I just finished reading a book I thoroughly enjoyed—Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. It’s a little bit romance, a little bit travelogue, a little bit foodie … in other words, tailor-made for me. The American Bard (mid-twenties) met a Frenchman (also mid-twenties) at an academic conference in London, which led, eventually, to that fateful lunch in Paris.
Toward the end of the book, Bard describes a New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of some of her French family; her parents flew in from New York for the occasion. The host had cooked sixteen separate dishes (because there were sixteen guests).
We sat down at eight p.m. and didn’t get up from the table until four thirty in the morning, except for a brief pause at midnight for champagne. It was the most spectacular meal I’ve ever eaten. Like the triumphal procession in Act II of Aida, after the spear carriers come the chariots, after the chariots the cavalry, after the cavalry the dancing girls. And just when you think the stage can’t hold another thing, they bring out the elephants.
To start, there were small salads—the thinnest slivers of red and yellow pepper, slow roasted and glistening with olive oil, and the simplest blend of carrots and golden onions, heady with the smell of cumin.
Then came the fish, its sauce simmered with saffron and tomatoes, thickened with ground almonds. I served myself the merest spoonful or two. “Elle est stratégique.” Affif winked with approval. “She knows what’s coming.” I wanted to savor every bite, even if it was a small one, nothing blurred by the rebellion of a tired palate. I plucked a toothpick out of an oblong white calamari. It was stuffed with rice and peppers, a curly violet-tipped tentacle poking out here and there.
I looked around the table. … I had been working so hard these past few years to figure out what France was about—how it operates, what makes it tick. In fact, most of what was important to the French was around this table: close family, old friends, and fabulous food. I knew I would never entirely leave my New York self behind—never stop wanting, never stop striving—but I also had my place here, among these people.*
The book has two or three recipes at the end of each chapter, and lots of interesting observations from an American, loved by a Frenchman, trying to assimilate and be accepted. If you like this type of book, I think you’ll be delighted by Lunch in Paris.
It turns out there is a Lunch in Paris website, which includes a blog with recipes and luscious photos. (Sadly, not updated in a while, but it seems Bard and her husband opened an ice cream company. They’ve been busy.) Also since the first book, they’ve moved to Provence and started a family. You can see more about this on the Facebook page. (Scaramouche has a Facebook page too.) Here I learned Bard has a new book due in April 2015: Picnic in Provence. I’m looking forward to it.
* Transcribed by me from pages 296–286 of the hardcover edition of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes (Little, Brown, 2010).