I met David Lebovitz at an International Association of Culinary Professionals conference 15 years ago, where we bonded over a huge display of smoked salmon while bemoaning the lack of bagels (it was breakfast time, after all). Funny how certain food experiences forge friendships. David and I were both in the early phases of our cookbook-writing careers and realized we had much in common in terms of our approach to baking and desserts – that they have to taste great and begin with a respect for ingredients. David moved abroad and began his journey as an American living, eating and baking in Paris, and he created his immensely popular blog. We chatted, catching up on his current work, including his forthcoming book, My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, and discussed his take on dessert recipes found online.
My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography credit: Ed Anderson © 2014.
Dédé Wilson: David! Always so great to chat with you. Now that you are a full-time Parisian, I want to hear about your day-to-day life. You are living the dream. You write books, lead tours, have your blog. How do you describe to people what you do?
David Lebovitz: I have been in Paris for 10 years at this point! I always say I am a cookbook author. Well, actually, it depends where I am. Sometimes I say a blogger, but in France, the word blogger is bad. They automatically think you are trying to uncover something. They get suspicious!
Talk to us about your blog. You are one of the few who creates original content. So much of what we see these days are re-hashes of existing recipes. There is little originality. How do you stay the course and remain true to your vision?
I see recipes for a multi-component cake and no credit given. I know what goes into creating a recipe like that and it is doubtful that it is wholly original. When a cookbook author goes through the process of writing a book – and it’s a three-year process – the result is clear and original and presents a clear definition of your idea. People ask me why I write books, since I have a blog. I do it because I have something original to say. On the one hand, the internet is good because you can drive book sales and create blog traffic, but you are spending time creating digital content that everyone feels free to adapt. It is legal and ethical to adapt, but so much of what happens is just straight up unethical use – misuse!
Who do you think is handling food content well?
David Leite is doing it very well. His site is original and well curated.
How do you decide what content to create for your blog?
I could get more traffic if I wrote three chocolate recipes per week, but that has never been my approach. People search Google to plan their site content, but that isn’t what I do.
You want to be authentic.
Exactly, I have to write what interests me and then, because it is real, it resonates and the readers respond. I don’t think, “Is this popular”? I write what I know and what interests me. The fact that I have an opinion is what distinguishes my blog and me. I think it also builds trust between the writer and the reader. So when you are reading my recipes and the journey I took to make my most recent cookie recipe, I hope that it is like you are sitting across from me chatting in my kitchen. Like I am sitting there with you in my PJs. And I am! Half the time I am in my PJs writing the blog.
What are the three most important things that you think the home baker should know?
- Buy very good quality equipment because it will last longer and it will help you enjoy your time in the kitchen.
- Be familiar with ingredients. Every butter is different. Now there are 25 million different salts, flour is changing. Know what a recipe is calling for and know what you are using.
- Practice. The first time you make something it can be daunting. You look at it and it seems overwhelming, but once you do it, you will understand it better.
- And I will add a #4. Don’t be scared!
You’ve just published My Paris Kitchen. What was the impetus for writing this book at this time?
After living in Paris for over a decade, I’ve come to appreciate the way meals come together. It’s not always about fancy foods or complicated techniques; it’s about gathering the best ingredients and using them without a lot of fuss. The French are much more lenient when it comes to home cooking and tend to be thrilled when presented with a home-cooked meal – especially a dessert! A lot of people have asked me questions about cooking and market shopping in Paris, and I felt it was time to take readers with me to my favorite places, including my home kitchen.
You handle so much of your own photography. Did you for this book, too?
No. I asked for a photographer that works with 10 Speed Press who I love and I asked that it be shot in Paris. My other books were shot in California. I wanted this to be shot here, for the light, for the food – again, it is about being authentic. I wanted to re-create the feel of cooking and eating in Paris.
What is the difference in how Parisians approach home baking to the way Americans do?
Contrary to what people think, Parisians don’t bake so much at home. With a very good bakery on every corner, why would they? Also, kitchens in the city are small, so it’s hard to find space for a full-on baking project, like tackling a bûche de Noël or a Tarte Tropezienne, which I do. There are good, French home bakers out there for sure, but they tend to make simple desserts, like chocolate mousse or an apple tart, and leave the fancy stuff to the pros.
What has been your most “translatable” dessert between the US and France? Why do think that is?
Without a doubt, brownies. Some American foods have made inroads into France, such as hamburgers and cupcakes, but it’s hard to find a good brownie in Paris. I’m not complaining, because I didn’t move to Paris to buy brownies, but when you taste one, they’re not so great, so I make really fudgy ones and Parisians really love them. A few others desserts that appear in Paris are cheesecake and carrot cake, so I presented great “French” versions of those in the book with a few flavorful twists that even Americans will appreciate.
What is your favorite dessert from the new book?
I’m very happy to lick up a cup of Salted Butter Caramel Chocolate Mousse, which has all my favorite flavors in one delectable spoonful!
Oh my god, that sounds amazing! We will be sure to bring that recipe to our community. David, Thank you so much for chatting. It’s always like we just spoke yesterday!
Thank you, Dédé. I hope you enjoy the book.