When I was a child, my parents would go every summer to buy their wine in Sigolsheim, Alsace, France. It was a family trip. Everybody was coming to our vacation house: grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The winemaker, who was a friend of our family, welcomed us in his cellar and was very proud to pour his latest creations. Of course, as a child, I was not allowed to taste. But, to smell, for sure.
While my brother and cousins played soccer in the courtyard, I would sit next to my father and smell every glass. Everybody (even myself) was describing what they were able to recognize in the wine, the feeling they got by tasting, and most importantly, why they liked it or disliked it. It was my introduction to the world of flavor: all about sensations and pleasure.
My father helped me to develop my nose because he saw that I was interested in it. For example, by pouring different amounts of diluted sugar in glasses he would ask me to organize them by concentration. He would do the same with salt. And, by helping me become aware, all of the time, about odors and taste, in the city, in the forest, in the kitchen, everywhere.
I really discovered the complex world of flavor and perfume when working in Grasse for the industry of natural flavor extraction. Do you know that the strawberry flavor is not the same for a French, an American, or a Japanese? They do not describe it the same way and they will not like the same strawberry flavor. Why? Because, of the differences in culture, environment, and way of life, change their perceptions of the flavor.
We have to learn how to smell and how to taste. We have to be open to discovery. And we have to teach our children what we have learned. But most importantly, our pleasure has to drive us.
Cuisine: Teaching our children
What do I mean by “teaching our children?” Put them in contact with flavors. I started my oldest daughter, Jeanne, when she was twelve hours old. She was awake, lying on my chest, and I had a glass of grenadine. When I noticed her eyes following the color in the glass, I put it under her nose. I continued from that day on, everyday, with everything. She is seven years old. And, she has a nose!
As I am writing this, we are hiking in Yellowstone, and I can tell Jeanne’s nostrils are wide open to catch all the new odors the earth brings to us from its depths. There is something about egg and cheese here… With my two daughters, we are always on the lookout for flavors ― flavors we cannot taste because they do not come from edible things, but instead they enrich our perception of taste by giving us new tools to describe it: wood, smoke, plants, metals, soil… Le Nez Du Vin, Edition Jean Lenoir ― is a game for us!
Smell and taste: tell what you feel
I am not afraid to say when I prefer a Malbec from Argentina at eight dollars a bottle to a French one at eighty dollars. Or, a Crémant d’Alsace to a Champagne! It’s okay not to like caviar or foie gras, and instead enjoy a grilled maquerel or a “paté de campagne”… I am always telling my two daughters, “It’s all right if you don’t like it, but, at least try and tell what you feel. Share your sensation.”
When I am going to a wine tasting or talking with my friends who specialize in wine, I appreciate when people are able to describe which flavor or taste they recognize, but I would rather know why they like or don’t like it, if the wine reminds them of something or some time. This is my French way of living flavors!
Quels sont les odeurs que je préfère? Le jasmin en fleur au petit matin; les premières feuilles mortes de l’automne lorsqu’elles n’ont pas encore été mouillées; le chocolat qui fond; l’huile de Melaleuca; le cou de mes filles.
Mes plus grands plaisirs gustatifs? Une figue mûre. De la morue fraîche avec une vraie mayonnaise. Un Riesling pas trop sucré. Du thé vert de Chine.
Mother’s kitchen: She hated to cook
My love of cooking was inspired by my mother in an upside down way. She HATED to cook, and opening cans or popping things out of the freezer was her strength. She’s the anti-foodie. As a teen-ager, if I wanted something homemade, I had to learn to make it myself, and that was the beginning of learning to play in the kitchen, with fresh ingredients. I got the cooking gene she lacked ― we still joke about it today. And she still hates to cook, as much as I love it.
Lynn McBride is a freelance writer and former home/garden magazine editor from Charleston, South Carolina, now living in France. She writes the weekly blog Southern Fried French about her adventures living and cooking in a chateau in the south of Burgundy.
Choux: DO NOT PEEK!
Choux. Known as cream puffs in our mother’s kitchen. Water, butter, flour, and eggs. It happens too fast to blink. A vigorous stir of a wooden spoon and viola! Flour plops into the boiling butter-water and quickly becomes an oversized softball in the bottom of the pan.
We are four girls. On command, and in turn, we each beat in our egg. My turn! I’m stirring. Hurry up. Kitchen talk. Girls! Stop! The batter isn’t velvety, mother said.
DO NOT PEEK! were always her parting words as she left us alone in the kitchen ― with these puffs. She ignored them. And us. It felt like magic. The oven timer doesn’t work. Or, so we thought. She appears when the puffs are golden. Mother whisks them from the oven rack. They are perfect. How does she know? A tap. They sound hollow.
Long velvet ribbons bursting from a pastry sac or silky mounds dropped from a spoon. Little puffs ― the size of a walnut ― were what we liked best. When cooled, she’d cut off their tops with a sharp knife. Using her fingers, she’d pinch any moist center crowding her fillings: the whipped cream, the rich custards, the frozen vanilla ice cream. Frosted with a thin chocolate icing or dusted with confectioners’ sugar ― pièce de résistance!
We waited. We giggled. We poked each other behind mother’s back, eager for puffs that took forever to finish. Now, we call them éclairs, choux, and petits choux. We’ve all grown up. We all bake; as do all of our daughters.
We cook, I once told my daughter.
No, mother, she replied patiently waiting for the dough to rise, We bake!
Barbara Redmond, publisher of A Woman’s Paris® (AWP), is a long-time Francophile and travels to Paris every chance she gets. Her stories about Paris and France have been published in AWP® and republished, with permission, by other blogs and publications.
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Au naturel: Unseasoned
Baked: Cuit au four
Cordon Bleu: Blue ribbon
Laurence Haxaire received her Master Degree in Science and Technology for the Food Industry. She became a journalist and writer specializing in food and flavors after working for the flavor extraction industry inGrasse (the perfume capital of France). Laurence was born in Romans-sur-Isèrre, a bustling town in the South East of France famed for its longstanding tradition of shoe making. She was raised in Lyon, the food capital of Europe, in a family where food is part of a smart education. Her family lives in Bordeaux, France. Website.
By Hand: Steve Horton
By Hand: Steve Horton, by Steve Niedorf – Niedorf Visuals
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® blog, Wherever you go, you always meet a Breton, by French woman from Breton, Bénédicte Mahé, who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris. Bénédicte asks us to take out our notebooks and pens and get ready for a lesson on Brittany. Recipe included for Far Breton (with prunes), a crêpe for your sweet tooth!
Escargot. Don’t judge a snail by its shell, by Alyssa Glawe who shares this first time, life-changing culinary experience at Paris’ oldest restaurant, La Petite Chaise, where she was overwhelmed by the taste of butter, garlic, and herbs. Recipe included for Escargot with Garlic Butter, courtesy of LifestyleFood.com.
Alsace Asparagus, Best in April, by Michelle Hum who shares the first time she tried the very best white asparagus from Alsace while a student living in Montpellier, France. An unforgettable dish of asparagus dressed with a simple olive oil, balsamic, mustard vinaigrette. Recipe included for white asparagus by Alsatian Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten from Food & Wine magazine.
Pain Perdu: Childhood love of French custard and bread, by Barbara Redmond who shares her discovery of pain perdu (French toast), from the boulangerie pâtisserie Calixte in Î’le St. Louis, Paris. French toast: a favorite treat eaten in the gardens of Notre Dame in an air of whimsy and childhood delight. Recipe included for “original French toast,” made by Christophe Raoux of the L’École de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse for Mark Schatzker, ABC News explore.
Text copyright ©2010 Laurence Haxaire. All rights reserved.
Vimeo copyright ©Steve Niedorf/Niedorf Visuals. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.