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Sitting down for “Lunch in Paris” with Elizabeth Bard

I enjoyed hot chocolate, a great table, and good conversation with Elizabeth Bard at Angelina’s near the Louvre on my trip to Paris last year Look, there are her fingers!

Angelina's for hot chocolate

Elizabeth came to Paris almost a decade ago and never really left. While she was studying abroad, she fell in love with a Frenchman, eventually married him, and slowly learned how to make a life in the city of lights. Her story is told in her new book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes which includes dozens of recipes that marked special moments during her transition. These include recipes for seduction, meals to warm you up when your apartment doesn’t have central heat, and slimming summer recipes for the bikini days of French vacation.

Lunch in ParisI talked to Elizabeth about her book and particularly about what anyone can do to make their kitchen more “Frenchie.” You can catch up with her on the Lunch in Paris Facebook fan page.

Q: One of the most obvious traits of French cooking that I noticed in your book was the tendency to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meat at markets. Is it easier to find open air markets in France than in America? And how does cooking with fresh ingredients affect the quality of the final meal?

I think the most important thing I’ve learned while shopping and cooking in Paris is that if you start with good things – you don’t need to do much to them to make them taste great. A little olive oil, a hot frying pan and an open bottle of white wine and you’re good to go.

Outdoor markets are everywhere in France – it’s a tradition that has really endured, and it has become my favorite form of “window shopping”. I feel like farmer’s markets are becoming easier to find in US – sometime they cost a bit more, but I’d rather buy less, and use quality ingredients. One of the great things about the markets is I’ll often buy a fruit or veggie or type of fish that I’ve never seen before. Browsing encourages my sense of adventure and experimentation.

Q: In the book, you mention how much you like sea salt, which is different than the salt most Americans probably use that comes in a cardboard cylinder with a spout. What is sea salt and what qualities make you prefer it?

Sea salt is simply the leftovers from evaporated sea water. Regular table salt is often from underground sources that have been mined and chemically treated – which strips the mineral content. I prefer sea salt because I find it has a less chemical taste to it. I love the coarse sea salt (as opposed to fine grained), because taking a pinch from a jar gives you more control than shaking or grinding. It’s also beautiful stuff – the tiny crystals make me feel like I’m sprinkling my food with tiny diamonds.

If you are using table salt in a recipe, you should start with a smaller amount. Because table salt has very fine grains – there’s a lot more in terms of volume than you get with coarse sea salt. Here’s a good link that explains some of the differences.

Q: The selection of vegetables at the market seemed to vary from what we have available in America. For instance, you had great trouble locating parsnips, but leeks and celery root seemed to be plentiful. What was it like learning to chop and cook new vegetables and to make do without some old favorites?

Discovering new foods is probably my favorite thing about living in France. Celery root – which looks like a brain – is a particularly smug Paris discovery. Peeled, boiled and mashed with a few potatoes and a bit of milk and butter, it’s the best mashed potato dish I’ve ever tasted.

Sometimes homesickness kicks in – and I feel like I want to make something EXACTLY like my mom used to make in the US – that impulse usually ends in tears – and a big pot of something simple and French, like onion soup with melted Swiss cheese.

Q: When it comes to meat and fish, the French seem to prefer cooking with the whole animal. In the book you talk about buying fish who still have glassy eyes staring back at you, and in one chapter your friend cooks a wild boar. Some American cooks might be intimidated by this. How difficult is it to learn how to cook and debone a fish or cook with a whole animal?

I too grew up with my meat and fish under saran wrap at the local Shoprite – so going to the butcher and fishmonger was a real revelation for me. I like food that I’m a bit afraid of – I love to try new things. There’s usually no need to do what I did – getting fish guts all over your hands – any respectable fish place will do it for you. With fish, cooking the whole animal actually makes your life easier – as the skin protects the delicate flesh from drying out. It makes quick methods like broiling a real option. One weekday meal we eat all the time at home is whole sea bass (head, eyes and everything) – drizzled with a bit of oil olive and a pinch of sea salt – 5 minutes on each side under the broiler and it’s done. I call it French “fast food”. (If there’s no whole fish at your supermarket – try an Asian supermarket – they often have several varieties.)

With meat, I think the key thing is not to be scared to point and stare – and ask questions. Treat a trip to a butcher like a field trip – it’s so sexy to watch them wield those huge knives. They will take care of the deboning, and usually the guy behind the counter will have some great suggestions about how to cook what you buy.

Q: When I was in Paris, I remember seeing rows of street vendors not far from Montmartre who all had huge jars of Nutella on their carts. You mention that your step-father, Paul, became a big fan of the chocolate-hazelnut Nutella. Why is Nutella so popular in France?

The French don’t eat much “on the run” – and a crepe filled with chocolately Nutella is one of the great exceptions. Maybe it’s like peanut butter and jelly or smores – a childhood taste that you never quite outgrow. I grew up studying for my final exams with a jar of Pillsbury vanilla frosting and a plastic spoon – I feel like the Nutella habit could become I bit like that. Thank god, I don’t love hazelnuts, or I’d be in real trouble.

Q: I was horrified to learn that the French don’t bake Christmas cookies. Are cookies unpopular in general in France? If so, what do you eat in their place?

Yup – they’re weird that way. The first time my husband saw the blue icing on the Christmas cookies, he got a bit freaked out – his comment was: “Why would anyone want to eat blue food?” That said, the French have their own wonderful Christmas traditions. They often serve a Bûche de Noël – a cake made in the form of a Yule log – it can be made with mousse or ice-cream or custard – very yummy. Every Christmas morning my husband makes a big stack of crepes – which we eat with jam, yogurt, Nutella, or sweet chestnut puree. My favorite is a plain crepe (warm!) sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

Q: Were there any recipes you had to leave out of the book? Was it hard to decide what to include?
I tried to include things that I make a lot, and that hold nice memories for me. The recipes in the book are the meals that really helped me discover France culture. For example, I never liked mayonnaise until I tasted a homemade version in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. The tagines (North African stews), which I learned from my husband’s godfather, are what I often make for a party. They are definite crowd pleasers – and taste even better made a bit in advance. There are also a few family recipes from the USA. My grandmother passed away last year, and I’m so glad I finally got down a reliable recipe for her wonderful spaghetti sauce with pork ribs – it just feels like home to me.

Q: Are there any plans for another cookbook in the future?
I have a six month old son, and at some point I’d love to write a children’s cookbook with him as my little sous-chef and taster. I’m always amazed sitting down at family meals in France – French kids eat everything – anchovies and smelly cheeses and such – there’s no hiding the spinach in a brownie!

Thanks, Elizabeth! And congratulations on your latest creation which took nine months to cook up, your new baby! You can buy Lunch in Paris on Amazon or visit her Facebook page here.

Today we talked food – tomorrow is romance. Elizabeth’s blog tour takes a sexier turn tomorrow – an interview with the Yolanda Shoshana, the Luscious Lifestyle Diva!

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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14 Comments

Debbi S. • February 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Excellent interview. There were many things about the french that I didn’t know. Nutella, num. I am so jealous of your trip there but I don’t know if cooking the whole animal thing is something that I would catch on to though. :-)

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Rebecca • February 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Wow. Just look at that dessert! Gorgeous. I am not a huge chef but there is nothing I love more than cooking with “everything.” I love being frugal and having yummy food. It is not exotic but once a week I cook a whole chicken. We have a delicious roast chicken dinner, then chicken sandwiches or chicken soup with yes, the stock I made from the chicken! I never throw away carcasses now – and it makes me bizarrely happy.

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shauna/dg • February 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I cannot stop staring at that lovely wee cake sitting in front of Elizabeth. Yuuummmm. Her book sounds fabulous :)

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Kyle • February 8, 2010 at 9:51 pm

“Sometimes homesickness kicks in – and I feel like I want to make something EXACTLY like my mom used to make in the US – that impulse usually ends in tears”

I live in Chile but some expat experiences are universal. Ditto to what Elizabeth said!

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Maria • February 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

What a great interview! My mouth started watering looking at the picture of the amazing desserts. Actually, it brought back amazing memories from my trip to Paris and the food…THANK YOU.

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Sarah • February 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

Such a small world. Liz and I went to the same highschool, great interview!

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Amanda • February 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

Great interview! I heart Paris (and sugar/lemon crepes are my favorite too!), and Elizabeth sounds absolutely charming. Time to update my Amazon wishlist :)

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Jen • February 9, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Just added this book to my wishlist — it sounds great.

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Shannon • February 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I loved the interview and I want to get a copy of her book now, especially to try some yummy French recipes. :) Thanks!

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coraspartan • February 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I love anything to do with Paris and food–so I added this book to my wishlist. Thanks for bringing it to our attention! I think I might buy it as a birthday gift for a friend too.

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Clementine • February 9, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Hello, I’m french and I’m following your blog since a while :) This interview is very interesting !

About christmas cookies, it’s true that we don’t bake it, it’s not in our habits (personnally, I love too much the Christmas Mincemeat from England but I know french people who hate it, because its taste is too weird for them !). But it depends on the regions in France. In Alsace, there are a christmas cookies tradition, which are probably inspired from Germany’s Christmas Cookies.

In Nord-Pas-de-Calais, it’s “la coquille de noël” which is a giant brioche with dried grapes that I like but it’s available only in the north of France (I’m in the south) and only before Christmas, bouh :( ( link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cougnou )

In Provence, it’s the “13 desserts de Noël” : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteen_desserts

For the Nutella, I loved it when I was younger. But now, I don’t love it anymore (my sister is very happy when I give her the jar of nutella that I can’t finish), I think they have changed the recipe (with palm fat, which is less expensive but also less tasty), it was really better before. I think that the quality of French food deteriorates, they’re putting more and more palm fat and HFCS. Many French young people no longer know how to cook traditional dishes (especially a whole animal !) and don’t eat enough vegetables :(
Fortunately there are still people like you to be interested in the French cuisine!

I hope that I’ve helped you a little. Please excuse me if my english is not very good, I need more of practice ;)

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PastaQueen • February 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Thanks for the information, Celmentine! And your English is great. It’s far better than my French too :)

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Clementine • February 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Thank you :)

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Kim • February 11, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for the interview – I just came back from a trip to Paris (I have an almost identical picture from Angelina’s, I had a different dessert) and loved the food and the markets, so now I have to pick up this book. I get kinda depressed walking into the grocery store since returning home because I miss the market experience in Paris!

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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