Anyone who knows me is aware that I love food – reading recipe books and learning about food and food culture, watching cooking shows on television (although Masterchef is the only ‘reality’ cooking show for me), experimenting in the kitchen, writing recipes, cooking for family and friends and the odd camp for 150, and, of course, eating. I love the food of many cultures, but my first experiments with cooking were firmly in the traditions of the French and I am looking forward to revisiting my culinary roots. There is a bewildering array of traditional French dishes and if I could, I would try everything and then after 5 weeks, roll myself slowly onto the plane home. But the ensuing self recrimination for dietary indiscretion, and regime of lettuce and sweating it out at the gym to deal with the consequences of excessive indulgence, has led me to compiling a list of essential foods to eat while in the land of gastronomy – aiming for a curated experience rather than eating everything in sight. How far I succeed in that aim remains to be seen, but one can but try!
Bread. I am assured by those who have been there that eating bread in France is a revelatory experience. I also remember reading in Peter Mayle’s delightful A year in Provence the seriousness with which the French take the making and eating of bread, choosing particular types of bread to go with different foods and even the time particular breads will be eaten. I’ll be trying breads from Boulangerie Murciano, a kosher Jewish bakery in the Marais district; Du Pain et des Idées, which dates from the 1870s; Boulangerie – Pâtisserie A. Torres, known as an authentic neighbourhood baker, in the Latin quarter; and Poilâne, which has served their bread toasted and topped with melted goat’s cheese, alongside fresh-from-the-oven apple turnovers to hungry Parisians since 1932.
Cheese. In 1962, ex-president Charles de Gaulle famously quipped: “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” – How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese? There are more varieties, but, as I am starting to discover, the actual number varies depending on the source, French, or otherwise. Suffice it to say, there will be an exceptional variety from which to choose. Roquefort, Camembert, Brie, Emmental, Comte, Pont l’Evèque, Fourme d’Ambert are just the beginning. I’ll be visiting fromageries, including Androuët, which lays claim to being one of the oldest fromageries in France, dating back to 1909; Barthélemy, in the Saint-Germain neighborhood; and Chez Virginie, which specialises in raw milk cheeses.
Wine. What better to go with cheese and bread, but wine. As a wine lover, with friends who own an extremely successful, award winning winery, Symphony Hill, I am a huge advocate for Australian wine. But I can’t wait to taste and savour French wine in France, and I am hoping my palate will be entranced, surprised and challenged. Reading the labels will be a mystery, but all part of the adventure. The Cave de l’Insolite (Cellar of the Unusual) sounds wonderful as a starting point, as does Le Verre Volé, a gorgeous looking bistro and wine bar in the Canal-St-Martin district.
Coq au Vin. Made internationally famous, thanks to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this to me is the quintessential French savoury dish. Traditional recipes called for a rooster or cock (coq) well past his prime, but today chicken is more commonly used. Cooked slowly in a red wine sauce with bacon, butter, and stock, it’s delicious and full of complex flavours for a dish made with such simple ingredients. À la Biche au Bois is reputedly the best bistro in Paris to eat this gastronomic glory of Gaul, using the traditional bird, and it’s just a short walk from where I am staying. The Michelin Guide agrees; “Regulars come in droves to this discreet restaurant, which is reminiscent of the good old bistros of times past. In a lively atmosphere, shoulder-to-shoulder with other diners, you will enjoy fine traditional fare (homemade terrine, coq au vin) and game in season, such as wild boar, jugged hare and of course doe (‘biche’ in French), as the name suggests!”
Macarons. And so to sweet things. Macarons have been very popular in Australia over the past few years, no doubt because of extraordinary pastry chef Adriano Zumbo who brought them to the national consciousness. I love a great macaron, not too sweet, and with clear interesting flavours in the meringue and filling. There seems to be an almost endless list of places to buy and eat macarons in Paris, but a consensus, at least in the online world that Carette, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and Aoki Sadaharu are front runners.
That’s the top 5, but there are many other food experiences I am looking forward to while I am in France. Shopping in local markets, taking a cooking class, and eating an icecream from the famous Berthillon are but a few. Perhaps my motto should be – All things in moderation, especially moderation!