2009/06/10

David Lebovitz: The Sweet Life in Paris

By JULIETTE ROSSANT
The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz With airline tickets heavily discounted, and the job market looking a little bleak in the US for the foreseeable future, it's probably a good moment to shake off the dust from your plans to live abroad for a year.

If you are a chef or an aspiring chef, Paris might not be your first choice for the expense alone – but it's worth considering.

Get yourself a copy of The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books 2009), David Lebovitz's account of his adventures and cooking feats as he tries to figure out the city and its inhabitants. It’s a wonderful summer read – funny and self-deprecating, and full of just the kind of insider/outsider information that comes with time abroad.

David starts off by encountering the miniscule moving coffins that pass for elevators in Paris. His rental is unlivable, and when he finally moves in, tiny compared to his American digs:
What the countertop lacks in practicality, it makes up for by not imposing itself and taking up too much space in my apartment. Consequently, my entire cooking area is roughly the size of a rectangular gateau Opera, the size that serves eight. And we're talking eight French-sized servings, not American-sized slabs. (p. 25)
He analyzes the niceties of French manners in a chapter on The Most Important Words To Know in Paris (p. 33). The words turn out to be Bonjour monsieur or Bonjour madame or Bonjour mademoiselle. He ponders how French eat fruit (with a knife and fork), how to eat a sandwich with a knife and fork and so on.

David Lebovitz

Sprinkled in among David's observations are recipes of dishes he has prepared in France. After he describes the French ability to eat everything with a knife and fork, he has a recipe called Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds (pp. 40-41):
I derive endless fascination from watching them extract each and every morsel of meat from a bony wing with finely honed, surgical precision.
Many of the recipes are French inspired, but other are purely American like Pork Ribs (pp. 83-85) oven roasted and slathered in sauce (including ketchup).

There are plenty of wonderful recipes for sweets, as you might expect from a pastry chef, like Mocha-Crème Fraiche Cake (pp. 199-191) in a chapter on cheese or Lemon-Glazed Madeleines (pp. 221-224) his improvement on the classic recipe. But The Sweet Life in Paris is a book that goes well beyond pastry. Buy it for the writing. Buy it for the comments he makes about being in Paris, shopping in Paris, living in Paris. Buy it for the fun.

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