the sigh-inducingly long gone days when they could still afford full-time cooks, and it was filled with hashed duck and foie gras, one of the best pairings ever imagined in France. While Bruno was in a gamey mood that night, I couldn’t stay away from the escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham. In an inspired sleight of simplicity, the silky salty ham flattered the sweetbreads, and the appropriately unassuming sauce of deglazed pan drippings did what a sauce should do, which is meld the dish together. This preparation was perfect summary of Dufroux in the kitchen, too–casually elegant, technically perfect, and respectfully traditional with a tweak of irreverence to make it his own.

Small wonder then that this restaurant has so impressively established itself as a neighborhood favorite within months of opening, and this while walking the tight-rope of an affluent but reflexively parsimonious clientele who are wary of anything that wanders too wide of the mark of traditional French food.

I don’t own a loden coat, and I’m not planning on buying one anytime soon either, but I really enjoyed this meal too, and not just for Dufroux’s cooking, but for the alert, gracious service and the fact that even though it’s not a bargain address, it’s remarkably good value for the money given the caliber of the cooking.

"A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf"

“A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf”

With no trace of being tongue-in-cheek, the grand finales of our meal were vieille France enough to make me chuckle. Bruno had a Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf, and I had a fluffy rice pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. So everything about this restaurant is sincere and wholesome, and it’s not only a good choice for a supremely French bistro meal with sly haute-cuisine credentials, but a fascinating place for some sociological sleuthing if you agree with me that there’s nothing better than a neighborhood restaurant in any city for an intriguing keyhole wide view or two of local life.

 

Bistrot Belhara, 23 rue Duvivier, 7th, Tel. 01-45-51-41-77.www.bistrotbelhara.com Metro: Ecole Militaire. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe 38 Euros. Average 40 Euros

 

alec   Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

When the Going was Good: Our 30 Favorite Trips in 2013

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

departure-sign

The incredible team that puts together Everett Potter’s Travel Report every week is a well-traveled bunch. So asking our contributors about their favorite travel moment in 2013 produced joy, angst and lengthy answers, as well as the inevitable,  “Just one?”

Herewith are some highlights from our travels in 2013.

F8

BRAZIL

Riding a horse out of dense Brazilian rain forest and into a clearing where the Atlantic came into shimmering view, during a modified version of the horseback-and-hiking trek between two of my all-time favorite hotels, Fazenda Catucaba and Pousada Picinguaba. I was with the owner on a scouting mission for what will eventually become a two-day trip from the mountains to the sea (he’s hoping to get it going next year), with stops for gourmet picnics with the fazenda’s homemade cheese and breads and a night of glamping in a safari-style campsite, though virgin UNESCO-protected forests so untouched that we walked much of the way behind state park guides wielding machetes to break a path. – Ann Abel

 

f9

CHICAGO


I’d never really thought of going to one of the country’s biggest cities to unwind by a pool until last winter. My husband, daughter and I wanted to fly off to a beach for a relaxing winter getaway, but her UChicago break was too short. Our solution: we booked a mini-suite at the Four Seasons Chicago and promised ourselves we wouldn’t let the fact that all of Chicago was at our doorstep entice us to get into urban mode. Happily we kept our promise. The hotel’s Roman-columned pool, with a huge Jacuzzi and light streaming in through the skylight and floor-to-ceiling window wall let us forget how cold the Chicago winter was. We ventured out once to walk to one of the museums and take a shopping stroll down Michigan Avenue. But mostly our weekend consisted of lazing on the lounge chairs, swimming in the warm pool, and sipping cool drinks in the graciously-sized Jacuzzi. Oh yes, and enjoying room service. Pina colada anyone? – Geri Bain

 

nyc-door

NYC

By far it was taking my first solo trip with my son to New York City. For his birthday if there was anywhere he could go in the world, where would it be? “New York City,” he said and pointed to it on the map next to his bunk bed. “It’s my favorite place in the universe.” We spent one epic day and night in the city — stayed at the fun and funky Ace Hotel in Midtown (“What’s a record?” he asked while playing with the turntable), hit the NYPL’s Children’s Literature Exhibit, the Nathan Sawaya Lego Art exhibit, rode the subways (“Better than a rollercoaster!”) and had a fancy dinner downtown at Chef Ryan Hardy’s Charlie Bird. And to celebrate the big day? An appearance in the Today Show crowd, a stroll through the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center, lunch and gelato at Eataly and “The Lion King” on Broadway. Even the train rides in and out of the city were a hit. More importantly we got to share our love of travel, discovery, food, people and art  together! – Amiee White Beazley 

 

F10

CANADA CRUISE

Just back from my best travel experience this year–sailing out of my home port, New York City at night (a thrill!) and cruising up the Atlantic coast to Canada on Regent’s Navigator.  All of the stops were fun–Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saguenay, Quebec and Montreal, but the real surprise was visiting familiar close-to-home places like Newport and Bar Harbor that I’ve loved on land but found a treat seen from a new perspective, as ports of call.  – Eleanor Berman

 

F11

FLANDERS

Out on the road, every year has its special moments.  The Belgian province of Flanders, just beyond the center of Ypres, is where some of World War I’s bloodiest fighting occurred and where many events of the Great World War I Centenary will be celebrated in 2014.  Standing in Essex Farm Cemetery, beside the mossy bunker of the medical station where Lt. Col. John McCrae, a doctor, penned his poem, “In Flanders Fields,” I gazed out at the lines of headstones and could almost see those long-ago battlefields and hear his famous words: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the headstones, row on row.”  – Monique Burns

 

F 1

COLORADO

My best travel story of 2013 was staying up Little Woody Creek Valley with a recently-sited mountain lion, in a guest house once visited by Margaret Thatcher. The former Prime Minister happened to die while I was staying there, so each time I went for a walk, I imagined the mountain lion might appear and I’d suddenly find myself having tea with the Iron Lady in the ever after. – Melissa Coleman

 

F12

MONTEREY, CA

One of the most memorable moments of our family trip to Northern California last summer took place during a guided sea kayaking tour of Monterey Bay. Just at a spot where the winds got strong and paddling got a little rough, a rollicking band of sea lions and harbor seals swarmed around us and started clowning around for what seemed to be our amusement.  Seals were playfully nudging our kayaks and diving in between us.  Sea lions pups were leaping out of the water and striking funny poses midair.  It was hard to take our eyes off of them.  Talk about the greatest show on earth! -Jessica Genova

 

F13

PERU

The Andean Explorer, PeruRail’s luxury train service between Cuzco and Puno, is the greatest surface transportation trip I have ever taken in Latin America — and certainly the best choice for traveling to or from Lake Titicaca. The journey is not short — a full day, in fact — but the 10 hours go by quickly. One reason is the excellent entertainment: two different bands and dance troupes, featuring music and folklore from both the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Andean plateau, perform in the morning and afternoon. A leisurely lunch consisting of regional specialties is included in the train fare, as is afternoon tea. Following lunch, the talented bartender in the observation car gives lessons in mixing Peru’s classic cocktail, the pisco sour. The scenic highlight of the journey — best enjoyed from the open-air rear car — is watching the sunset over Lake Titicaca, framed by the majestic peaks of the Bolivian Andes.  The staff provides friendly and attentive service throughout the journey; and given the international make-up of the train’s passengers, there are many opportunities to strike up interesting conversations with fellow travelers from many different countries. Cuzco and Machu Picchu are deservedly the leading tourist attractions in this part of the world; but Lake Titicaca — the highest navigable body of water in the world, and home to the fascinating people who live on the lake’s artificial floating islands — is a very worthwhile excursion. Especially since getting there is now half the fun. – Buzzy Gordon

 

F14

BRAZIL

Return to Brazil – from the toucans flying overhead, monkeys rustling the trees and up-close mists of Iguazu falls from our base at the newish Orient Express Cataratas – to the chic cobblestone streets, stylish boutiques, great dining and fabulous beaches of Buzios – to the always touristy but for a very good reason Christo in Rio, along with climbing up the base of Pao de Acucar / Sugarloaf Mtn. Bring on the Olympics and World Cup! – Cari Gray

 

F15

ALASKA

You’ve just marveled at Alaska’s great receding Mendenhall Glacier and have heeded the ranger’s suggestion to head to a nearby stream. Even forewarned, you’re still startled by the sight of the bear pushing purposefully through the high grass toward the shallow water.  As if scripted, she enters the stream. Snatches a slow moving, spawning salmon.  And drops it in the grass maybe 15 feet from your privileged perch on a fenced, raised boardwalk built expressly for this moment. Her two cubs join her, but get little of this catch, as the sow bites hungrily into the fish.  You’re so close that you hear the salmon bones crunching.  – John Grossmann

 

F16

MINNESOTA

Mall of America…where else can you ride a roller coaster, see a movie, eat in any one of 60 restaurants, witness a wedding in a Vegas-style marriage chapel, shop for Chanel, buy naughty lingerie or a hockey stick and have any part of your body pierced? Minneapolis itself was an eye-opening experience for this admitted New York City snob.  – Shari Hartford

 

F2

HONOLULU

While checking out the Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapi’olani Community College in Honolulu, my husband and I ventured up to the hillside cactus and succulent garden on the campus. Pretty wonderful we thought. And then we discovered the “po.e.tree,” a virtual tree of poems written by visitors and clipped onto a hodgepodge of branches. (See if you can find mine in the pic.) Best part, though, was spotting Moriso Teraoka, a 100th Infantry Battalion Vet who founded the garden in ’88 with a donation of plants and still helps to maintain it with a battalion of volunteers (that’s him hiking up the stairs). Sweet guy for such a prickly project. – Linda Hayes

 

F17

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

I’m not one for life-sized, wax replicas of historical figures. But in the Yusupov Palace on the Moika River in St. Petersburg, the waxen likenesses of the men who attempted the murder of Rasputin– and of the infamous Siberian “Mad Monk” himself at the end of the table–changed my mind. There, in the dark and creaky basement, the aristocracy will give the huge, fire-eyed peasant poison enough to kill a horse….but not, it turned out, to kill him. Instead, the seemingly indestructible mystic will undergo one of the most bizarre and protracted demises in history. It’s a mesmerizing and memorable stage set. – Dalma Heyn 

 

F3

THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Floreana was the highlight of our family trip to Ecuador. Spent one perfect day viewing century-old tortoises, dining at a ranch with descendants of the island’s first settlers, and then snorkeling by ourselves with mega-sized sea turtles and none-too-shy sea lions. -Steve Jermanok

 

F18

AMSTERDAM

My Best 2013 Travel Moment was witnessing, firsthand, the power of travel to heal. In June, still reeling from the death of my mother and difficult ongoing divorce negotiations, I went to Amsterdam to do two stories for EPTR. Just being airborne gave my spirits a lift; experiencing a healing Watsu spa treatment gave me the first chance to unexpectedly be in touch with my mourning and the gifts of my mother’s life. New vistas, new energy, new perspective and new hope for the future sound like a lot of baggage to put onto a four-day trip, but that’s what happened. Travel expands and travel can help the healing process. I discovered that, and am grateful for it. – Mary Alice Kellogg

 

F19

LONDON

I rented an attic apartment atop a house in the Kilburn section of northwest London for two weeks – very basic, but light-filled, quiet and equipped with a small kitchen and bath – and spent my days writing, looking at art, and walking, walking, walking as I discovered areas and aspects of the city that, despite having visited nearly a dozen times before, were previously unknown to me. It was, far and away, the most enjoyable travel experience of my life. – Marc Kristal

 

F20

MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, CA

Last April, the ski writers association held its 50th anniversary meeting at Mammoth Mountain, in California. The day I arrived it seemed like spring and I was concerned about having enough snow. O me of little faith! The first morning, I awoke and discovered that a storm overnight had covered the mountain and our base area with a blanket of new snow. We skied joyfully the next few days (though it was a tad windy!) On one particular day, I skied with a retired ski writer who spends many of her days in Vermont. She was not just beautiful to watch; she was swift. I had trouble keeping up with her. When I asked how old she was, she said in a conspiratorial voice: “I’m 84, but I don’t want people to know.” I replied: “You’re my hero!” – Grace Lichtenstein

 

F21

THE LOIRE VALLEY

Even though I’ve lived in Paris for years, I hadn’t done a long, comprehensive trip of the Loire Valley chateaux in many years, so it was a huge pleasure to rediscover their magnificence during a week-long trip this past May, the perfect time for visiting this part of France. I especially loved Chenonceau for its fairy-tale elegance and Villandry for its magnificent gardens and history–it was restored by a passionate couple–Joachim Carvallo, a Spanish nobleman, and Anne Coleman, a Pennsylvania steel heiress, who met while studying medicine in Paris. Other great finds were the Restaurant Olivier Arlot in Montbazon and the superb wines of the Domaine de la Taille aux Loups by winemaker Jacky Blot in Montlouis. – Alec Lobrano

 

F22

PRAGUE

I expected to be overwhelmed by Prague’s wealth of baroque, art nouveau, and gothic buildings. But I was speechless when I discovered cubist architecture unique to the Czech Republic. In 1911, Joseph Gočár designed the Herbst department store, now the landmark House of the Black Madonna and the Grand Café Orient where I had a cubist donut. Those prismatic architectural forms also welcomed me, a privileged houseguest, to my friends’ flat. – Julie Maris/Semel

 

F6

RAROTONGA

We’re on Rarotonga, a reef-ringed isle in the middle of the South Pacific. Rarotonga has palm trees and beaches and tropical fish, but it’s best known for its church singing. We go to church. The singing is magnificent; harmonies that start with a couple of men in a back pew, then ascend through the pews and climax with the choir. I’m floored with the beauty. That’s the first revelation. The second comes when I notice what one of the choir ladies is doing during the sermon. Happily, Effin Older caught the moment with her Canon. – Jules Older & Effin Older

 

F23

SPAIN

Tapas crawl in San Sebastian, spiritual heart of Spanish tapas culture. – Larry Olmsted

 

F7

SANTA FE

The highlight for 2013 has to be our July visit to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. This colorful gathering of some 150 artisans from all over the world–Korea, Israel, Mexico, Tajikistan, you name it–lets market-goers get up close and personal with the men and women who bring their wares and sell them on the spot. So you’re free to strike up a conversation with a woman from the Ok Pop Tok weaving collective in Laos, or a wood carver from Mexico who’s been proclaimed a national living treasure. One day we attended a lecture and demonstration of Tuvan throat singing, which turned out to be both fascinating and remarkably moving. (Quick: Can you find Tuva on a map?). Even better, the artisans are given the tools to return home and work in their villages to build solid businesses from their traditional crafts. All in all, we look forward to making it an annual pilgrimage.  – Tom Passavant & Karen Glenn (photo)

 

Photo1(1)

KAUAI

The view over Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai must be one of the wondrous in the world, a backdrop of rugged mountains that form the Napali Coast, a dragons’ back covered in green. This is where my wife, daughter and I went on a short voyage on a handmade sailing canoe, crafted and captained by a local guy named Trevor Cabell. Trevor took us snorkeling among 250 pound sea turtles and provided commentary on a 60-something local surfing legend as the guy caught the biggest wave of the day, 50 yards from where we floated. Then Trevor hoisted sail and off we went on a thrill ride across the waves racing into Hanalei Bay. With the extraordinary green background, it was not hard to imagine Polynesians sailing the Pacific and approaching this same shore. Covered in salt spray, we seemed to be  flying over the breaking waves, as Trevor guided the outrigger using his paddle as a tiller. When the canoe finally touched the beach, I realized that what felt like a journey had been merely a two hour trip on the Bay. That’s when you know that the going is good. – Everett Potter

 

Oscar Wilde sculpture

DUBLIN

An unexpected breath of joy in colored stone: A leafy retreat in Dublin’s Merrion Square shelters a beloved memorial to Oscar Wilde, nonchalantly lounging on a massive boulder in a natty green jacket with quilted red lapels and cuffs, looking at his long-time childhood home across the street at 1 Merrion Sq. Nearby, Wilde witticisms, graffiti-like, cover two black obelisks, to wit, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” – Joan Scobey

 

F24

NYC

New York City — where I’ve lived twice in my adult lifetime—once again welcomed me like an old friend in 2013. My husband, Joe, and I explored Manhattan from stem to stern, including a tour of the historic aircraft carrier Intrepid at Pier 86, a stroll along the Highline elevated park and a preview of the poignant and powerful 9/11 Memorial.  We made a delicious detour to Chef Mario Batali’s Eataly, browsed the beautiful book collection at Rizzoli and meandered through Central Park on perfect fall days. You can go home again, even if just for a holiday. – Julie Snyder

 

F25

JAMAICA

My most memorable travel moment of the year was rafting in Port Antonio, Jamaica. A “captain” on the log raft beside us was coaxed into singing the “Banana Boat Song (Day O),” a traditional Jamaican folk song made popular by Harry Belafonte.  The gentle soft crooning combined with the murmuring sound of the mini rapids of the river was soothing. (At least until the person next to me decided to sing along.)  – Gerrie Summers

 

EVO-JSH009166C

OREGON

I was on a ski trip to Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor last March. The nearest hotel was about 20 miles away in the town of Bend. I didn’t relish the idea of driving that far every day to get to the slopes, but then I didn’t know the highway ran straight through the Deschutes National Forest. Massive rocks, towering trees, and sweeping vistas at every turn. Hope to do again soon. – Bill Triplett

 

F5

AMSTERDAM

Best  Moment:  Standing with my wife in late July afternoon sunshine looking at our new home in an old canal house on Amsterdam’s Herengracht Canal. – Richard West

 

F27

SAN JUAN, PR

Paddle boarding with my bride — this was our 25th anniversary celebration — in Condado Lagoon, San Juan. Manatees with Ben Turpin mustaches (Note to 16th-century sailors: You really thought they were mermaids?) kept rising to the surface, where they lingered so we could get a good look at them. From there we went to Roberto Trevino’s Bar Gitano, a tapas bar in the Condado. Who knew they’d have soshito peppers sauteed in olive oil and salt? We polished them off and then drank way too much, but what the hell, great food + a great lady. – Ed Wetschler

 

F28

PARK CITY, UTAH

This June, I finally understood what local say about Park City, Utah – you come for winter, you stay for summer. I discovered the wonders of mountain biking on terrain I’ve skied so many years. And I dined on Main Street with 2,300 others one summer’s night to experience the resort’s fine cuisine. – David McKay Wilson

The Interview: Luke Barr & Provence 1970

Tags: , , , , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
Luke Barr, author of Provence 1970

Luke Barr, author of Provence 1970

Interview by Everett Potter

During the last weeks of 1970, the pioneers of modern gastronomy — Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, Richard Olney, Judith Jones – came together as much by happenstance as design in the South of France. In Provence 1970, writer Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s grand-nephew, documents that remarkable autumn, aided by his discovery of Fisher’s journals and letters. It’s delicious time travel to a golden age in American culinary world, light years before Food TV made us witnesses to instant food celebrity. Barr lovingly details the often sensuous meals, maps out the friendships, rivalries and the egos at play. He also makes a strong case for this brief season in France as the turning point for American cuisine. I recently had a chance to speak with him.

MFK Fisher

MFK Fisher

Everett Potter: One of my favorite parts of Provence 1970 was your recollection of visiting MFK Fisher at Last House in Sonoma when you were a young boy. Was it truly as magical as it sounds?

Luke Barr: Yes! Of course, I was a kid during those visits to my great-aunt’s house, so my recollections are tinged with a certain amount of sentimentality. But the house was truly beautiful. The walls were thick and in the summer it was hot outside but cool inside. I can still remember the smell of the house, which I describe in the book.
EP: Discovering your aunt’s diary was clearly a godsend. Had you started the book before you found it or did it generate the idea for Provence 1970?

LB: No, I had already started writing the book when I found M.F.’s diary. It was tremendous moment of discovery. I was methodically searching through huge stacks of unlabeled boxes in my cousin Kennedy’s storage unit in the San Francisco bay area, looking for anything having to do with her trip to France in 1970, and there it was: a pale green, spiral bound notebook with the year 1970 written on the cover.

The diary was crucial, and so were the letters M.F. wrote during the trip. All of the people I was writing about were great letter writers, but since they were all in France at the same time there are only a handful of letters amongst the group during those few weeks. But M.F. was carrying on a long distance (and mostly chaste) love affair with Arnold Gingrich, who was the founding editor of Esquire magazine—and they wrote each other letters every day. For my purposes, the existence of daily letters was a godsend.

EP: The interplay of strong personalities, with big egos and idiosyncratic styles, is at the heart of the book. Yet compared to the celebrity chef culture that surrounds us now, where knife skills, brashness and heavily tattooed arms seem to be the hallmarks of greatness, these individuals were thinkers, serious chefs, and writers — and in your great aunt’s case an exceptionally gifted one. Where would people like MF or Olney be today, and would they ever get near center stage? It’s hard to imagine them on “Chopped.”

LB: I agree—it’s impossible to imagine M.F. on Chopped! I think what this question highlights is just how much bigger the food world is today than it was 40 years ago. One of the charming things about the “Food Establishment” (as Nora Ephron mockingly dubbed it in New York Magazine in 1968) at the time was how small it was, how everyone knew everyone else. Of course, that made it a hotbed of gossip and sniping, which was fun to write about.

When I interviewed Judith Jones, who was the editor at Knopf who worked with many of the figures I write about, and who was also there in Provence in 1970, she bemoaned our present-day culture of celebrity chefs and hot restaurants, and reminded me that what it was always about for Child and the others was the pleasure of home cooking.

Richard Olney

Richard Olney

EP: At a time when famous chefs run personal media empires and have acquired substantial wealth, it’s refreshing to read about the brilliant but curmudgeonly Richard Olney spending years digging out his own wine cellar by hand. That happened in the 1960’s but it may as well be a tale from the Middle Ages. What other aspects of Olney’s very personal abode did you find interesting, or quirky?

LB: Olney’s house in Sollies-Toucas is stunning. it’s set on an extremely steep hill, and you can hike up above the house on a series of walled terraces. There was a quarry there long ago, and a small, deep swimming pool has been cut out of the rock face. The house is surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens, and inside, the kitchen is as he left it, and his paintings hang on the walls.

I was so glad to have Olney as a central character in my story, because it is useful, and entertaining, to have a truth-telling curmudgeon in the mix. He could be quite cruel and judgmental, and plays the role of villain in parts of my book. On the other hand I see him also as the hero of the story too, pointing the way to a more bohemian and earthy style of cooking.

EP: While MFK Fisher is the heart of your book, Julia Child seems to have been the force at the center of this culinary whirlwind, around whom MF, James Beard, Richard Olney and everyone else revolved. Would you agree?

LB: Child was a TV chef—she’d basically invented the genre—and was by far the most famous person in the food world at the time.

EP: Oddly enough, for a book about creative culinary giants coming together, one of the best parts of Provence 1970 is when MF is alone, in Arles and Marseilles. It’s compelling and maybe refreshing to see that not every moment in France was stunning, that food could be lousy, and that France was not always as magical as we might think, especially in this golden era. Did she tend to self-edit these types of experiences out of her books?

LB: I agree about those scenes being wonderful, and sometimes a little sad, as she’s wandering around Arles alone in the cold. The material in those chapters is almost entirely from her 1970 journal. But in terms of her self-editing: I don’t think so—in fact, if you go back and read Gastronomical Me, for example, there are numerous amusing scenes of dinners gone wrong. She had perfected a kind of eloquent, suggestive food writing that could also accommodate wry, gimlet-eyed observation. It was that combination that made her great I think.

Julia and Paul Child in France

Julia and Paul Child in France

EP: The Cote d’Azur has changed considerably since 1970, and you mention some of the development sprawl and change, as rural villages have become lairs for second homeowners. Still, what was your favorite place in the south of France as you researched your book, a place you’d gladly return to tomorrow?

LB: This will not come as a surprise, but I love Provence. The book started as an article I wrote in Travel + Leisure about Aix-en-Provence, one of my favorite places anywhere. But most inspiring was staying at La Pitchoune, the vacation house that Julia and Paul Child built on the estate of Simone Beck in Plascassier. The kitchen there is preserved just as it was when they owned it, and a delight to cook in. I stayed there a few times, including once in November, when the weather was cool, the roads were empty, and there was a faint smell of burning leaves in the air. I spent days driving around the countryside with Raymond Gatti, who was the chauffeur who drove all the food people around back in the 60s and 70s. We went to Grasse and Vence and St.-Paul de Vence, all unbelievably beautiful. Most of the restaurants were closed but we found a little roadside place outside Vence where we ate steak tartare and frites.

EP: In writing Provence 1970, what was the single most delicious recipe you came across and made for yourself or your family?

LB: I love to make stews of all kinds, and I find Richard Olney’s recipe for Daube a la Provencal to be inspiring. He is such a brilliant writer—I really recommend his French Menu Cookbook and Simple French Food books. “The daube, “ he writes, “like most rustic dishes that require a long, slow, even cooking process, is never as good as when prepared in seasoned earthenware, which absorbs heat more slowly and more evenly and holds it longer than any other kitchen utensil…. A daube is a good winter dish but has been placed here among the summer menus so that it may profit from fresh tomatoes.” I have been using my mom’s old covered earthenware pot for many dishes recently, including for roast chicken.

EP: One reaction I had while reading Provence 1970 was that I wanted to go back and read, or reread in some cases, M.F.K. Fisher’s works. She was a brilliant stylist and an acute observer. What is your favorite book of hers, and why?

LB: My first answer is that I most adore her letters, which are less stylized and more direct and funny than her books and essays. My grandmother, Norah Barr, edited a collection of her correspondence that is wonderful. But I also love her early book, The Gastronomical Me, for its unique combination of confessional, personal writing and super-stylish coming-of-age-in-food reminiscence. It’s close to the bone.

 


 

Smart Deals: Rail Europe offers France on Sale

Tags: , , ,


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
TGV in France

TGV in France

What’s the Deal: Rail Europe is offering travelers a “FAST 30% OFF TGV Premier Tickets” now through June 10th.

What are the Details:  TGV Premier Tickets provide an added element of comfort and convenience for those embarking on an  adventure. Travelers can enjoy large comfortable reclining seats while traveling across the French countryside and bookings made online include a choice of meal options while on board. Safe and speedy service allows you  to discover a host of popular French destinations, zipping from city to city at up 201 mph.

TGV Premier Tickets offer travelers the opportunity to relax while waiting for trains in one of 10 TGV lounges called “Salons Grand Voyageur.”  The TGV lounges are available to travelers in select train stations including: Bordeaux St. Jean, Djon, Lille Flandres, Lyon Part-Dieu, Marseille St. Charles, Nantes, Paris Est, Paris-Gare de Lyon, Paris Nord, Paris Montparnasse and Strasbourg train station.

Caveat: From May 14 through 5:59 pm ET on June 10, 2013 enter coupon code FAST30 during checkout on the delivery page. One coupon code per booking may be applied. No other discounts, except free shipping, can be combined. Offer is subject to change or extension without notice. Offer is limited to the first 400 bookings (each with a minimum value of $350), or until the promotion’s end date of 5:59 pm ET on June 10, 2013, whichever comes first. Offer is valid on Premier Ticket bookings. Only online bookings include a meal. Bookings of TGV train tickets to destinations outside of France are excluded from this offer. Prices are subject to availability

Fine print: Enter coupon code FAST30 during checkout.*Prices begin at $99 USD for TGV Premier Tickets

Booking: Bookings can be made by visiting Rail Europe’s website at raileurope.com

 

 

Sponsors

Sponsors

Sponsors