American pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz tackles the full alphabet of French food – from how much to pay for a bottle of wine to the best market in Paris.
Here’s what he had to offer.
A is for l’Addition: How should you ask for the bill at a French restaurant?
There are two ways to order the addition. You can wave your hands furiously to get their attention… France is not like America where there can be 20 waiters, there’s usually just one or two and they’re busy. But the best way is to go right up to the bar, then you can get out a little faster.
B is for Bakery: Which is your favourite in Paris?
My current favourite is Maison Landemaine, a small chain. There are four or five in Paris and their baguettes are really good.
For croissants I like Blé Sucré (in the 12th arrondissement). They put a little extra salt in them, it makes you salivate a little.
If you like your croissants crispy, check out Du pain et des idées (in the 10th, pictured below), they’re super crispy and crunchy.
C is for Cafe: Can you recommend one in Paris?
Café Obercampf in the 11th arrondissement – and he might be expanding… but you didn’t hear it from me.
Note: He is expanding. We met with the man behind the cafe to find out more about the newest cafe in Paris.
D is for Dessert: Which is your number one French dessert?
My favourite dessert to eat is Floating Island (Ile Flottante) – but I know not everyone likes it – it’s like squid or licorice.
Check out David’s own recipe for Ile Flottante here.
E is for Escargot: Love them or hate them?
I’m not a fan of snails, they eat everything in your garden. But you don’t really get them in France anymore, you have to go to a bistro. Everyone says eating snails is all about the sauce, but I wonder why people can’t just eat the sauce then?
F is for Foie gras: Delicious or animal cruelty?
I love foie gras but I try and buy it from a producer in France so I can guarantee the traceability. Sometimes the process is not super humane, but I think there are worse things done to animals that should merit the same or more attention.
G is for Gateau: What cake couldn’t you live without?
I would say Gâteau au chocolat – my favourite kind.
Photo: David Lebovitz
H is for Home: what do you cook at home?
The other night I made a Vietnamese Bo bun, but sometimes I just grab a roast chicken from the local butcher. He’s my new best friend.
I is for International-themed croissants – the blind taste test.
In a blind taste test, David fails to identify a croissant filled with Vegemite, Guacamole, and a McDonald’s cheeseburger (pictured below).
His reaction to the cheeseburger:
“Someone’s gonna do this here if word gets out. I think it could work, if you did a ground beef filling, some sort of mustard, or some middle eastern spices, you could do a really good savoury croissant.”
J is for Junk food: The French love McDonald’s – do you?I’ve only had McDonald’s once since I’ve been in France – well twice after the blind taste test (but it’s good for your WiFi).
K is for Kitchen: What’s one accessory we all need?
I think every kitchen needs a mortar and pestle, for making tapenade, anchoïade and pistou.
L is for Legs (of frogs): Do you like them?
I don’t eat them because most come from places where they farm them like salmon or shrimps. They’re not really raised.
Photo: Gunawan Kartapranata/WikiCommons
M is for Market: Which is your top tip for a food market in Paris?
My favourite is Marche D’Aligre (in the 12th). It’s open every day but Monday. I arrive and look at everything, including the boxes where everything’s just 50 cents.
I sometimes have a glass of wine at Baron Rouge, then I go to different stands for different things, everything from oranges, herbs, baguettes, and cheese. I go to the market twice a week.
It’s important to go to the same one every time, by the second or third time you’ll be treated better.
Photo: Jesús Gorriti/WikiCommonsN is for Nutella: Is it the best crepe filling?
I’m more into savoury crepes, so I like ham and cheese as a filling. But I have a weakness for salted butter caramel.
O is for Own restaurant: What would you call it and where would it be?
It’d be called Chez Dave and it would be in my imagination. I would never open my own restaurant. I’ve done it for others and can safely say it was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.
P is for Pain au Chocolat… or chocolatine? What’s your take on the name debate?
I never heard the word chocolatine until a few years ago, I’d always heard it as pain au chocolat. But some Parisian pastry chefs will still call it a chocolatine, perhaps as an affectation, or in a nod to their home town.
Q is for Quiche: What’s France’s relationship with it?
In America, some think eating quiche means you’re a snob. But here in France everyone eats it, you’ll see electrical workers eating it, for example, it’s kind of like a working class food here.
R is for Restaurant: Which is a good one to visit in Paris?
A la Biche au Bois (in the 12th). They have classic French food and it’s reasonably priced, around €25 per person. It’s a real French experience, but they’re friendly enough for tourists to go too.
S is for Supermarket: Do you like them in France?
Whenever I travel I got to the supermarket – that’s how you know what people eat. Here in Paris there’s Marks & Spencer’s with all this British stuff, and they have Indian food and Indian wine. It’s fascinating.
What’s sad is the American section of French supermarkets always has the worst of America. There’s strawberry fluff and powdered cheesecake mix – I’ve never even seen strawberry fluff in America. That’s probably why French people think we eat so badly.
T is for Thin: How do Parisians stay so thin given their rich diet?
I don’t think they eat so much fatty food, they smoke a lot and walk a lot. It’s like how in New York they are all buff because they’re walking, working out, going up and down Metro stairs. But if you leave Paris, you see people who are… well fed.
U is for Under cooked chicken at a French soirée? What should you do?
I wouldn’t say anything, just push it around the plate. It would be rude to point out, but it would also be rude if the host asked why you hadn’t eaten it. Just cut it into pieces and hide it under your knife and fork.
V is for Vin rouge: Which red wine should one drink?
Never be worried about what people say you should or shouldn’t drink or enjoy. Wine is personal, it’s not an upscale drink. Just drink which you like the taste of.
W is for White wine: What’s the cheapest good bottle going around?
You can get a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for four or five euros and do pretty well with it.
X is for eggs (it works in audio at least): What’s the best egg-based French dish or treat?
I like an omelette, but I also like chouquettes (pictured below).
Photo: Merle ja Joonas/Flickr
Y is for Yoghurt: Why is there so much in French supermarkets?
Well, that’s mostly for the children. But it’s also good for you. French people will eat anything if you tell them it’s good for them.
Z is for Zzzz: What’s the best drink to have before bed?
That’d be Armagnac, which is nice to have a shot (or two) of, as a digestif, before going to bed.
Find out more about David Lebovitz via his site here.
What next? Well if you like food, you probably like drinks, so here’s Forest Collins sharing the top bar to visit in all 20 arrondissements of Paris. Or check out our Food and Drink section here.