“Paris is sexy because it’s subtle.” Six words, written by Alexander Lobrano in Hungry for Paris, lead me to break a hard and fast rule: When I want to know something about France, I go first to a French source. Lobrano is the rare exception to that rule. This is an American in Paris with a distinctly French sensibility. He “gets” it.
There are those who have the good fortune to find the place that is a perfect fit and the good sense to stay put. Lobrano has lived for almost 30 years in Paris and has been exploring the French countryside for nearly as long. He was European correspondent for the late, lamented Gourmet magazine, and has written about French food for the major food and travel magazines. He is a pleasure to read; he shows profound respect and appreciation for his subject.
This month marks the release of two books by Lobrano – good news for his fans and a double opportunity for those who are about to sample him for the first time. If you have relied on his recommendations in the past, you’ll welcome the release of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the 109 Best Restaurants of Paris. This revised and updated second edition reflects the changes in the Parisian dining scene and features dozens of new restaurants. The second is called Hungry for France: Adventures for the Cook & Food Lover. In it, we leave Paris to explore the culinary treasures that lie beyond.
Beginning in Île de France and concluding in Provence – to my mind, a dream itinerary, framed by a few days in Paris at either end – you’re off on a journey that promises to be as enjoyable as the destination. Hungry for France takes you from coast to coast, whether off to the shore for seafood, or to the valleys – the Loire, known as the garden of France, or the Rhône, its gastronomic spine, so called for its abundance – or to Basque country, where mountains meet sea and some of the best seafood can be found beside charcuterie of like quality. Your guide knows just where to go for the very best of everything, and countless visits have neither dulled his palate nor quenched his delight.
You’ll meet a fisherman who prefers meat and learn of an ancient Celtic tradition that keeps many older Bretons from eating shellfish. There is the woman in Camembert who insisted on giving Lobrano one of the local cheeses, refusing his offer of payment because “It’s the least I can do after all you Yanks did for us!” (It’s a sentiment I’ve heard often, voiced by a generation that lived through that terror.) You’ll discover the château of a prince-cum-businessman who has reinvented himself as a gardener and whose potager, one of the most picturesque in France, produces hundreds of varieties of tomatoes.
Hungry for France looks at a new generation of French chefs, and many of the dishes are their interpretations of traditional recipes. As in all the arts where France excels, a respect for tradition, married to innovation, ensures success. Imagine Spice-crusted Duck with Cherries, a modern spin on an Escoffier classic, or a Brandade with Cauliflower and Watercress. Lime Blossom Madeleines are perfumed with tilleul honey and lime zest. I can’t guarantee they’ll send you off in Proustian reverie, but at least afternoon tea will be more interesting.
These are not the only madeleines in the book. Lobrano’s prose evokes memories of France and of childhood. An account of a three-hour lunch in Trouville opens with perhaps the most poetic description of a mussel ever written, and I would swear that’s the taste of salt air on my lips. Reading a recipe for Cavaillon Melon Gazpacho, I know the flavor and scent of summer in the South.
More than 75 recipes throughout the book were developed by author Jane Sigal, a regular contributor to Food & Wine, the New York Times, Saveur and the Wall Street Journal, who has several cookbooks to her credit. Photographer Steven Rothfeld is the author of Entrez: The Signs of France. He has captured the spirit of Hungry for France in his photographs of the food, of the exquisite landscapes and interiors, and in his sensitive portraits of the people who make it all happen. This is a book you will leaf through for information, then find that nothing will do but to go back and read it slowly for pleasure, savoring each chapter as you go.
In his introduction to Hungry for France, Alexander Lobrano declares it an act of gratitude. He proves with every word that the remark is more than a beau geste. In this book, as in Hungry for Paris, he celebrates the country he calls home. When you read them, I think you’ll be grateful he has invited us to share.
Bonne lecture !