An American in Paris
Cookbook author David Lebovitz, a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., moved to Paris in 2002. He's gained a following for his website (www.davidlebovitz.com), where he posts recipes and acerbically amusing anecdotes about his time in France. His new book, "The Sweet Life in Paris," continues in that vein. It includes humorous essays about cultural differences, misunderstandings (e.g., the time he thought the saleswoman in a sock shop told him to remove all his clothing), Parisian dining habits, plus recipes. We spoke with him recently from Paris.
Q. Why did you decide to write this book?
A. When you move abroad, your whole life becomes a series of FAQs. "How long have you lived in Paris?" "Did you speak French before you moved?" I already know the questions they're going to ask. Why not answer them?
Q. What's a day like in the life of David Lebovitz?
A. I get up and stand at the edge of the roof and decide whether to jump. When I've decided not to, I come back in, have coffee and toast, watch the news for about five minutes because I can't stand it, then check e-mail. If it's market day, I'll spend a couple of hours there. Then I'll work, write recipes. People ask, "What do you do all day?" Well, yesterday I bought a sponge. Things take so much time here.
Q. How did your blog get started?
A. I started the website in 1999, before people knew what a blog was. I thought I would write for all these food and travel magazines. Then I realized the stuff I was writing about was so outside of traditional journalism. There were touchy areas. Americans don't want to believe French coffee is terrible. Or writing about standing naked in a sock shop - that's my life, and that's what I wanted to write about.
Q. The nudity in the sock shop doesn't shock me, but the bad coffee does.
A. The coffee is much better in America. The coffee here is horrible horrible horrible. The problem is, it's not just bad, they don't know it's bad. Like alcoholics, the only way they're going to get better is to admit it.
Q. In terms of food, where else does America have the advantage, and where does France?
A. These are generalizations, but the French do cheese better. Low-priced wine is much better than in America. And for the most part they do breads, croissants, and Viennoiserie better. In America, local food is better. France is a pretty industrial country. There's not the consciousness of locally grown that there is in America now.
Q. Do you think being a chef helps you be accepted as an American in France?
A. Absolutely. Being a pastry chef or being a writer in France is like 12 football players in America. We're national heroes.
Q. I just baked a batch of your dulce de leche brownies. Hang on, I'm going to taste one. . . . Wow. Those are really good. I'm going to eat them all. You're evil.
A. People have said worse, and I have the e-mails to prove it.