Saturday, June 15, 2013

LUNCH IN PARIS by Elizabeth Bard

Memoirist Elizabeth Bard states that there are two kinds of croissants.  The first is a “brioche”;  the second,  flaky.  “I like flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the very first bite.”

Bard’s delectable memoir, Lunch in Paris, features multiple recipes—for swordfish, ribs with honey, mackerel, duck and blackberries, French onion soup, carrot soup, and salmon.  Also, “Fennel Salad with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Pomegranate Seeds,” “Goat Cheese Salad with Fresh Figs,” “Choux Pastries,”  “Summer Ratatouille,” and more.  To top it off, an essay on French cheeses and lots of chocolate.

But the main course of  Lunch in Paris is the story of how Bard met, romanced and wed her French husband, Gwendal, in Paris.  She was twenty-five years old at the time, a graduate student in art history, in London.  Gwendal was a graduate student in computer science, who longed to be a filmmaker.

Their first meal together—at his tiny studio apartment—was an impromptu lunch concocted of onion, carrots, ham, and tagliatelle pasta.  “It was the best thing I’d ever tasted,” she writes.  “This is amazing,” she said. “You have to give me the recipe.” “ ‘There is no recipe.’ he said, smiling.  ‘I use whatever I have.  It never tastes the same way twice.’”

That first lunch, on their first date, was one of many featured in the book.  There is a sumptuous lunch at L’Hermès—a fancy restaurant with an offering of  “duck with braised  cabbage and apples.”  There is lunch with his parents.  There are lunches during Bard’s stint as a tour guide, and a pre-wedding dinner  with  both sets of parents, at which—except for the bride and groom—no one spoke the other’s language.

Even so, Bard purports to have decoded the reason French women are slim.  Petite portions.  “A French portion is half of an American portion, and a French meal takes twice as long to eat,” she writes.  She concluded this after she  analyzed her slender French mother-in-law’s eating style:  no snacks, drinks lots of water, no soda, drinks wine, and eats petite portions.

During the courtship, as Bard shuttled back and forth between London and Paris, she was a bit off-kilter: “The boys I’d been out with before went to the same schools, came from the same towns. . . .  Although [Gwendal and I] were roughly the same age, we didn’t have the same cultural references.”

It’s a tale of love in two cities; but  Lunch in Paris is not a Charles Dickens novel.  For this is a modern story, a modern love (he  cooked for her!).  It’s love, dating, a wedding and marriage, Parisian style.  When he proposed, Gwendal said, “I know what I want.”  He just wanted to be  happy, and to share his life with her.  (Bard and her friends wanted success.)

Lunch in Paris is a delectable, delightful hybrid memoir—travel and food.  (The language is wonderfully descriptive—not just white, but “the color of warm milk.”)  A chick-lit memoir—with recipes and romance—that depicts the realities of living in Paris, and the romantic ways of one Frenchman.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

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