David Lebovitz Talks About His Latest Book, My Paris Kitchen
Photo on the left by Ed Anderson; Photo on the right by Mai Pham David Lebovitz and his latest book release, My Paris Kitchen
When I joined Twitter some years ago, it gave me suggestions for people to follow based on my interests. One of those people was David Lebovitz, and while I wasn't acquainted with his work at the time, I was fascinated in the way of a non-stalkerish yet avid Twitter follower by his seemingly idyllic life. His Twitter profile said that he was an ex-pastry chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, author, and ex-pat living in Paris, and through his tweets, I got to see glimpses of what I imagined it would be like to live out a dream.
He'd tweet pictures of fruit or vegetables he'd find shopping at a Parisian farmer's market, a pretty building, or a typical neighborhood scene. He'd share a cup of a coffee or make observations on an interesting storefront he'd walk by. He's witty and and a fun and worthy follow, as evidenced by his current following of 182k strong. Yes, you read that right: 182 thousand. And that's just in Twitter followers. He's got another 54k on his Instagram, and countless more who follow his blog.
Right now he's just wrapping up a U.S. book tour promoting his newest book, a sort of storybook-cookbook hybrid called My Paris Kitchen. I'm amused by his on-the-road travel tweets, which include one-liners about everything from the size of an airport to the food he's eating to the things he might find interesting about his many hotel rooms. I caught up with him in between his many engagements for a nice chat, which I share with you here.
EOW: I admit that I follow you on Instagram and Twitter. I'm so envious that you live in Paris. How has your life has changed since you moved there?
DL: There's a lot more paperwork. France is famous for their bureaucracy. I also eat very differently. When I lived in San Francisco, I always watched what I ate, and now I eat everything -- with abandon. I walk a lot. I eat a lot of cheese and bread. In America, all these food are demonized. It's kind of nice to be somewhere where it's actually normal. People don't have the same food issues as they do in America. They diet, but there aren't the trends and fad diets. I remember the low carb, the low fat diet. Now, I eat everything. It's nice to be somewhere where people don't worry about that stuff. One of things for me is that I'm around eating all the time, so I'll eat half a piece of cake, but, I'll eat everything.
EOW: How did this book, My Paris Kitchen, come about?
DL: I'd written a book a few years ago called The Sweet Life of Paris, which was very well received. It was written a few years after I moved to Paris. It was a much different book. I was much younger. I was more green. It was meant to be more punchy and witty. And I was kind of ready to do a book now that was a little more thoughtful, a little more serious, because I'd grown as a person as well. The longer you live somewhere, you understand why people are the way they are. When I moved to France, I was like "Why are these people on strike? Why don't the banks have money? Why is the president allowed to cheat on his girlfriend?" And then you start understanding the cultural differences, and why the French are the way they are.
EOW: This book has recipes and stories. I love this format.
DL: Well, originally the book was supposed to not be a recipe book. And then, I read another memoir by somebody, and it didn't have recipes in it. And I'm a cook, and my stories are told through recipes. And I'm kind of known for the headnotes in my recipes in my other books -- the stories before the recipes. I like writing those a lot. My blog -- every blog entry is like a head note to a recipe, so I wanted to develop these stories a little bit more, and in the end I was able to do both.
EOW: Were all these recipes developed while you were in Paris?
EOW: So, none of them are from your past life?
DL: No. Well, there may be a couple in there.
EOW: And is it mostly French, then?
DL: Somewhat. You know, when I proposed the book, I had some Korean recipes and some Mexican recipes. And in my Sweet Life in Paris book, the most popular recipe is the carnitas recipe, because I cook that in Paris all the time. It is a mix. French cuisine -- people don't think of it as fusion cuisine, but there's very few dishes from anywhere in the world that are purely from that region. Like cassoulet, for example. Beans are not from France. They're from the new world, like Mexico or South America or Central America. So a lot of the food is French cuisine, but a number of things are influenced by foods from elsewhere, like tagine from North Africa. There's a strong connection between France and North Africa, the colonies.
EOW: Is there a recipe that you're particularly proud of?
DL: I love the first recipe, the salted olive crisps. They're for the Apéro Hour, the apertif hour, when you have drinks. And I love that time of the day. I love snacks, I love snack-type of food and salty things, like olive tapenade.
EOW: Are there any funny stories around the writing of the book?
DL: Well, there was a lot of tragic stories. I started the book, and then I bought an apartment. In Paris, it's very hard to find an apartment. They don't have real estate agents like we do in America. Well, they do have real estate agents, but they don't do multiple listings. They won't want to share listings, so you have to find a place. So, I bought a place, and I had to renovate it. And the renovation didn't go well. I'm a real Parisian now, because whenever I go to a party, everyone has renovation horror stories of Paris, and I'm like "I have the worst." So, um, I lost the book; I lost the whole manuscript in the process and I had to start all over again.
EOW: On your laptop?
DL: Well, I write longhand until I reach a certain point, and, uh, yeah.
EOW: Quelle horror! So, how long did it take?
DL: It was about two years. I had to get an extension, which I've never done.
EOW: How many recipes are there in total, then?
DL: About 100.
David Lebovitz likes to use Uber to get from place to place while he's on the road. His blog can be found at www.davidlebovitz.com, and you can follow him on Twitter or Intagram @DavidLebovitz. His latest book, My Paris Kitchen, is available for $35 at major bookstores and at Central Market, where all cookbooks are offered at a standard discount of 25 percent off everyday.