When I began taking an interest in the foreign movers and shakers on the French culinary scene a few years ago, I didn’t have to look far to identify the major players. Daniel Rose was surging to fame with Spring, David Lebovitz’s baking anecdotes and bons plans continued to beguile loyal readers and Trish Deseine’s work was everywhere I turned. Deseine, an Irish food writer and cookbook author who has called France home for the last 25 years, has sold over a million copies of her books worldwide, won international awards and hosted her own cooking shows. Raising four children falls into the mix too.
Nary a bookstore exists in this city that doesn’t carry her vast collection of food creations – from very personal interpretations of French fare to original, luscious chocolate recipes (speaking of which, you must watch Trish’s tutorial video for a salted caramel milk chocolate mousse – if the visuals don’t suffice in awakening the baker in you, her gorgeous accent will coax you into the kitchen). A few things about this wildly talented Francophile...
Describe what you love about France in three words.
Beauty. Decadence. Arrogance.
Favorite place for savory and sweet in Paris?
For savory I love Le Baratin in Belleville, thankfully intact despite a tidal wave of global interest in the first days of bistronomie. When you want to be good to yourself (often, in my case) it’s the place to go. For sweetness I adore the bar of The RoyalMonceau Hotel and its soft leather sofas. Pastries are by Pierre Hermé and the fact they are served all day, in a hôtel bar (designed by Starck) means you can instantly satisfy a sudden urge for just one sugary bite. My favouite Hermé cake of the moment is his study in sweet blandness and vanilla 'Tarte infiniment vanille.' Genius.
Go-to spot in France to relax?
Ah, that word, ‘relax.’ I am always relaxing. It’s sort of my goal in life - a daily quest in any case. And I don’t have to travel anywhere to do it because, of course, it’s not a specific, physical place that would ever allow you to. I believe too much is made of being busy, of filling a day « properly » , especially when you have children, and then starkly contrasting it with ‘down time’ or ‘me time’. Judgments get made about what's 'right' or 'enough' and people get even edgier trying to keep up.
A lot has also been written recently about how the French bring up their supremely well-behaved ‘relaxed’ offspring but trying to follow this 'French way' may be self-defeating. I think a lot of the (perceived) success of rearing compliant children simply results from not paying excessive attention to them and not letting their behaviour be some kind of constant reflection on what sort of people their mothers and fathers are. In my experience (25 years, 4 pretty normal, sociable children) most French parents don’t really care that much what everyone else thinks about their parenting skills and are more concerned with ensuring that their own, adult lives run smoothly, which is definitely a more relaxing way to live and, surely, a healthy priority? But I digress, possibly.
My favorite places to go, within a few hours' drive of Paris, are the big, cold, grey beaches of the Cotentin. They remind me of happy childhood holidays in Donegal, Ireland and few things relax me more.
Biggest misconception about the French?
That they are all Parisians. Or Charlotte Gainsbourg. But then, of course, most people reading about France seem to want easily digestible stereotypes and the media is only too delighted to serve them up, constantly, in all their stiletto-heeled, Gitane smoking, macaron nibbling glory. My life is here. And it's a real, messy life. I got tired of the clichés a long time ago.
What you’d miss most if you had to leave?
In anywhere other than Italy, I'd miss how pleasure is taken for granted. In France it is an entitlement, something noble and natural, to strive for and include in one's everyday life, in a million little ways. French people don't feel the need to reflect on this, it is a part of them.
Trish’s forthcoming tome, “Grande Table, Petite Cuisine”, about catering large gatherings in small spaces with style, hits French shelves in August and her next English-language book will be released in spring 2013. You can find her sweet recipes in Elle each month in addition to regular features in Elle à Table. When does she sleep? You’ll have to ask her on Twitter: @TrishDeseine. For more of Trish, jump over to her blog and pick up some copies of her fantastic books here!