Monday, June 08, 2015

In a French Kitchen

As I mentioned last month I received through Library Thing's Early Reviewers Program an ARC of Susan Herrmann Loomis's In a French Kitchen ~ Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France, which I promised to review in exchange. Here's me keeping the promise:

As the daughter of a chef I learned to cook from an expert who was happiest in the kitchen. If Dad taught me anything, it's that there is no better meal you can serve your family than one you prepare at home with a little time, thought and love. I didn't inherit my father's wizardry with food (although I am an excellent baker), but for the last thirty-odd years I've cooked meals nearly every day at home. No matter how hectic life becomes I do believe home cooking is the best food in the world.

With In a French Kitchen Susan Herrmann Loomis does for her readers what my Dad did for me, and shows us the many sides, secrets and little sorceries of home cooking in France. From her own kitchen to those of her friends and colleagues, Ms. Loomis demystifies and illuminates how ordinary people carry on the well-known and often obsessive love affair the French have with food while looking after their families, perpetuating traditions and creating more than a few of their own. That she covers so much in just thirteen chapters, all of which include dozens of recipes, helpful lists and topical spotlights, is just as fascinating as her stories.

I wouldn't say this is a traditional cookbook. It's something of a memoir, as the author offers plenty of tales about her own experiences in France, but it's also an intimate guide to how we can all learn a little from French home cooks to make our cooking lives a little fresher, livelier and fun. I don't see myself whipping up homemade mayonnaise -- I'm a Hellmann's girl from way back -- but I definitely want to try out many of the delicious-sounding recipes, particularly in the chapters on breads and desserts. There are a great many terms in French in the text, but Ms. Loomis deftly translates all of them directly or within context. I particularly appreciated seeing all the various quantities listed in both US and European measurements, which when not offered can be a pain for either side to convert.

Among other things the author is a trained chef who runs a cooking school (in France!) so this is not going to read like your Mom's Betty Crocker or the last issue of Taste of Home. She's a pro, guys, and while she does want to develop her readers' inner French cooks, many of her techniques are fairly advanced. While the dedicated gourmands probably won't bat an eyelash over Lapin Aux Pruneaux D'Edith, if you're a Hamburger Helper-dependent cook you're probably going to feel a bit intimidated. Don't be. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you can try something simple, like the homemade hot chocolate in chapter eight, or the poached pears in chapter thirteen. Once you've tackled a few of the easier recipes (and there are a lot of those, too) you can try something a little more complex, like Edith's Rabbit with Dried Plums.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys French cooking and culture and wants to take some adventures with their own cooking -- and if you simply love reading about cooking as I do, then you're in for a treat. This book is scheduled for release on June 16th, 2015. If you'd like to get your own copy, here's where you can shop:


Barnes & Noble


  1. How lucky you were to have a dad who was a chef! My dad was a waiter for a 5-star restaurant in Chicago and he used to pick up the most amazing recipes when he hung out in the kitchens, then he'd try them out at home.

    Unfortunately, out of six kids, I was the one with no talent for the culinary arts. Whatever kitchen wizardry I know comes from 40 years of trial and error. :-)
    Still, I do enjoy reading cooking books, though this one might sound too advanced for me.

    1. Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit since my traveling days as a corporate manager, and it does have some of the best restaurants I've ever dined in. There's one bistro called the Venice Cafe that always makes it worth driving through the construction that never ends. :)

      I think the recipes in this book are about fifty-fifty practical/impractical for the American home cook. Some of the ingredients, like duck fat and beef cheeks and white asparagus, will definitely seem exotic to everyone but the most devoted gourmands. I also wouldn't expect American cooks to try things like making emulsions or from-scratch pastry the French way because they are a bit challenging for even a confident cook.

      There is a lot Ms. Loomis does recommend in the book that would not be practical for working American women, either. We don't have separate markets for cheeses, fresh produce, bakeries around every corner, etc., as they do in France. Perhaps because she loves food so much and teaches cooking she's forgotten that not everyone else is a chef who can run to the market every day to shop for fresh, or grow all their vegetables in a garden (although you, I imagine, can and probably do eat a lot of your garden, Maria.)

  2. If you ever want to start a 'discussion' among a group of people, ask them "mayo or miracle whip". Then if you are from the South, you can further increase the controversy by asking "Hellman's or Duke's". There are some real rabid opinions on this subject.

    1. Lol. Sometimes talking about condiments is like bringing up politics, sex or religion -- and I guess I am a confirmed mayo gal, as I don't get the slavish devotion some folks have to Miracle Whip. It tastes weird to me. :)

  3. Sounds like a lovely book to read. You recommended another lovely book with recipes in it by Barbara O'Neal and I really enjoyed that one, so I think I'll have to pop in to the library and reserve it.

  4. Oh and I don't know what Miracle Whip is so I have nothing to add to that controversy!

  5. I can't do Miracle Whip either, and don't even THINK about bringing margarine into this house because I'll throw it straight into the trash.