Can you miss something you never had? That’s one of the many questions that French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries and the Beautiful Food Along the Way posed while I read it. French Roots is a joint effort by husband and wife team Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton Moullé. Jean-Pierre Moullé is best known for his tenure as executive chef at Chez Panisse. Denise Lurton Moullé was a French wine importer and tastemaker, following her wine-making family footsteps.
A couple’s history
What first draw me to this cookbook was the memoir embedded within the recipes. I have already enjoyed ‘fish out of water’ stories of American and Australian expats settling into French life. It was refreshing to see the opposite – French expatriates adapting to California and the US lifestyle during the radical seventies.
Each chapter of French Roots encompasses a particular set of experiences and recipes inspired by those times and places:
- The food served at the family homes of Jean-Pierre and Denise
- California gastronomy of the seventies
- Traditional Bordelaise fare (from the couple’s return to Bordeaux
- Simple everyday French food
- The cuisine of Chez Panisse
- The French tradition of the aperitif
Embedded within the Bordeaux and Chez Panisse chapters, there are two little gems. First, a “from beak to tail” guide to cooking duck that provides mini recipes for making the most of the whole duck, including how to properly render the fat. The second is an introduction to Bordeaux wines, framed through the history of the Lurton family. These two mini-chapters set aside French Roots from the other French cookbooks in my shelf.
An important theme of the book is self-sustainability. The authors views on food and wine are shaped by their rich childhoods and the want-not/waste-not mentality of post-war France (and every grandmother’s kitchen). The glimpse into Jean-Pierre’s idyllic summers makes you wish you were part of the merry band of brothers: playing, foraging, hunting and eating in the French dairy paradise of Normandy. This approach extends to the way they run their homes in Sonoma and Bordeaux. The majority of the foods the authors consume come from their gardens and pens, or from neighbors and trusted suppliers.
The level of self-sustainability the authors achieve is closely tied to the privileged locations in which they distribute their time. Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé are fortunate to have access to the amazing bounty of the Sonoma coast and the French countryside. However it was a little disappointing reading they would rather not cook a previously frozen fish in order to make a particular dish. Home cooks in many areas of the world – not limited to islands and landlocked regions – depend on imports or preserved foods to cook international recipes that pique their curiosity and taste buds.
The recipes in French Roots are sure to tantalize fans of French cuisine. I’ll definitely try these:
- Asparagus with salsa verde
- New potato salad with mussels
- Warm apple feuilleté
- Baked sea bass with salt crust
- Ratatouille Tart
- Baked ricotta with pea shoots and green garlic (provided I can find the pea shoots!)
- Denise’s olive tapenade
The recipes are accompanied by headnotes to give additional perspective on the family connection to the dish or its ingredients. Most of the recipes in the book do not include pictures, unfortunately especially for some of the more complicated ones in the book. If you are experienced with French cookbooks, it will add perspective and become a good source to compare and contrast recipes.
Great Food 360˚ Rating
French Roots is a beautiful cookbook that will inspire you to water your potted herbs more frequently, to plan trips to Northern California and Bordeaux, and to look within and think of your own roots and the ingredients that could make the Moullés wish they had grown up in your neck of the woods. (4/5 stars).
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.