Chocolate is life serves as a useful mantra, but a life enjoyed chocolate-plus is just that much more tasty. It is just one reason why it is absolutely worth snatching the opportunity to hear baking and blogging maestro David Lebovitz talk of non-cacao-based foods during a recent New York City demo of a tapenade recipe from his 2015 James Beard Foundation nominated book, My Paris Kitchen.
Lebovitz, who left San Francisco for Paris, before learning to speak the fluent French he shares now in frequent asides with artist Romain Pellas who acts in both life partner and acting sous chef/in-kitchen critic capacities, explained that MPK was created to explain in part the Paris in which he lives, not the one that others visit or dream of. His goal was to, “present a different perspective, because I’ve lived there 14 years.” It is a perspective formed by life that is “not a part of the ‘left bank life’,” but lived in his branché neighborhood, “a whole different world” where he bonds with natives such as the râleur (complainer) of the local market from whom he acquired his tapenade until he retired, forcing Lebovitz to work through the steps to find the recipe he includes in the book, an all purpose, ingredients-everywhere, green olive basil and almond tapenade.
A key part of cooking in Lebovitz’s Paris is active engagement with the concept of au pif, which is [extremely] liberally translated as seasoning, baking, and following all recipes based on what you have on hand and to one’s own taste. Among other bits of personal wit and cooking wisdom Lebovitz proffered while making his tapenade (which he described “a poverty dish,” something that purposes every food scrap) is a belief that rosé wine is under-under-under appreciated and like all wine can always benefit from an ice cube splash; that a $25 bottle of quality olive oil is worth much more in the kitchen in general than a similarly priced bottle of wine on the table; that it is absolutely worth the effort to carry multiple liters of olive oil from Italy to his Brooklyn apartment and as many pounds as can possibly be carried of Costco pecans to his Paris flat; that one should be wary of storing things in the freezer because it is easy to lose them there; and that the flavor of capers shine best when rinsed and dried before using.
While chocolate was not the subject of the demo, there are recipes in the book such as his Bûche de Noël, a chocolate cake with salted butter and caramel sauce, and a chocolate terrine with fresh ginger crème. And Lebovitz, who famously made his bones creating desserts for Chez Panisse never leaves those roots behind. Describing a key part of French culinary philosophy to provide balance and consistency with dishes, he uses Valrhona Chocolate as an example of how diners in his adopted country are more taken with subtle herb flavors in their chocolates and other foods than those of his native land, who are more excited by the palate pop that comes with a spicier bite.
While signing books, Lebovitz, also author of The Big Book of Chocolate, shared a nostalgic note about his an early chocolate taste of inspiration — from a bit of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate he and his mother were using for a chocolate souffle recipe from the Settlement Cook Book. He did not, however, reveal the next masterful chocolate recipe he will be unveiling, preferring to save it for the book he suggested a couple times he was playing hooky from working on…
…which only whets the appetite for that book, tour, demo, and, of course, exploring the recipes at home, au pif.