The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
I have developed a new literary crush – make room in the mud wrestling ring, Skulduggery and Sherlock, David Lebovitz is here! (Er, except he’s real, so…)
After living in San Francisco and working at Chez Panisse for almost 10 years, David packed up and headed to Paris with three suitcases and, from the sound of it, only a rudimentary knowledge of the French language. The Sweet Life in Paris is a collection of his stories along with quite a few recipes (he worked as a pastry chef in San Francisco, so he’s my kind of guy, though he specialises in chocolate [which we'll get to in a minute]).
Some of the stories and recipes are from his blog and some are new (I think, I’m working my way through his archives as we speak, so it may just be that I haven’t gotten to them yet). Most of them involve affectionate observations of Parisian quirks and foibles and the experiences of an American expat adjusting to life in a new city.
Really it’s his writing that makes his book so enjoyable – he has a warm, wry sense of humor which makes the reader feel like he’s talking only to you (I imagine him being the kind of guy that can really pull off a wink). He’s famous enough to get special treatment at some places, but, probably because he’s in France, can also report on life as a regular Joe (I’d love to see his kitchen – sounds comparable to my last one), which makes for interesting and also identifiable experiences to read about.
I only have two nitpicky things that I think could have improved the book even more – as far as I could tell (and I’m entirely open to being corrected here), the recipes didn’t always relate to the stories being told in the chapters they are associated with (and I’ll admit this would be tricky, but I think it would have been nice) – though I think this might have been because Random House weren’t sure if it was a memoir or a cookbook. And, despite his intimate tone, I felt like he definitely kept a distance between himself and the reader. I guess, to be fair, it’s a food/travel book more than a memoir, but since I like him so much, I really wanted to get to know him a bit. Quite a few things, mostly personal, are glossed over – maybe he’s saving them for his autobiography. I certainly hope so!
My rating: A-
Because his specialty is chocolate, I decided to take this opportunity to tell you all a secret. After approximately 15 years of not eating chocolate, I have finally started again. It’s in its experimental stages at the moment, but so far it’s going pretty well. I still have a LOT of carob powder to get through and, since it works so well as a cocoa powder replacement, I’ll use it that way, but the prospect of getting to learn how to bake with actual chocolate is a very exciting one!
For my first chocolate baking outing, I went with David’s Mousse au Chocolat II (here’s a different Chocolate Mousse recipe from his website) because I had some cream leftover from a disastrous strawberry dessert from a few nights ago and because I’m not sure how long I should keep a dessert made with raw egg and whether or not I could eat it before I ended up giving myself food poisoning.
If David ever reads this he will probably cringe when I say that I used…Nestle* chocolate chips. I know, David – I long to try Valrhona, but for budgetary and patience reasons, I had to make do with the standard semisweet chocolate chips. Besides, after 15 years of no chocolate, I really can’t tell that it’s not a gourmet chocolate (frankly, so far, I can’t even tell it’s not carob).
Also, I didn’t have any Chartreuse that the recipe called for, so I substituted equal parts vanilla and almond extracts. Other than that it was super easy – took me about 15 minutes or so probably and is very tasty! Very, very rich, but very, very tasty – I can really only eat a tiny portion of it which means it’ll last a while (hence the egg avoidance), but it’s very satisfying even in miniscule amounts.
Right now, the main thing I’m taking away from my chocolate experiment is how did I live this long without Nutella in my life?!
*OMG, Nestle is responsible for Hot Pockets?! What have I done?! Now I just feel dirty. (Don’t worry, that link is not to the Hot Pockets website – click on it, I promise it’s funny.)