Tag Archives: Patricia Wells

Delicious Reading for Summer 2014

Hungry for France: Adventures for the Cook & Food Lover

by Alexander Lobrano

For those of you traveling around the countryside this summer, Alexander Lobrano’s new book is an indispensable guide to the fascinating food ways and favored restaurants that you’ll find in the many different regions of France. Every chapter shares the author’s personal connection with a corner of the country and provides a meaningful context for understanding the people and flavors you’ll encounter there. It matters because Lobrano isn’t someone who decided to write a memoir after a handful of meals in France. He’s been eating and thoughtfully writing about food in France for decades, and for the very best publications. It’s also a great book for armchair travelers and home cooks, with tantalizing photography from Steven Rothfeld and regional recipes from longtime Food & Wine contributor Jane Sigal. On summer days when I can’t escape work and the city, I can turn to the Normandy chapter recipe for dorade with lettuce cream, radishes and cockles (a recipe from Alexandre Bourdas of SaQuaNa in Honfleur) and feel like I’ve escaped to the shore.

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories

by David Lebovitz

As Paris bistros continue to evolve and send out modern dishes that are more often marked by smears and shavings than long simmering, I continue to jones for classic fare like céleri rémoulade and cassoulet. Considering how hard it has become to find these dishes done correctly in restaurants, and given how easy (and relatively inexpensive) it is to find the necessary ingredients in Paris, I’ve been trying to master the classics at home. This project started with the 2010 publication of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and has now been reinvigorated by this, David Lebovitz’ first significant foray into savory cooking. Widely celebrated for his sweet recipes and sharp wit, Lebovitz is an obsessive guy with a test kitchen in his east Paris apartment… the kind of guy who will repeat and refine a recipe for Coq au Vin until it’s perfect. That’s what you want. The accompanying stories (debating, for example, the inclusion of cocoa powder instead of chicken blood in that very Coq au Vin) invite you into his kitchen, into his thought process, into the question of what it means to be cooking in Paris today.

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafés, Markets, Bakeries, and More

by Patricia Wells

When Patricia Wells published the first edition of this book 30 years ago, it quickly became a bible for food loving travelers to Paris. Before this effort, no one had compiled a collection of addresses, recipes and advice in such a useful way. By carrying a single tome, travelers had an insider’s list of tables to try, a food glossary and practical pages about etiquette, plus hundreds of black and white photos documenting the fabulous fashion and feathered hair of the 1980s. The world has changed a lot since 1984 and the internet (including our little corner of it) has become a plentiful source of free milk, a sometimes overwhelming provider of information about where and how to eat. Why stick with Wells? Because the lady knows what she’s talking about (how rare that has become!), and has personally tested on her own dime each of the restaurants included in this book and its associated app. Many of the tables she celebrated thirty years ago are still here, but a huge number have been necessarily culled and replaced with restaurants that appeal to today’s appetites. Wells loves Japanese food and light and healthy fare, so there are plenty of spots for noodles and sushi to compliment her recommendations for hearty bistro classics. This will be the source that other people continue to rip off for years.


Lead image by Nicolas Portnoï via Flickr












Patricia Wells on The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris App

We know we’re not the only ones with memories of pouring over The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris in anticipation of a trip, or carrying a dog-eared copy of this classic around the city. For us, it was the only guide book that mattered, and we’re thrilled that Patricia Wells has at last updated the tome, in app form. Here’s the back story,  from Patricia herself.    – Meg & Barbra

For years, people have stopped me on the streets of Paris to ask the same question: “When are you going to update The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris?”

When the last update was published in 1999, I felt that I needed to move beyond the guide. My cooking classes, travels, other books, took up all my time and I was beginning to feel like a singer who was expected to belt out the same song over and over again.

Then one day a little more than a year ago my husband, Walter, turned to me and said. “Why don’t you update The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris as an app for the iPhone?” I didn’t need to think for even a second. It’s as if the guide was always meant to be an app. Where you can find an address on a map. Call the establishment by just pressing a button. Connect to their web site. Find places open on Sunday or Monday. The best roast chicken or black truffle dish.

I laugh now when I think of how primitive our conditions were when we began researching the guide in 1982: no home computer, no home copier, no Post-it, no Fed Ex, no fax. We typed our copy on carbon paper on a portable Smith Corona typewriter and sent the manuscript via snail mail.

But many conditions remain the same. After 32 years of research in Paris, I still l get lost exiting certain Métro stops and criss-cross the city rain or shine until my feet will no longer take me where I want to go. Research is research and writing is writing, and that will never change.

The entire app experience has been thrilling. And a bit daunting. As well as a gamble. When you write a book, the publisher pays you an advance, you write it, and let them deal with copy editing, layout and design, promotion, distribution, sales. With an app, you’re a one-man band. Unless you have a sponsor or advertiser (we didn’t) you fund the entire project. You interview developers and hire the best. You work on the design, look, feel. You write, edit, copy edit, take photos, crop, dot the i’s and cross the t’s. And then you get to do all the promotion. It’s all been a learning curve, and a good one at that.

As an author, an app offers instant gratification: I love the fact that I can make unlimited minute-by-minute updates, change a review, add a new photo, delete an establishment I may no longer think is worthy. And I no longer have to walk down the street saying “Never” to the reading public.

Android? Blackberry? The future will tell. I am researching and writing as fast as I can: A book update to The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris is in the works, with all new photos and recipes, so no one ever need go hungry in Paris again!

 For more information and to purchase the app, visit www.foodloversparis.com

Recipe: Artichoke Soup with Parmesan and Truffles

Artichoke Soup with Parmesan and Truffles

Ever since I sampled this smooth, gorgeous soup at Guy Savoy’s restaurant in Paris in the 1980’s, it has been one of my perennial favorites. I prepare this year-round, sometimes even for myself for lunch (without truffles!), because it is so filling and fulfilling. I make it with fresh or frozen artichokes bottoms or even top quality artichoke hearts from a jar or a can, which have the same rich flavor of fresh artichokes with none of the labor. Also, I NEVER discard rinds of Parmesan: They add a delicious richness to the flavor of any soup.

EQUIPMENT: Cheesecloth; cotton twine; A small jar with a lid; a mandolin or a very sharp knife;  wire-mesh tea infuser; a food mill fitted with a medium screen; 12 warmed shallow soup bowls.

Several rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 pounds (1 kg) artichoke hearts (about 12), fresh, from a jar, a can, or frozen (no need to thaw)

2 quarts (2 l) Homemade Chicken Stock (page 195)

4 imported bay leaves

Fine sea salt

1 fresh black truffle (about 1 ounce; 30 g), cleaned (see Note)

One 2-ounce (60 g) chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Wrap the cheese rinds in the cheesecloth and secure with the cotton twine. In a large, heavy-duty casserole, combine the cheesecloth bundle, artichokes, stock, and bay leaves. Season lightly with salt. Cover, and simmer just until the artichokes are soft and the flavors have had time to mingle, about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bay leaves and cheese rinds.

2. With a vegetable peeler, peel the truffle. Mince the truffle peelings, place in a small jar, and tighten the lid. Reserve the peelings for another use. With the   mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the truffle into very thin slices.

3. Place the food mill over a large bowl and puree the soup into the bowl. (Discard any fibrous bits that remain in the mill.)  Return the soup to the saucepan. The soup should be a pleasant golden-green and should have the consistency of a thin purée. If too thin, reduce it slightly over moderate heat.

4. With a vegetable peeler, shave long, thick strips of the cheese onto a plate.

5. Ladle the soup into the bowls. Carefully, place the cheese shavings on top of the soup. If done correctly, the shavings should sit delicately on top of the soup, half-melted, but still intact. Top with truffle slices. Serve immediately.

Want More?

Patricia Wells’ newest book Simply Truffles contains 60 recipes, plus tips on buying, storage and preparation that will help any cook who lucky enough to get her hands on a truffle. As chef Joël Robuchon writes in the foreward, “Patricia Wells, charming talented ambassador for the truffle, succeeds beautifully in sharing her love for this mysterious product of incomparable taste.”

Additional Links

  • Truffles 101: Black diamond basics – Patricia Wells explains why truffles smell like “a rumpled bed after an afternoon of love in the tropics”… and other important tuber trivia.

Truffles – Black Diamond Basics

It’s truffle season in Paris, and the knobby tubers are turning up on restaurant menus all over town. Many people, however, don’t know their Alba from their elbow, and can’t understand why a kilo of fungus might sell for thousands of euros. I myself was stumped over the holidays when I bought a truffled Brillat-Savarin cheese from two different sources and discovered a vast difference in intensity and flavor. Why was one truffle so much better than the other?

To increase my knowledge and enjoyment of this luxe ingredient, I turned to truffle maven and contributing advisor Patricia Wells. The James Beard Award-winning author authored a book called Simply Truffles, containing 60 recipes plus tips on buying, storage and preparation that will help any cook lucky enough to get her hands on a truffle. Being sans truffe myself, I read it mainly as a reference to help me understand what’s being shaved atop my dishes in Paris restaurants or stuffed inside my holiday cheeses. Here’s what I learned:


Truffle Types

  • The winter black truffle or truffe noir (Tuber melanosporum) is harvested from November to March and is at its peak of flavor during the month of January. This truffle is sometimes called the “Périgord” truffle, although only 20% of production comes from Southwest France. The majority of French black truffles are today harvested in the Vaucluse department of Provence. Another nickname is le diamant noir – the black diamond.
  • The summer “white” truffle or truffe de Saint-Jean (Tuber aestivum) is less powerful and less expensive – about one twentieth the price – of the black winter truffle.
  • The Burgundy truffle or truffe de Bourgogne (Tuber uncinatum) is somewhere between the winter and summer truffle, both in terms of intensity and price.
  • The Italian white truffle or truffe blanche d’Alba (Tuber magnatum) is even more rare and expensive than the French black truffle, and is at its peak of flavor in October and November.
  • The Chinese truffle (Tuber sinensis or Tuber indicum) is a winter black truffle harvested in China, one that is often exported to the West as an inferior-quality substitute for the French black truffle. These are sometimes soaked with extracts from the authentic French black truffle and then sold (wrongly) as Tuber melanosporum for a higher price. If you see a truffle on sale at Monoprix for 15€, it is almost certainly a Chinese truffle.

The Attraction of Truffles

  • The attraction of truffles can be partially attributed to their rarity, but taste has something to do with it, too. Wells describes truffles as having the scent of dry mushroom, humus and wet forest, with an earthy hazelnut flavor in the mouth. Diane Ackerman, in her book A Natural History of the Senses, compares the scent of the truffle to “the muskiness of a rumpled bed after an afternoon of love in the tropics.” Their strange sensuality can be attributed to the fact that truffles exude pheromones – a chemical secreted by male pigs (and also humans) in order to attract the animals that unearth them.

Truffle Cultivation

  • A truffle is the fruiting body of a fungus that grows in symbiosis with (mainly) oak and hazelnut trees. Truffles continue to evade our attempts at cultivation, and that elusiveness contributes greatly to their charm and price.
  • In 1847, a truffle farmer in Carpentras named August Rousseau was able to create ideal conditions for truffles by planting oak trees from acorns gathered beneath truffle-producing oaks. His harvest was so large that he received a prize at the 1855 World’s Fair in Paris.
  • In 1977, the first truffle was harvested beneath a tree that had been inoculated with truffle spores. Today, 80% of all truffles in France are found beneath trees that have been artificially mychorrizalized in this way.
  • Despite these advances, truffles are becoming increasingly rare. In just over 100 years, the annual truffle harvest has dropped from 2,200 tons in 1892 to 31 tons in 2010.
  • Because truffles grow several inches below the ground, humans depend on pigs or dogs to sniff them out. Female pigs have an innate ability to smell truffles because the tuber secretes a pheromone that resembles the sex hormone secreted by wild boars. Dogs need to be trained to hunt the tuber, but they can also be trained, unlike pigs, to not eat the truffle.

Additional Reading

  • Patricia Wells‘ book Simply Truffles is a great reference and recipe trove for truffle lovers. As chef Joël Robuchon writes in the foreward, “Patricia Wells, charming talented ambassador for the truffle, succeeds beautifully in sharing her love for this mysterious product of incomparable taste.” She also truffle cooking classes at her home in Provence.
  • I also love this article, originally published in 2001 in the International Herald Tribune, in which Wells recounts the heated negotiations between her family and the poachers who lay claim to the truffles on her land.
  • For a wonderful look at pig-assisted foraging, see David Lebovitz’ post about Truffle Hunting in Southwest France. The photos of pig and master are just stunning.


Paris by Mouth welcomes Patricia Wells

The first cookbook I ever used (but not the first I ever owned) was written by Patricia Wells. I still own this sauce-stained copy of Trattoria and remember our first collaboration: penne all’Arrabiata, cooked for a boy during my senior year of college. Because it turned out well (the pasta, not the affair), Patricia Wells became my hero.

That affection was compounded when I later moved to Paris and began abusing a borrowed copy (thanks, Jennifer) of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. I relied on Wells’ website fordining recommendations and flipped furtively under restaurant tables through her French/English food glossary.

More recently, when I learned that Patricia Wells had started blogging, I went out on a (very long) limb and invited her to be part of Paris by Mouth. I didn’t actually expect her to respond to me, a girl who was devoted to SpaghettiOs during the same period that Wells was serving as the first (and only) American food critic to a major French publication.

But she said yes.

Patricia Wells is now the 12th (and final) Contributing Editor to Paris by Mouth. I think I’m going to celebrate tonight by making something delicious from Trattoria and by drinking something strong (I’m still in shock).

You can read more about Wells on her PbM profile and her own website.