David Lebovitz has certainly kept busy since leaving a
successful career as a pastry chef in San Francisco to move to
France and begin a career in writing. His seventh cookbook, My Paris Kitchen, has just been
released and promises to be another bestseller. (You can win a copy
of the book by entering our contest.) On the eve of his book
tour, David sat down with EYB to answer questions about the
cookbook and his life in France. You can read even more about the
writing of his current book on his blog.
This is your seventh book. How do you carve out the
time when you also have a blog, you're busy on social media, you
conduct Paris culinary tours, write articles,
Because I spent most of my life working in restaurants, I am
used to working a lot, especially at insane hours, and am
particularly adept at multitasking. So I also love what I do -
writing books is very interesting for me as it allows me to delve
deeply into a subject, and blogging is fun because it's more
immediate and I love the interesting feedback from readers - and
everything I do (books, blog, social media) is integrated into my
life. So it's not a chore, but a pleasure.
However I have learned what my limits are. And amongst the many
things I've learned from the French is how to say "Non."
There's a reason that they are able to value leisure time more than
we do and it's because they are better at balancing life over work,
and saying no to things they don't have (or don't want) to do. So
I've learned when to dial back, and to only do what I can do -
otherwise, I'm spending all my time doing things other than writing
cookbooks, testing recipes, blogging, and more importantly,
visiting chocolate shop and bakeries!
You have been living in Paris for many years.
How difficult was it to whittle down your favorite Parisian
recipes to the 100 or so in the book?
When I started writing My Paris Kitchen, originally I
had thought that I would have recipes from some of the young Paris
chefs and write about the current culinary scene. But then I
realized that many of those dishes are not something anyone would
be able to recreate at home, as many are the "personal" visions of
the chefs. And they often feature complex plates with tiny greens,
a few slices of smoked fish, a garnish with four cubes of various
different root vegetables, and a scribble of sauce made with a
reduction of quail essences. The French are naturally pretty
good cooks and people in Paris like to go out for food they can't
get or make at home, and those kinds of dishes fit the bill.
I wanted to write recipes that people could make at home,
anywhere in the world. And with so many lovely ingredients
available worldwide it's possible. So I decided to concentrate on
home cooking and my own cuisine. I wanted to include how I shop for
ingredients at the outdoor markets, what I get in the specialty
shops - such as at the butchers and cheese shops, and also featured
bits and pieces of the multicultural neighborhoods, which are
lesser-known to people who come visit or overlooked in books about
Paris, but I find them fascinating to visit and inspirational to
the way I cook. I was also fortunate to have a wonderful
photographer, Ed Anderson, who was particularly adept at getting
pictures that capture the mood of Paris.
Which are the recipes that resonate most with you
I am a big fan of "apero hour", the time in France when you
relax at the end of the day over a glass of cool rosé - or
something more ambitious, like an apéritif. So I'm particularly
fond of the salted almond crisps, which are inspired by the wispy,
salty crackers from Provence that are laden with almonds and
olives. Another favorite recipe is the Parisian Gnocchi, which I am
pretty sure I made every week this winter. It's a dish that not
really well-known outside of France (or even Paris), and is a
simmering gratin dish of pâte à choux (cream puffs) nestled in
creamy béchamel sauce, baked under handfuls of cheese. When it
comes out of the oven, the top is deeply bronzed. It's hard not to
scrape the entire dish clean! (Especially when washed down with a
lovely Sancerre or Sauvignon blanc.)
I'm also a big
fan of chocolate and confiture de lait (dulce de leche), so these
two flavors play big in the dessert chapter of the book. I can't
help using them as much as I can. And I often add a sprinkle of sea
salt, such as fleur de sel, to them which gives the chocolate
- confiture de lait tart, or warm chocolate cakes with the
confiture de lait in the center, a certain je ne sais
quoi. But the recipe that is probably the most special to me
is the last one, the Bûche de Noël, or Christmas Cake. It's perhaps
my most requested recipe and I thought it was perfect to feature at
the end of the book (which is not just a recipe book, but is part
storybook, with tales that mirror my life) not only to wrap up the
book, but to tie up the connection between my former life in San
Francisco and my current life in Paris.
Do you think an immigrant to Paris ever feels truly
It's been said that you never feel more American than when you
leave America, and that's certainly true. Like other big cities,
Paris can be a tough place at time. And it's very difficult to
integrate into the culture. Fortunately I have an advantage, and
that's that people are always interested in pastry chefs, and
writing is considered a noble profession. So those have helped.
I also have a French partner, so I do a lot of things that a
typical American (or foreigner) might not get to experience. Plus
being here a while, I've made close friends. But still, I'm not
sure I'll ever feel exactly "at home" here. Cultural ties are very
strong and there are things about the United States I still miss:
Sharpies, organic crunchy peanut butter, and customer service, come
to mind. But there are things about Paris that make up for it.
(Although customer service isn't one of them.)
Your blog is immensely popular (and indexed on EYB).
How difficult is it to keep your best recipes back for your books
(or maybe you don't!)?
I think certain recipes are better on blogs while others work
better in books. I cook a lot of Asian foods at home, and some
Mexican, and it's hard to pop those in a book about Paris. Desserts
with several components work better in books so people can have a
book in the kitchen with them.
Books are part of a long, more thoughtful process than the blog,
which is meant to be more spontaneous and casual. In My Paris
Kitchen (as well as The Sweet Life in Paris), the recipes
are part of a longer story, so they work with the text to help me
communicate with readers, which I do with both working
Are you frustrated by the long, slow process of book
publishing now that you can publish recipes so quickly on your blog
and get instant feedback?
Writing a book is vastly different because you're creating a
document that people will refer to for years to come, so you need
to be especially careful that the text and recipes are exactly what
you want to say because they can't be changed. Whereas a blog is
more of a diary and running commentary, and tends to be more
casual. You're right that the process of writing a book is slow,
but in this age of "get it out there - quick!" it's nice to spend
the time working on something that will have lasting value. (Folks
write that they still bake from my first book - Room for Dessert - which was released
in 1999, which shows that people still value cookbooks as much as
The process of writing a book is much more measured than
writing a blog. People often don't realize how many stages a book
goes through. Writing a book takes at least a year (I spent two
years writing and testing recipes for My Paris Kitchen).
To me, writing and recipe testing is almost a 24/7 job, and when
I'm working on a book, that's almost all I think about as it
becomes a major part of my life. The next stage, editing, is tough
because someone else is scanning your words and thoughts, asking
for revisions or following up. Then there is taking the
pictures (which is one of my favorite parts), then the book goes
into production with designers and so forth. It takes a while, yes.
But when you hold that finished book in your hand, well, I can't
think of anything that feels better.
When writing the recipes, how much did you need to
adapt ingredients, bearing in mind it may be hard for your readers
to get some of those you find in Paris?
Fortunately the range of what is available in America has
expanded greatly and thing that are common in France and used in
French cooking, like Swiss chard, Comté cheese, frisée, shallots,
bittersweet dark chocolate, Dijon mustard, and olive oil, can be
found in most supermarkets. For this book, I called butchers in
America to find out about what cuts of meat were common, and I have
my recipes tested in the US with products available there since
they can be different from those in France. Most people are pretty
adept at using the internet and you can really find anything you
want, although I still try to stick with ingredients people can get
fairly easily, because not everyone wants to wait for a delivery to
You will shortly be doing a book tour to promote the
new book. How can your fans find out where they might meet
I put events on the Schedule page at my
website and in my newsletter, but I also put them on my
Facebook page and Twitter stream, which are more immediate ways to
let people know where I will be. I always want to go everywhere
because I love meeting people.