Bonjour, Susan! So how did you first become interested in food and cooking?
I grew up in a family that lived to eat, and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my grandmother, a simple but brilliant cook. My mother, at 93, is still clipping recipes and making them.
What is it about the French way of cooking and their approach to food that attracts you so?
The way they build flavor by doing the smallest things that we would think aren’t really important, like browning chicken before you make a ragout or stew with it. And their artful way with fresh fruit, in desserts and in savory dishes.
What inspired you to write In a French Kitchen? Why focus on French home cooking?
I love watching how the French cook; they make it so simple because of the way they think and their organization. I wanted to share the stories to encourage readers to cook. Plus, it allowed me to look inside people’s refrigerators — so much fun!
What are some of your favorite recipes from the book and why?
During the summer, I love the Everyday Eggplant because it is so light, fresh and simple. Even eggplant haters love it. I love Michel’s Gâteau au Chocolat because it is so easy to make and so flavorful. Baptiste’s Chocolate Tart with Raspberries is amazing and, again, simple. Then, there is the the Matafan, an odd and delicious winter dish with bacon and cheese …I could go on, but there are 85 favorites in this book so it would get too long.
In your book, you write that “the French love of food isn’t just carnal. The French love of food is primordial.” Can you elaborate on that a bit?
The French cannot live without loving food, of this I am convinced. They make it the center of their lives in so many ways. So many things happen at the table — romance, discipline, discussion, decisions. It’s like the major thread in a tapestry — the whole society would fall apart without it.
You couldn’t cook without your … ?
Lemon zester (the old-fashioned kind), KitchenAid mixer, Cuisinart food processor. Wooden spoons, heat-tolerant spatulas, mini spatulas, fish spatula, copper pots, 10-inch chef’s knife, paring knives, steamer, heavy-duty nonstick skillets (for eggs mostly!), mandolin, round cooling racks, heavy-duty baking sheets, baking sheets with the air layer (I’m a cookie burner; these save me!), all Le Creuset, and a nutmeg grater.
What are some staples we can always find in your pantry or refrigerator?
Unsalted butter, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pasta, various cheeses, wine (red, white, rosé), olives, mustard, red- and white-wine vinegar, a bevy of spices from cinnamon to szechuan pepper to nutmeg, couscous, potatoes, bacon, flour, sugar, salt, nut oils, sparkling water. I supplement with fresh fruits and vegetables!
What are some of your favorite dishes to make for yourself? What about for your friends?
I love eggs, so omelets are a frequent occurrence. Also, salads with hot ingredients on top, steamed vegetables with garlic and olive oil, fish prepared dozens of ways, roast shoulder of lamb stuffed with herbs and spices and fruit tarts.
How has living in France changed the way you cook and view food?
I’ve always loved to cook. Living in France has taught me how to respect ingredients, how to choose them and let them speak for themselves. It’s also taught me how taking pleasure in all aspects of food is a sheer delight.
Are there parts of American food culture that you miss or appreciate more after living in France?
I don’t really miss anything about American food culture, though cocktails are a fascinating thing here. Also, the friendliness of everyone, from chef to server, is wonderful! But I don’t really miss anything about food here.
When you come back to the States for a visit, are there restaurants you just have to visit?
It depends upon where I am. In Seattle, I have to go to Lola, Top Pot Doughnuts and Vif Wine Bar. Other than that, I’m delighted to discover, but my real thrill is being with family and friends and cooking together.
What’s your favorite dessert to eat?
Ice cream, hands down!
If you weren’t living, teaching and cooking in France, what would you be doing?
Humanitarian work somewhere there is a need. My other dream.
Merci beaucoup, Susan! And if you guys are hungry for more, you can learn more about Susan, her cookbooks and classes over here.