Thursday, December 30, 2010

Moroccan Hotel Fit for Royalty

When the King—any King--opens a hotel, you don’t exactly expect a Travelodge, Days Inn or Formule 1. Yet even by royal standards, the Royal Mansour is a beauty.

The King in this case is His Majesty the King Mohamed VI of Morocco and the hotel, the Royal Mansour in Marakech, was developed to be one of the world’s finest. It opened in July, with 53 individual riads, three restaurants and a 27,000-square-foot spa, all spread over eight acres. Built into the ancient city walls, the Royal Mansour was meant to re-create a historical medina, with Andalusian-style courtyards, winding alleyways, and spectacular water displays. The art throughout is from both popular and up-and-coming Moroccan artists.

And since no ordinary chef would do for King M6, as he’s known, Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno of Le Meurice in Paris was lured into being the “advisor chef.” Alléno will stay on at the Meurice but will travel back and forth to Marrakech, leaving chef Jerôme Videau (previously of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg) in charge while he’s away. The hotel’s general manager Jean Pierre Chaumard was at the Royal Palm (on Mauritius) for 20 years.

The pampering begins the moment you step off your plane. A staff member greets you at the airport, serves drinks while your passport formalities are being sorted out and then whisks you off to the hotel in a Mercedes, free of charge.

The Royal Mansour has some serious competition of course, most notably the legendary La Mamounia, reopened in September 2009 after a three year $160-million redo.

Rates at the Royal Mansour, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, begin at 1500€ per night. For info, click here or here. Or, you can email (experience@royalmansour.com) or call (Marrakech phone) 1 + 212 (0)529 80 80 80. RyanAir and Royal Air Maroc both fly between Marseille and Marrakech; Royal Air Maroc flies to Morocco from Nice, Montpellier and Toulouse as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

After-Holiday Sale, New Years at Estoublon

Holiday decor is now 50% off and clothing is discounted 30% at the Christmas Market at the Chateau d’Estoublon, a magnificent 16th-century estate near Fontvieille where wines and olive oils are produced. This is the one market my friends and I never miss; each year the selection of food, decor, toys and tableware grows more elegant, eclectic and whimsical too. The items for sale come from all over the world and the displays are magnificent. On the grounds are an antique carousel, a beautiful little chapel, exquisite holiday lighting and more.  The Christmas market runs until Thursday Dec. 30th and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Meanwhile Estoublon’s wine bar/restaurant Mogador, with its vaulted ceilings, huge fireplace and consulting Michelin-starred chef Eric Sapet, will be serving lunch and dinner throughout the holidays, with a special Saint-Sylvestre menu offered on New Years Eve. The evening (80€ per person without wine, 110€ with)  includes music and dancing until 3 a.m. Check the site here for menus, prices and more.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Love Paris When It....


Isn't this great? This Paris Snow Globe print by artist Clare Owen is $20 plus shipping from her shop on Etsy. For more about Clare, see her website  and blog.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shangri-Ooh-La-La!

The Shangri-La Hotel Paris opens today, marking the Hong Kong-based hotelier’s European debut. As elegant as one would expect, the 16th-arrondissement hotel sits between the Place des Etats-Unis, the Place d’Iéna and the Trocadero--in the 110-year-old palais of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grand nephew of Napoleon. It’s walking distance from the Arc de Triomphe, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. I’m told the neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of museums in all of Europe.

Upon acquiring the building in 2006, Shangri-La took immediate steps to register it with “Monuments Historiques,” demonstrating their respect for its historical and cultural significance. Then they put prominent architect Richard Martinet to work on the restoration while legendary designer Pierre-Yves Rochon handled the interiors. All told the project took four years, the same amount of time spent building the palace in the first place. Inside, the 81 rooms and suites are the largest in any Parisian luxury hotel; some have Eiffel Tower views from the tub. Outside are beautifully secluded gardens. A vast indoor pool and 24/7 fitness center are under construction. There’s four staff for every guest.

And who’s in the kitchen? The highly pedigreed executive chef is Philippe Labbé, who comes, most recently, from the 36-room Château de la Chèvre d'Or, a Relais & Châteaux in Eze on the Cote d’Azur. There, he earned 19/20 from Gault Millau and maintained two Michelin stars. Philippe also worked at the Carlton and Martinez hotels in Cannes and the Plaza Athénée in Paris. 

Originally from France’s Champagne region, he says his goal is to serve the finest Asian and French cuisine in Paris.

The first of the hotel’s three restaurants, La Bauhinia, opens this week serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and drinks. The menu is modern European, sprinkled with Southeast Asian. La Bauhinia sits in the heart of the hotel, under a magnificent 1930s steel-and-glass cupola.  

The next restaurant, the gourmet and very-French L'Abeille, will be ready to go in February. A third, Shang Palace, will follow serving high-level Cantonese cuisine prepared by a brigade of five Hong Kong chefs.

Shangri-La now owns and operates 70 hotels worldwide, under the Shangri-La (five-star) and Traders (four-star) brands. Early next year they’ll open an historic hotel in Vienna and then another, near London Bridge, in 2012.

Rates at Shangri-La Paris begin at 750€. For info and reservations, click here.

Shangri-La Paris Hotel
10 avenue d'Iéna
75116 Paris
T: 01 53 67 19 98
F: 01 53 67 19 19
slpr@shangri-la.com


Photos: Deluxe Suite, Entrance, Duplex Suite, Grand Salon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love Where You Live?

Cute, right? This "I Love My Town" tee is 100% organic fine jersey cotton, with a silk-screened logo in red or pink. It's unisex and comes in sizes S to 2XL $22 from Basic French.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kit Golson’s Design Tour de France

One of the many super-cool people I've met in the blogosphere is Kit Golson, a California-based interior designer who's crazy passionate about Provence. And now Kit tells me she's leading a Design Tour of Provence over Easter: April 22 to 27. If I didn't already live here, I'd sign up for this trip for sure. And I'm totally planning to schlep along one day if the gorgeous-and-talented Kit lets me.  

The five-day tour includes the Foire Internationale des Antiques et Brocante (the second largest antiques market in all of France), a private cooking class, a decorative arts class, work with a digital photography coach, market visits, plenty of shopping, sightseeing, fabulous meals with local wines, a Mercedes van to run around in and accommodations in an 18th-century villa. I mean, come on...is there anything in that list we don't love?

And get this: everything you buy will be safely shipped home for you. (If you've ever shipped things home from France, you know what a laugh riot that can be.)

So what else? You'll see Avignon, St. Remy with its ancient Roman village and famous "Van Gogh hospital," the village of Apt, the gorgeous ochre mines of Roussillon, those famous prehistoric dwellings called bories and much more. And all in five days, so wear comfy shoes is my best advice. Late April is a wonderful time to visit Provence. 

You can find all the info on Kit's blog Chic Provence and email her with questions too: kit@kitgolson.com. Kit has a big following online (and in real life too, from what I can tell), so if you're interested, I'd hop to it--I think this tour will sell out quickly. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

At Home in Provence

Ten years ago, while on holiday with her husband and three children in Provence, Vicki Archer, an Australian, fell in love with Mas de Berard, a ramshackle 17th-century farmhouse in St. Remy. Yep, you know the rest: Vicki and David bought and then set out to restore the house, transforming it, over three years, into an exquisite showcase of Provencale style, all country-chic elegance and ease...farmhouse meets formal in the French countryside. Vicki first shared her journey and its joys in a book called My French Lifewhich came out in 2006. And now you can peek over the Archer’s gate once again with French Essence: Ambience, Beauty and Style in Provence  (Viking Studio, New York), which came out in the U.S. a few weeks ago. The book was first published in Australia in 2009.

OMG, what a book!

Weighing in at just under five pounds, the 239-page hardcover is like an all-access, behind-the-scenes pass welcoming you—come in! come in!--to snoop around the Archer's beautifully restored home, where Vicki's love of French architecture, art and decor is evident down to the tiniest detail. "Ambience is the single ingredient that distinguishes and infuses life here," she writes. "French Essence is a written and photographic celebration of this."

But the book is so much more than a house-and-garden tour. Through gorgeous full-page photos and Vicki’s well-researched and pretty prose, French Essence explores many important facets of life in Provence including food, wine, gardening, design, the emphasis on family, seasonality, the beauty of the countryside, the energy of Aix, Avignon and Marseille—even the circus. Vicki has a practiced eye, an historian’s sensibility and a crazy all-consuming passion for her adopted home—it comes through on every oversized page.

And Vicki is nothing if not grateful…her sense of good fortune infuses every book page and blog post. "Beautiful surroundings have always fuelled my creative soul,” she writes, “and to live life here with such an abundance of nature and loveliness is a gift."

If you've spent any time on Vicki's blog, also called French Essence, you're familiar with Carla Coulson’s exquisite and dreamy images. The Paris-based photographer has her own distinctive sensibility and the two women have clearly forged a powerful creative connection. Turning the pages of French Essence, it struck me once again how viewing photos online so often pales compared to experiencing them full bleed (to the edges of the page), on heavy, semi-gloss stock, by a traditional and talented (and I’m sure very-expensive) printer.  Carla deserves an award for these images and the art director deserves one too, for beautifully balancing lots of images and lots of text.  Please do not read this book on your Nook or Kindle or iPad—you’ll miss so much.

Surprisingly, French Essence doesn't cost a fortune: Amazon (US) has it for $30 plus shipping. This is going to be my default gift for all my stylish, artsy, decorating-crazy, green-thumbed, photography-loving, Francophile, foodie, house-renovating, party-throwing, macaron-chomping, olive-farming, wanna-be-French friends.

Maybe I love this book so much because there are so many similarities between my life and Vicki's (except, of course, for her huge amazing house and its staff, the devoted husband and gorgeous children, the garden with its 2,000 olive trees and her impeccable sense of style.) We're both expats of course, who came here on vacation and felt an irresistible pull. We both took apart our previous lives—hers in Sydney, mine in New York--in order to start over in Provence. We’re both writers who  find great pleasure in beautiful things, love the outdoors, love to entertain.  Speaking of which, now that Vicki has welcomed me into her world, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to invite the Archers to dinner in my 70-square-meter, flea-market-furnished, wrong-side-of-St. Remy home. As if!

Photos: The US edition of French Essence is now available on Amazon; the Archers' sitting room in winter; the 17th-century St. Remy farmhouse at Christmas; Vicki's daughter Venetia in the garden at Mas de Berard. Photos by Carla Coulson.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Want Foie Gras with That?

The fast-food chain Quick will offer low-priced foie gras burgers in France as a pre-Christmas special.  The “Supreme Foie Gras” is 5€ ($6.57, £4.20) and will be available at more than 340 Quick outlets across France from December 17 to 19. The sandwich contains beef, relish, lettuce and duck foie gras; Quick said the foie gras will be in slices but the photo they've released shows little (not so appealing) cubes. The Supreme Foie Gras has 672 calories compared to the standard burger's 633.  "We want to give our clients great taste at cheap prices and give them the possibility to party a little ahead of time," Quick's 's marketing director Laurent Niewolinski told Reuters. Foie gras  comes from the liver of force-fed ducks or geese; activists denounce the practice as cruel, saying the process causes the animals enormous suffering. Foie gras is, of course, a traditional dish in French cuisine and a particular delicacy at Christmas. To compete with McDonald's, Quick's strategy includes offering unusual burgers, like this one, on a short term basis. Earlier this year, the company sparked a debate in France by opening Halal-only outlets and releasing a Halal version of one of its burgers--replacing the bacon with turkey--in some of its other stores.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

French Vintage on Sale

Jill Mitchell is offering discounts of up to 50% on the French vintage items in her two online shops. (This mid-century French school poster, for example, with North America on one side and Asia on the other, is now $60 plus shipping.) To see Jill's shop on Etsy, click here and use the code word "holidaysale" to get a 30% discount through the end of the year.  To see Jill's Ebay store click here; that sale lasts until December 6th only and prices are as marked. Mention ProvencePost and Jill will put an extra little vintage gift in with your purchase. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A French Love Affair

One day in the late 1990s, Francophilia founder Pamela Poole was looking for a Bastille Day celebration in her hometown of San Diego...but found nothing. So she decided to launch a website where people like her could get their Francophile fix any time, anywhere. She started putting together a plan and three years ago, Pamela, who now lives in Paris, launched the Francophilia Community. 

Francophilia consists of three related sites. The Gazette  is  a cabinet de curiosités, an online magazine offering bite-sized tidbits of news, trivia, history, arts, pop culture, food, fashion, language and more. The Community  is a full-featured social network where Francophiles can meet people all over the world who share their passion for France. (And monthly contests too!)  The Marketplace is stocked with  hand-picked merchandise that appeals to a wide range of Francophile tastes and budgets, from French designer clothes to kitsch. "Not everybody can live in France, or even visit as often as they’d like," Pamela says. "And some never make it here at all. Now they can pop in to Francophilia and come away feeling like they’ve had a little taste of the country we all love." 

Pamela's sites look great thanks to Pamela's talented and techie husband Vincent, who handles the design. She plans, one day, to merge the three separate sites into one. Meanwhile, she's actively seeking investors and partners to help her move Francophilia forward. Interested? Email her:  admin@francophilia.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Did I Mention I Wrote a Book?


If you and I spoke at all in 2009 and I was acting a bit mental, here's why--I was writing a book. And this week the book comes out! It's called the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook and we celebrated it last night with a big party at the very-chic Barney's in New York. We'll celebrate again at the 10th Annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival--which everyone just calls SoBe--on Miami Beach in late February. SoBe has been referred to as "the Sundance of the food and wine industry," "the biggest beach party on the planet," "spring break for chefs," a "family reunion for chefs" and "Foodstock." This year, 50,000 or so people will attend at least one of 50 SoBe festival events. It's four days of non-stop food-and-wine drenched decadence on one of the world's most gorgeous beaches. You should come!

So who's Lee Schrager and why is his name bigger than mine on the book cover? Lee is the founder and director of the SoBe Festival and, more recently, the New York Wine & Food Festival, coming up on its fourth year. Lee is one of the most energetic, most creative people I know. Not only are his festivals tons of fun, they raise millions of dollars for good causes. Lee is connected, I'm sure, to two of every  five people on the planet; at last count he had almost 7,000 people in his BlackBerry. So when he asked me to write the festival cookbook, I was thrilled.

The idea was to commemorate the big anniversary with 100 fabulous, festive recipes, all of them actually prepared at SoBe or with a SoBe feel. And we definitely wanted to display the festival's vivid multi-culti flavor.We wanted as many dishes as we could possibly fit, but only if they were do-able by home cooks working with easy-to-find ingredients. We started with who knows how many hundreds and eventually reduced it like a fine sauce. At first I was afraid there would be no more seared tuna in the sea, we received so many variations on that theme. And then it was short ribs...everyone sent short ribs. Truth is we could have easily run 200, 300 great recipes if we had had the pages...so many dishes, so little space. Many were the nights I tossed and turned--really!--struggling to choose one dish over another.

Ok, so maybe you're not going to make Ferran Adria's Carrot Air with Bitter Coconut Milk for the kids' school lunch. But seriously, with few exceptions, this isn't a book filled with complex dishes made from scary ingredients you've never heard of. Plus, the recipes were all tested in a home--rather than professional--kitchen and only the best made the cut.

One of the many things I love about this book (indulge me here) is the wide range of contributing chefs. We've got recipes from the elite swat team chefs (Adria, Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Charlie Trotter, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Nobu Matsuhisa, Pierre Herme, etc.) and the rockstar celebrity TV chefs (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Emeril, Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, Morimoto, etc.) and the hard-working restaurant chefs whose places we love year after year and some of the best pastry chefs ever and even a few amazing young talents you've probably never heard of but soon will.

Because the event known as the Burger Bash is an annual SoBe highlight, we've got a whole burger chapter including winners of the festival's best burger awards. Another chapter is all barbecue, with recipes pulled from the super-popular SoBe event called the BubbleQ, where 25 or so top barbecue chefs man grill stations on the beach and serve up all different kinds of amazing 'cue with rivers of fancy French Champagne.

But the 256-page book has way more than just recipes. It's got witty and insightful (!!) Q&As with chefs ("Grilled for One Minute"), great anecdotes (well, those that I could repeat), tons of photos from the last ten years and a forward by Anthony Bourdain, the well-known chef/author/raconteur/bad boy/TV star who's been a loyal festival supporter for years and who always draws standing-room-only crowds. "When it comes to SoBe, I can't find anything to complain about," Anthony told me. "And I complain about everything!"

Whether you're a hard-core foodie, a beginning or accomplished cook, a culinary student or someone who just loves to see chefs in board shorts and flip flops, I think you'll enjoy the book. Best of all, proceeds go to a great cause.

Lee Schrager is a master event planner and he really outdid himself at our party last night. Lots of the chefs in the book were there: Jamie Oliver, Emeril, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Mario Batali, Michelle Bernstein, Hedy Goldsmith, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Jacques Torres, Rocco Dispirito and more. The food, catered by Barney's in-house restaurant, Fred's, was superb and the Champagne flowed nonstop. Now Lee's on a plane back to Miami, for a big "foodie theme night" promo with the Miami Heat tonight. Our book will be featured on the Jumbotron and will be looping on the huge digital billboard oustide the arena as well. Inside, VIPs in the suites will be dining on dishes from the book.

Me, I'm going to stay in New York for a few days of fun. I have a gorgeous room at an elegant new Fifth Avenue hotel called The Setai and I'm nowhere near ready to leave.

If you're at all curious what it was like pulling this book together, you can read what I wrote about that here.

If you're curious about the 2011 festival, click here

If you'd like to win a trip to the 2011 festival, enter here.

If you'd like to buy the book (and who wouldn't?), it's in bookstores nationwide and on all the usual websites including Amazon.

If you'd like to leave a comment below, do so! I'll pick one next week and send that person a copy of the book just for fun.

Friday, November 12, 2010

St. Tropez, Back in the Day

I thought I had finally had my fill of “expat in Provence” memoirs but last night I snuggled in with A Feast at the Beach and am so glad I did. It takes less than two hours to read…maybe three if you savor all the recipes…and it’s a delight. 

A Feast at the Beach (3L Publishing, Sacramento, CA) is William Widmaier’s loving narrative about the glorious vacations (summer, mostly, but also Christmas) he spent at his grandparents’ home in St. Tropez. Today William, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works in marketing. But the book is set in the 1960s, when he and his brother, Stephan, stayed with “Mémé and Pépé” in their 17th-century stone house about two kilometers from town.

Cobbled together in stages over time, the house had a large yard and vineyards out back; views of the village and the gulf in front. The house was attached to a small church, the church that appears in Henri Matisse’s 1904 painting La Chapelle St. Joseph. William remembers it smelling deliciously of furniture wax, lavender, Savon de Marseilles and, very subtly, frankincense. When the windows were open, the salty Mediterranean breeze wafted through, tinged with the smell of machine oil from Pépé’s garage. The house, William says, “dripped with history and secret lore.”

The book is filled with powerful flavors, scents, images and traditions…things you’ll recognize immediately if you’ve spent time in Provence or on the Cote d’Azur. I loved visualizing the locations William describes: the Vieux Port and the new; dense wooded pathways down to deserted beaches; late-night petanque games on the Places des Lices.

The book begins, poignantly, with a disappointment: William arrives at his grandparents’ home for the very first time, aged four, believing, for whatever reason, that his Christmas gift will be a “big magical gift…something vaguely to do with trains or cars.” He’s presented with a red scarf instead. The scarf turns out to be just one of his gifts but of course it’s the one he remembers. Ironically, the scarf becomes a treasured keepsake that he cherishes for many years, long after it’s too tattered to wear. 

A Feast at the Beach goes on to provide, through anecdotes and memories, a wonderful glimpse of life in St. Tropez before it became St. Tropez.

Of five-gallon glass wine jugs wrapped in woven straw.

Of being woken at 2 a.m. to see snow falling on the village.

Of Pépé biking 1,000 kilometers more than once, to deliver food money to his family and the families of his co-workers, all of them hiding safely from the Germans in central France.

Of Pépé eating every meal not with cutlery but with only an Opinel pocketknife.

Of baguettes packed for a day at the beach, filled with chocolate or brie or Caprice des Dieux cheese.

Of being invited by a tight group of fishermen and their wives to share a marvelous bouillabaisse feast on the beach with seafood just pulled from the nets.

Of the four-times-a-day sirens at the French naval research facility where Pépé worked as an engineer. (Locals called it simply l’usine or the factory). The sirens told workers when to start, break for lunch, get back to work and go home. Locals set their clocks by the blasts.

Of Mémé burying Pépé in his bicycling outfit.

And because food is such a huge part of French country life, every chapter of A Feast at the Beach ends with a recipe or two: all of them simple, very Provençal and delivered in a sweet, chatty style. The instructions for Lemon and Olive Chicken with French Green Beans, Uncle Jacques' Favorite Grilled Shrimp, “The Magic of Eggs and Olive Oil” and Mémé’s Sleeping Potion are almost as enjoyable as the chapters they conclude.

You know a book has grabbed you when it leaves you wanting to know more. I wondered, for example, how William came to have these charming French grandparents in the first place. He doesn’t tell us whose side they’re on, or how his parents met, or what happened to the house. So I rang him up to find out.

Mémé and Pépé are the parents of William’s mother, he told me.  She was studying in England; his father was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. They married in the U.K. and returned to the U.S. together.

And the house? Turns out that Mémé is 94 and still living in it. She hasn’t read the book—she’s almost blind and can’t read English—but cousins have told William she’s thrilled with it nonetheless. The book is currently being translated into French.

Now when William returns to St. Tropez he’s accompanied by his wife Tiaré. If they had children, he says, he’d definitely send them off to their cousins in France. “Despite all the new developments, condos and plowed-under vineyards,” he reports, “St. Tropez is still a very beautiful place.”

To order A Feast at the Beach, click here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Provence Tours, Tailor-Made


Cecile Beillieu is the owner of Tours in Provence, a small company offering full and half-day tours for individuals and small groups. 

Cecile was born in Aix-en-Provence near the foot of the famous Mont St. Victoire. After earning a tourism degree from the University in Aix, she took off for London and soon opened a shop selling products made in Provence. "We focused on the most authentic craft centers," she told me, "such as Ravel from Aubagne, V. Pichon from Uzes, glassware from La Verrerie de Biot, Richard Esteban from Aigues-Vives, Souleiado linens and Laguiole cutlery."

One winter, Cecile went seeking the sun in Barcelona and felt “so well welcome” that she stayed five years, working in the hotel and travel industry around Catalunya.

But then she realized that where she really wanted to be was at home in her beloved Provence.

“I decided to make tours and welcome travelers in own my country,” she says. “It was an idea that I'd always had: to share my love for landscapes bathed in that unique light...for Cassis and the Calanques…for the vineyards and olive groves… for the wildlife of the Camargue…for Les Baux and Les Alpilles…for the Gorges du Verdon and the lavender fields of the Valensole plateau. For La Provence!”

Cecile, who is fluent in English and Spanish, offers set tours, special themes and a la carte adventures. Her tours operate year round. So check her site, see what she suggests, share the link with your friends and consider signing up for a tour yourself.  

Meanwhile here’s a testimonial from Lynn Villyard, a writer and Francophile from Athens, Georgia: “I spent the month of June in Provence, basing in a small village and going far and wide from there. I went about alone most of the time, but didn’t want to take on Marseille without some help. Lucky for me, someone in the village knew Cecile and told me she had just started her guide service, so I called right away. Cecile is friendly and easy-going, and was much more interested in what I had to say than telling me how we should do things.  Once she understood my interests, I had a tailor-made tour. Oh, and for those of us still struggling with our French, she speaks fluent English! Because we could discuss things, I gained so much more from the experience. I can’t say enough positive things about Cecile.”

For more info:
Cecile Beillieu

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fanfare for Modern French Food

When famed Parisian patissier Pierre Hermé went looking for someone to write his cookbook, Desserts by Pierre Hermé, he chose Dorie Greenspan. When it came time to do his next book, Chocolate Desserts, he asked Dorie again. 

When top New York chef Daniel Boulud signed his book contract, he called on Dorie to help with the writing. 

And when the legendary Julia Child needed someone to pen the companion cookbook for her PBS series Baking with Julia

Yep. 

But even when Dorie writes her own books—filled with her own recipes and ideas—those are huge hits too. 

All told, Dorie is the author of ten cookbooks, many of them best-sellers. She’s won all the prestigious cookbook awards, she writes for Bon Appetit and the New York Times, she’s a frequent guest on National Public Radio and she produces a wonderful blog at DorieGreenspan.com

If that weren’t enough, Dorie is the periodic perpetrator of fun foodie hijinks such as the pop up CookieBar she and her son, Josh, opened in New York last year. It was a huge hit, of course. 

Oh, and did I mention that Dorie divides her time between a beautiful old home in Connecticut, a rambling apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and a charming pied a terre in Paris? 

If she weren’t so sweet and funny and amazing and talented, everyone would hate her for sure. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because Dorie’s new book is just out. And while she certainly doesn’t need me to promote it—it’s getting great reviews, flying off shelves and just debuted on the New York Times How-To Bestseller List—it’s one I’m sure you foodie Francophiles will all want to own. It’s called Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, October, 2010). Amazon just named it the best cookbook of the year. 

Here’s how Dorie describes it: “This isn’t French cooking by the rulebook,” she says. “This is more like my French kitchen journal…the food I’ve been passionately involved with for all these years…true elbows-on-the-table food that can be made and enjoyed by everyone. Some of the recipes are classic, many are surprising and new and some are what my French friends cook at home every day. 

“The French are just as busy as we are,” she continues, “and they’re masters of supremely easy—and supremely delicious food.” 

Around My French Table has been out just a few weeks now and predictably, cooks are raving. 

Here’s Alec Lobrano in the New York Times: “This book is as much fun to read as it is to cook from…If Julia Child was the first to attempt to demystify French cooking for the Stateside home chef, Greenspan succeeds in making it seem eminently doable and easy…” 

And here’s blogger/food writer Ellise Pierce, another American in Paris: “Dorie's book Baking: From My Home to Yours is probably the most batter-splattered, dog-eared cookbook on my shelf. And now I'm loving Around My French Table--it's such a great mix of what you see in France today, from salads with couscous and quinoa, to super-easy appetizers and fabulous desserts that are gobbled up as quickly as they come together.” 

In the book, serving and storage notes are listed neatly down the margin and ingredients are printed in red type for easy reference. Every recipe is accompanied by sidebar ideas on serving, storing, preparing ahead, substitutions and repurposing leftovers. Dorie tells me the dishes are easy enough to be made by a novice and that all the ingredients are available at your local market. 

“In fact,” she says, “I tested all the recipes in my Connecticut kitchen and did about 95% of my marketing at good-old Stop & Shop. It’s amazing how much great French food you can make from everyday American ingredients.”

To order Around My French Table, click HERE.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Make Your Village A Star!

RendezVous Films  is producing a romantic comedy feature film called Kiss the Frog  in which an American businesswoman falls in love with a French farmer. Most of the story takes place in a tiny and remote village in the South of France and production will begin in April. Now they just need to find the village.

Writer/director Kevin Dole describes Kiss the Frog as “my love letter to France.” He and his family have been here many times and their experiences inspired the story.  Kevin believes there are hundreds—maybe thousands--of villages which would work but since he can only choose one, it has to be perfect. So he’s spreading the word and asking for help.

The ideal village will be small and historic with a remote, isolated feel.  It needs to have a small square for a farmers’ market and a village festival. Its houses should be mostly stone and be maison mitoyennes, sharing common walls.  It can be anywhere in the south: from the Italian border down through Languedoc-Roussillon to the foothills of the Pyrénées.

But Kevin and the producers are looking for more than just a pretty face.  They’ll ultimately choose the village based not just on what’s best for the film but on how the production might benefit the community as well.

“I want to find a village with a compelling story so that the project, the making of the film, takes on even more meaning,”  he says.  “I know there were villages devastated by terrible windstorms a couple years ago; others which have suffered from declines in the wine industry.  I know some have lost so many of their young people to the city that they’re almost ghost towns.  I want to find one which is both ideal for the film AND which, by being chosen, might be revitalized--which is exactly what happens in our story.  A location scout rarely has the time to learn the story of the places they photograph.  Only the residents can tell us this.”

Kevin tells me that the production pledges to:

* Hire as many local services as possible.
* Hire as many local workers as possible.
* Credit and promote the village as the film's location, if desired.
* Care for the village and leave it in the same or better condition.

Logistical requirements are: roads accessible by trucks and buses, accommodations nearby for a cast and crew of up to 100 people and residents who’ll welcome the disruption and excitement of production for 8-10 weeks.

“The village of my dreams should have character and charm which inspires the devotion of its residents but may not be apparent to casual visitors,” Kevin adds.  “The level of restoration is unimportant.  We’re not making a superficial ‘postcard’ of France, but rather offering a glimpse of its heart, disguised within a comédie romantique.”

If you live in or know of the perfect village, please click here 
and fill out the research form in French, if possible.  (The page includes directions for sending photos and you can click the link “Retour” for a descriptive page, also in French.)  Or you can email Kevin directly: village@kissthefrogmovie.com.  Or, simply leave a comment by clicking COMMENT below. RendezVous Films is seeking village nominations until January 1, 2011. If you’d like to learn more about the movie, you can watch a video here and visit the main website here

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jon and Kelly's Excellent Wine & Truffle Adventure

When I have Provençale food or restaurant questions, I go to Jon Chiri, an American chef (from New Orleans) who has lived and worked in Provence for years. When I first met Jon he was the director of the Petit Marmiton cooking school at Hotel La Mirande in Avignon…and if you’ve been there you know that that’s kind of a big deal. These days, Jon is sort of a free-range chef, teaching cooking, leading gourmet cycling tours and heading up the kitchen at the luxurious Domaine de La Verrierea vineyard and hotel in an ancient priory, not far from Avignon.  Lucky for me, he’s my gracious go-to guy for anything French-food related.

Similarly, when I have a question about the wines of the region—actually any wine question at all—I ring up Kelly McAuliffe. Born and raised in Nevada, Kelly worked as a sommelier for chef Alain Ducasse for many years, in Monaco, Paris and, most recently, in Las Vegas. Kelly’s wife Fabienne is from Avignon and the couple now lives there, with their three adorable girls. Kelly consults, leads wine tours and represents the wines of the Côtes du RhoneHe’s super knowledgeable and serious about wine but loves to make it approachable and fun.

Now Jon and Kelly—great old friends—have teamed up to celebrate local truffles and wine with a one-day extravaganza open to the public. It will be offered on two Saturdays in December, the 4th and the 11th. Sign up and I guarantee that you’ll eat well, drink well, learn a ton and have tons of fun. Or, consider giving this special day as a gift to a favorite foodie. The famous black truffles of Provence are at their very best from late November through January and Jon has access to la crème de la crème.

The day will begin with a visit to Richerenches, considered the most important truffle market in Europe. Then it’s off to La Verriere  for a Provençale Christmas cooking class. There will also be a truffle tasting and, finally, a seven-course truffle dinner. In between, Kelly will lead a tasting in the cave, taking you through the wines of La Verriere and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Dinner will be served in La Verriere’s 14th century vaulted dining room.

The cost of the day is 250€ per person, which includes transportation to and from Avignon.  Wines with dinner are not included.  For those who would like to stay over, La Verriere is offering a special rate of 250€ for a standard room (normally 300€) and 300€ for superior (down from 350€).

Vive les truffes et les vins de Provence!

For more info or to reserve, call or email Jon: US # (504) 931-2197, France # +33 (0)6-46-89-85-33, jon@gourmetcyclingtravel.com


Photos: Jon (top) and Kelly

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