I love to cook. I’m decent at it, but I could never be a chef. While I consider myself a creative person, I’ve never really created my own dishes, but, rather, rely on cookbooks to tell me exactly what to do. Sure, sometimes I make adjustments here and there, based on personal preference, but for the most part I’m more of a cover band than original artist.
I’ve pretty much bought, or considered buying, every cookbook published in the U.S. over the past decade, which presents something of a problem: I’m running out of material. I’m always on the lookout for something new, which has been a pretty futile search, lately. There are many restaurants I admire and whose dishes I would love to recreate, but many of them don’t typically publish recipes. One of those places is Frenchie in Paris. So, when I recently I saw on instagram that the Paris neo-bistro just published a new book, I was super excited. Then I realized it’s only available in France…in French.
That was a downer.
Let’s talk about why I was so excited in the first place. Last spring, my wife and I spent a few days in Paris, on a trip that was for the most part oriented around food. We hit a bunch of acclaimed spots, that ran the gamut from hole-in-the-wall to 3-starred temple. One place that left a particularly strong impression was Frenchie.
Frenchie is a darling of the Paris neo-bistro movement, which, and I’m simplifying here, is a relatively new phenomenon which sees some of the city’s most talented chefs forgoing the pomp of fine dining and creating elevated versions of more casual food, usually in a relatively casual setting. They are, in short, fancy, contemporary bistros. The food at Frenchie is decidedly French, but with influences from New York, London, and around the world. Its cuisine is beautiful and delicious. The space is tiny— maybe seating 20 or so guests— and its nearly impossible to obtain a reservation. Even though the vast majority of guests were native English-speakers, which, as someone who seeks authenticity, is annoying, it didn’t detract from the experience. The food and service was amazing, and we had a great time.
Once our trip was over, I spent a good few months daydreaming of a book that could help me recreate this food. I found that there was a “Frenchie at Home” book published in the States back in 2014, but these recipes lacked the finesse of the food we had at the restaurant. So, when I found out there was a new book that contained recipes straight from the restaurant, I knew I had to get it. So much so that I didn’t care if it was published in a language I didn’t understand. I mean, after all, we live in a golden age of technology. What if I could go to the Amazon France website, buy the book, and use Google translate to convert the recipes to English?
It was worth a try. First of all, I didn’t know if there was really such a thing as Amazon France. There is. I didn’t know if I could order from it. I could. In fact, shipping was only about $10, and the book arrived in under a week. Pretty impressive. With the new book in hand, I braced for the tricky part: translating. I began by using Google translate on my desktop, and it would sometimes take a half hour or more to translate a recipe that looked compelling enough to make. This was a lengthly process, but I was actually kinda learning French in the process, which was cool. It got to a point where I needed less help reading a recipe, and I even had fantasies of working in a Paris kitchen! Then I discovered the Google translate app, with which I could easily snap a photo of an entire recipe and translate it instantly. This made my work less difficult, although I stopped picking up French as much!
Overall, the book was a fantastic purchase. With any cookbook, if I find at least a couple recipes that I’m actually looking forward to making, I consider the purchase a success. The books which have the most recipes I’ve actually cooked are the two Eleven Madison books, with about 20 recipes from each. The Frenchie cookbook has 17 that I’m looking forward to taking on.
17 recipes out of a total of 75, which is a great ratio, and I’m super excited for the seasons to progress so I can try them out. Because I got the book in January, I was limited in the dishes I could make by the fresh produce available. I decided to start with a carrot dish that looked impressive and contained several ingredients that I love, such as Feta, tarragon, yogurt,and kumquats. It sounded like a winning combination.
The first step was to dehydrate the carrots and beets for the sunflower crumble. I sliced the vegetables thin and put them in a low oven for two hours. While they did their thing, I moved on to the two sauces. The first was a tarragon feta sauce, which was pretty easy to make, came out tasty, and looked cool with its almost neon-green hue. If you like Tarragon, this is a fantastic sauce. Then it was on to the carrot sauce. Now, this recipe calls for carrot juice, but since I don’t have a juicer I opted for the store-bought variety. I reduced the juice to a syrup and combined with feta,yogurt, dijon and lemon juice. The result was a bright orangish sauce, whose color complimented the tarragon sauce nicely.
Next up was a kumquat puree. I’ve loved kumquats ever since I tasted my first one straight off a tree at my aunt’s house in Kfar Saba, Israel. They are pretty bitter, though, so the chef tries to mitigate this through his detailed instructions on blanching in simple syrup. Unfortunately, however, this was the first case I’ve run into (so far), where the translation of the French recipe left me with more questions than answers. Google translate says to blanch in simple syrup for 10 minutes, then filter and repeat two more times So, does that mean the second and third times should be in fresh simple syrup? That would seem to make sense, but the quantity of syrup provided in the recipe doesn’t allow for that. Since, I hadn’t made enough simple syrup for such a triple procedure, I simply blanched once for 30 minutes. I then blended the kumquats with butter and a little fresh simple syrup to get the right consistency. The resulting puree didn’t look as perfect as it does in the book’s photo, but it tasted good. I think next time I will add more butter than the recipe calls for.
After two hours, I checked on the veggies. The carrots had shriveled up into little pellets, which were perfect for the crumble. However, the beets were still pretty moist. The book doesn’t instruct on how thinly to slice the vegetables, but apparently I didn’t slice the beets thin enough. I put them back in for another 45 minutes, or so, and when they were done combined them with roasted sunflowers seeds and some crispy shallots that I fried per the recipe.
With the sauces and the rest of the mise prepped, it was on to roasting the actual carrots. I took some nice rainbow carrots I found at my local farmer’s market, tossed them in EVOO and salt, and put them in a cast iron pan in a 350 degree oven, as per the instructions. I felt this temperature was too low to get a nice char on the carrots, so I kept a close eye on them. After 10 minutes, I noticed they really weren’t getting a crust, so I jacked up the temperature to 400. The carrots came out 20 minutes later nice and charred, without being mushy. Okay, maybe they were a tad bit mushy, but I blame this on the fact I had to help my daughter make a magnet-tile castle, and inadvertently left the carrots in too long. They were still totally acceptable, though (and the castle came out great).
This was a pretty easy dish to plate —the sauces’ beautiful hues and colorful crumble made it appear lovely pretty much any way you went about it. It was tasty, as well. Overall, I think I would serve this as part of a multi-course meal, particularly in the colder months when produce such as carrots are pretty much all you have to work with, and when kumquats are in season.
And now I’m spending hours on the French Amazon site looking for undiscovered cookbooks! If only the acclaimed Septime would publish a book. Here’s hoping…