"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alec Lobrano, author of "Hungry for Paris" -- my interview

I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to interview Alec Lobrano, author of  "Hungry for Paris".  As many of you know from my previous blogs, my first year in Paris was a challenge, especially where food was concerned. I found the food mediocre at best, and often asked myself, “what am I doing wrong?” Was I hitting all the tourist spots, or was I just being too picky? Paris, after all is the culinary capital of the world.  I realized that in order to have good affordable food, you need to be in the know, which I was not.  I discovered Alec Lobrano’s book, “Hungry for Paris” (see reviews)   totally by accident through surfing the internet. It was the best find ever, because he is in the know.

The book provides the readers a list of 102 of his favorite restaurants and an insight to the restaurant world of Paris, with a dose of Alec’s wonderful sense of humor, it’s just plain, easy, fun reading, plus the tips and tricks about restaurant dining in Paris are invaluable.

I had an opportunity to interview Alec, to discuss the second edition of his book available at Amazon.com .

Alec, can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got into food?

I was born in New York, but grew up in Connecticut. My father’s family is originally from New Orleans and my mother’s from Boston, so I had sort of bipolar childhood in gastronomic terms. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of eating great old-fashioned Southern home cooking—hot corn bread, fried chicken, etc., and I also always loved the food of New Orleans, with its intriguing mixture of rich flavors of French, Africa, Spanish, Creole and Cajun influences; it has just an amazing mix of flavors and spices. In a lot of ways, the food reminds me of such Asian food as the Nonya cooking of Malaysia and Singapore, because their staple is also rice. I also grew up eating the food of New England, including terrific seafood and wonderful East Coast red-sauce Italian cooking, but most of what I found on my plate in suburban Connecticut as a child was pretty sedate and mild, i.e. the green-bean casserole made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushoom Soup and Durkee’s onion rings. So, I guess you can say that I had a Ying-Yang experience with food growing up, which explains why I have such an open mind about food and I can go from hot and wild, to mild and subtle.

Can you tell me what inspired you to write this book?

After living in Paris for a number of years, friends kept asking me for recommendations of where to eat, as well as some of the nuances of French cuisine, and of course the cultural differences between the French and North Americans at the table. Hence, the birth of my book. So think of it as a “food-compass” if you will.

There’s been abuzz lately that bistros, restaurants etc., are mediocre and are dying. What’s your opinion on this?

I think the mediocrity of the food has a lot to do with the 35-hour work schedule that was enforced a couple of years ago. Since restaurants are not immune to this law, it has impacted their ability to afford the time necessary to create certain dishes, boeuf bourguignon, for example. There’s also the issue of making a profit, which any business has to be concerned with.  Restaurants are pushed too make “dishes” more cost effective; hence, they have to factor in the time and money in order to make a dish profitable, or they will not exist. This has led to more and more dishes on Paris menus that are assembled rather than cooked.

Where do you see the French cuisine going?

The new generation of French chefs are going overseas and returning to France. This global exploration has truly helped French cuisine to evolve.  The combination of the classically trained chefs, which is world renowned, coupled with their new found explorations, is very exciting. In fact, several new Chefs have done just that. Granted, classical French cuisine exists and will always be around, but it’s nice to see an evolution.

You are world traveled, and have literally eaten all over the world. What ethnic cuisine do you favor?

I just came back from a trip to Singapore, and I just love "Nonya" style cooking. So, my answer would be Asian style food. One my favorite dishes is "curry laksa" . I used to live in London, so I also really like Indian cuisine.

Living in Paris, one complaint that I have is that ethnic foods, especially Asian cuisine is so mediocre, why do you think that is?

This has been a mystery to me for a long time. But I think it’s a combination of colonization, and the French palate, as we know the French have an aversion to “spicy” or “hot” foods. 

If you have an opportunity to live in any city outside of Paris, where would it be and why? 

I could very happily set up camp in Barcelona, Rome or Bangkok, because all of the inhabitants of all of these cities are just as food-mad as I am and their markets are superb.

Alec’s summation:

The French are among the world’s best cooks.  Classical French dishes will always exist and be sought out.  One advantage the French Chefs have is their classical training, which is stellar. I’m happy to see French Chefs being more innovative and evolutionary in their approach to food. I’m also happy to see Chefs from other countries come to Paris, incorporate their ethnic influence on regional dishes.  Paris will always be exciting for "foodies" around the world. After all, the French did set the standards for modern day cuisine. 

In summary:

I expected Alec to be extremely knowledgeable about French cuisine, but what a pleasant surprise to learn that he’s also quite knowledgeable about other ethnic cuisines.  Speaking with him was so comforting, almost like “comfort-food.” Alec is a really interesting and talented writer. Even if you don’t plan on coming to Paris real soon, or are not a “foodie”, I strongly encourage you to read his book!

A must have!

1 comment :

  1. I have three autographed copies (one for me!) waiting to be gift wrapped. What gets me is Alex's fabulous wit - a thread that runs throughout the book...
    Thanks Randy