Impressions of an American chef in France
In this post we’re delighted to share the observations of one of our shared property owners, Jim Lesser, a chef from Westchester County, NY. Jim ran Les Garçons, a small bistro style restaurant near Columbus, Ohio, serving a mix of American Regional and Mediterranean cuisines. Jim spends several weeks a year at his home Le Muguet in Provence.
French Food Producers
Shopping for food in France is so different from the way Americans shop for food in the states. Despite the fact that more and more local markets have sprung up in communities in the US, in France, one can enjoy a different flavor of market every day of the week. For another thing, nothing fresh is prepackaged in French markets, plus you can also shop in local “specialty” food producers: le boulangerie (bakers), le boucherie (butchers), le poissonerie (fish mongers), and my particular favorite, le fromagerie (cheese shop).
What could be as simple, yet as eminently satisfying, as a couple of slices of chunky, savory pâté de campagne on a crusty baguette with a smear of Dijon mustard?
Consequently, the thought of shopping in supermarchés like Carrefour (think America’s Walmart offering home goods, electronics, auto supplies and food ) was not high on my priority list. In my mind, the proper way to shop for food in France involved daily visits to the local market near my home in Vers Pont du Gard, near Uzes.
Let me just say that I was totally unprepared for what I saw on my first visit to our local Carrefour supermarket. The selection was outstanding and looked very fresh and appealing: huge ice beds with schools of whole and filleted fish, bins of shellfish of every type, trays of beautifully butchered cuts of beef, pork and lamb, individual air-chilled poulet fermier (farm raised free-range chicken) and ducklings. Nearby I found vibrant, seasonal produce and, holy cow (no pun intended!), the cheeses – soft and stinky, hard and sharp, goat or cow or sheep. It was all here and it was available every day except Sunday. This was certainly NOT Walmart!
Simple French Cuisine
The broad selection of absolutely fresh and beautifully presented products constantly inspired me to devise and cook simple, straight-forward dishes which highlighted the main ingredient.One evening, an omelet with sautéed onions, zucchini and tomato sprinkled with a crumbled goat cheese, the next a farm raised chicken roasted whole with garlic cloves and diced tomato and a splash of lemon at the end.
That’s not to say I abandoned the delight of supporting our local markets like the one in the place in front of Le Muguet. Here the poissionier recommended that a particular fish be pan fried and served with fennel “jam” topped with a simple lemon butter (sorry I never did get the name of the fish from the poissonier who offered me cooking instructions).
Needless to say, my inaccurate preconceptions were shattered. Although I’ll continue to do my primary food shopping at the markets and specialty shops because I believe in supporting their businesses, Carrefour will play an important part of my ingredient gathering.