Le Carnet de France: On va déguster la France
Let’s Eat France
By François-Régis Gaudry
Hardback 432 pp.
(Artisan Books, New York, 2018)
By Martine P. Dulles
A cover as appealing as the recipes inside. Images provided by the author.
At the end of 2020, in France, we kept on hearing and reading about a new book entitled On va déguster l’ITALIE. All book critics were raving about it, and by mid-December, the book was already sold out. (To this day, more than 100,000 copies have been sold. The English version will be available in October 2021).
But why is “Le Carnet de France” mentioning a book about Italy? Well, in 2017, the writer, François-Régis Gaudry, a culinary journalist, together with the help of numerous friends and professionals (cooks, pastry chefs, restaurant owners, oenologists, cartoonists, historians and many more) wrote On va déguster LA FRANCE. (Dégustermeans to taste or to savor). The book was translated into English in 2018, and its title is Let’s Eat FRANCE. You might not read it in bed: With 432 pages, it weighs 6.8 pounds!
It is truly a French gastronomical bible and a wonderful coffee table book as well.
During our conversation, François-Régis Gaudry mentioned that Chef Alain Chapel from Mionnay, north of Lyon, told him one day that “French cuisine is always more than just recipes.” Mr. Gaudry considers that Alain Chapel was a genius, and that statement gave him the idea for this unique book. Alain Chapel was one of the creators of “nouvelle cuisine,” and he was awarded a third star by the Guide Michelin in 1978, which he kept until his premature death at 53 in 1990. The yearly Guide Michelin is the “red” guide, created in 1900 by the Michelin brothers to help motorists find good restaurants on the road. Today, it rates restaurants (up to three stars) and hotels. Some persons buy it every single year and would not travel without it.
From cornichons (French pickles) on page 12 to cooking with butter on page 392, you are going to read about French culture, specialties, geography, history, vocabulary and much more. You will get hungry or thirsty, and you will be really amused and will laugh. It will make you want to read French classics, look at French paintings or watch a French movie.
The book is a “pêle-mêle,” in neither chronological nor alphabetical order, which makes every page a new discovery. But if you do not want to wander, at the end is a very complete and detailed index. Many maps will make you discover the specialties of the different regions. There is a real emphasis on local and organic products.
I mentioned “fun.” That’s also thanks to a wonderful sense of humor, plays on words, lovely drawings, creativity and imagination throughout the book.
OK, you love cooking! You will find a recipe for omelettes, soufflés, foie gras (not the pâté but the real goose or duck liver), blanquette de veau (veal stew), bouillabaisse (Marseilles fish stew), ratatouille niçoise (vegetable dish), frites (French fries) and tartes aux pommes (apple pies). A total of 375 recipes are printed.
In a French home (and in many restaurants), a cheese tray is presented before dessert. I cannot resist reminding you of the famous quote from General de Gaulle, made while he was president of France (1959-1969): “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?” Well, in the book, from page 200 to page 203, you have a map of France showing you the different regions with their specialties of cheese, the origins (cow, goat or sheep), their maturing time and their flavor.
Bread and cheese for any occasion.
You cannot eat cheese without a piece of bread. Les pains régionaux (regional breads) are shown in “The Tour de France des pains” on pages 158 and 159. Many breads have unusual names. For instance, in Brittany, they bake le pain chapeau (the hat, a round loaf with a smaller one on top, pierced in the middle). In Toulouse, in the southwest of France, the bread is named le porte-manteau (the coat hanger), a long loaf rolled at both ends toward the middle, and then in Nice, la main de Nice (the hand) is in the form of a croissant but with four fingers. And guess what — at the east end of the Pyrenees near Perpignan, there is a bread named Charleston!
Many dishes are named after saints. The typical dessert served at a French wedding is the Saint-Honoré. The saint happens to be the bakers’ saint, celebrated on May 16. Saint Pierre (June 29) and Saint André (November 30) are the fishermen’s patrons. Saint Médard, patron of the farmers, is well-known by everyone: S’il pleut à la Saint Médard, il pleut quarante jours plus tard! (If it rains on Saint Medard’s feast day, June 8, it will rain for the next 40 days.)
Chantilly, as you know, is the site of one of the most beautiful castles of France, an hour’s drive north of Paris. It houses the second largest collection of paintings in France after the Louvre. It is also known for its delicious crème Chantilly. There are many hypotheses as to the creation of the cream, but one of them is that François Vatel, the maître d’hôtel of the château, served it to King Louis XIV when the Sun King visited the owner, the Prince de Condé, for a few days. On the last day of the visit, Vatel, a very professional organizer, thought he did not accomplish his duty perfectly and ended up committing suicide. A movie written by Tom Stoppard and Jeanne Labrune relates the story.
Other great movies mentioned in the book are Babette’s Feast (1987), Garçon! (1983) with Yves Montand, César et Rosalie (1972) and Vincent, François, Paul et les Autres (1974).
As for the literary side, we read about Marcel Proust and his favorite madeleine. The title of the article is “A la recherche de la madeleine perdue” (in search of the lost madeleine). Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is cited as “grand écrivain et gros appétit” (a great writer with a big appetite), whose favorite dish was le poulet en crapaudine, which is mentioned in his chef-d’oeuvre Les Misérables.
François-Régis Gaudry, born in Lyon, the culinary capital of France, began his career as a journalist and restaurant critic for the weekly news magazine L’Express. Another Lyonnais, un bon vivant and a lover of Beaujolais wine, is Bernard Pivot, mentioned on page 245. In 1973, Mr. Pivot created a weekly television program called “Ouvrez les guillemets” (open the quotation marks) and later a second one called “Apostrophes,” followed by “Bouillon de culture” (a cultural stew). For 75 minutes, the participants would discuss their books and current cultural topics. It was a real honor to be invited and a great boost for their work. His program encouraged many French people to read good books and enjoy good food and wine (avec modération).
Articles relating to wine are numerous. Most of the great vineyards are mentioned. The oenology vocabulary is explained, the size of the bottles described, fraternities listed. But ciders, beers, syrups, cognacs, rums and other spirits are not forgotten.
Of course, restaurants and chefs, cooking schools, eating etiquette and many more chapters are fun to read. Bon appétit!
In addition to his books, François-Régis Gaudry has a radio program, “On va déguster,” on France Inter every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. (French time), which is heard by 1.8 million listeners.
To order locally from Buxton Books, follow this link: Let's Eat France!: 1,250 Specialty Foods, 375 Iconic Recipes, 350 Topics, 260 Personalities, Plus Hundreds of Maps, Charts, Tricks, Tips, (bookshop.org)
Martine P. Dulles lives in France. Martine was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston for many years. She now organizes bespoke tours in France and is a translator for cultural material. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.