Category Archives: Paris

My First Nigerian Independence Day

One of the things that has surprised me most about my experience at LCB is the exposure to other cultures. I moved to France fully expecting to be immersed in French culture, but I never even stopped to think about how all the unique cultures of my fellow students would also shape my experience. One of my friends, Gbube (pronounced, boo-bay, silent G), is from Nigeria and a few weeks ago, Nigeria celebrated 50 years of independence and I had the pleasure of joining in on the festivities.

Being that the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday (it combines all the best things in life: BBQing, fireworks and beer) I was pretty stoked to help another country celebrate. Nigerian Independence day marked my third independence day celebration of the year, the first two being 1)Fourth of July (yes I still celebrated while I was here, you can take the girl out of the USA but you can’t take the red, white and blue out of the girl), and 2)Bastille Day.

Since the majority of guests were culinary students the party was really all about the food and Gbube did not disappoint. He promised heat and boy was there heat, but I loved every burning moment of it. The French do not appreciate or enjoy spicy food, so anytime I can get a little spice I am a happy girl.

Before dinner, while Gbube was finishing up the main dishes, we snacked on yam fries and some gizzards that had been sautéed with what I think were scotch bonnet peppers. Then came the buffet of traditional Nigerian food.

Stewed Goat: I know I will have consistent cravings for this goat throughout my life. I can’t recall if I had ever tasted goat before this day, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but this particular preparation was OH SO GOOD. I know it’s quite American of me to compare the taste of all meats to either chicken or beef, but the goat itself did honestly taste a whole lot like braised beef short ribs with a slight lamb aftertaste. For the overall flavor of the dish, it’s hard to explain a unique ethnic dish, if you’ve never tasted that type of cuisine, but for my palate, it reminded me a lot of Jamaican food, though with more dimension to the spicyness. The heat was the same level, but there were other spices too that backed up the heat.

To make it, if I remember the process correctly, Gbube started by sweating onions and a mix of hot peppers, including habaneros, then he added the lamb with some tomatoes and spices (I know he said oregano but can’t remember the others), next he added a lot of chicken stock and stewed the whole mix for a few hours until the meat was fall-off-the-bone/could-eat with-a-spoon-tender. Then came am ingenious step that I will definitely be stealing: he decanted the excess goat-infused liquid to cook the other dishes. Isn’t that such a great idea? Instead of wasting all of that lovely cooked-for-hours flavor, he spread the love.

Jollof Rice: And this is where a good portion of the love jus went. I have to admit that the texture of the rice was too al dente for my taste, but the flavor was spot on. You would think that it would taste just like the stewed goat, but somehow the flavors morphed when cooked with the rice. The result was similar to really good “spanish” rice, but with more depth of flavor due to the hint of goaty meatiness.

Dodo (plantains): J’adore plantains. Ever since a family trip to Costa Rica when we were served plantains morning, noon and night, I have been a plantain lover. These were just as a plantain should be…simple. Plantain + hot oil = GOOD.

Stewed chicken: In addition to the goat, Gbube also stewed chicken thighs which were tasty, but not as unique as the goat meat.

Efo-Riro: (unfortunately I didn’t take a picture) This is what Nigerians call a vegetable “sauce,” but I would describe it as a vegetable stew. It was finely chopped greens, stewed with a type of smoked meat. I’m not a fan of stewed greens, so this wasn’t for me, but I did enjoy the iyan (pounded yam, pictured above) that accompanied it. Traditionally Nigerian food is eaten with one’s hands and you use iyan as a utensil of sorts. I’ve always had a bad habit of eating with my hands anyways, so I loved having an open invitation to dive right in. The iyan really didn’t taste like much, but the texture was chewy and dense, almost elastic.

All in all, it was a great day and I really loved learning more about Gbube’s food culture. And I now realize that it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. A few of Gbube’s Nigerian friends were at the party and they informed me that even if I visited Nigeria, I most likely wouldn’t be able to try such authentic food, as this type of food can only be found in someone’s home and is not sold at restaurants. What a lucky girl I am!



Filed under My Life, Paris

Paris Pinch-Myself-Moment: Number 4,862

Pinch-myself-moments seem to be a normal occurrence in my Parisian life. You know what I am talking about; those moments that you can’t believe are real, when you want to pinch yourself to see if you’ll wake up, because it’s so great that you feel as though you might be dreaming. (Oh and after seeing Inception, I’m thinking that it’s quite possible that the entire last five months might be one very long dream created by a very clever architect, but I suppose my neurosis surrounding that film is a whole other story.) Pinch-myself-moments happen to me when I’m least expecting it. I’ll be walking down the street and look up and spy the Eiffel Tower playing peek-a-boo between two buildings; I’ll be sitting in a café with some friends drinking numerous bottles of rosé because that’s what people do in Paris on a Sunday; or I’ll be in a practical class at school whipping what feels like my one hundredth bowl of egg whites (by hand) and I’ll stop for just a second in amazement and bask in the reality of my life.

About thirty minutes ago I had another one of those moments and I thought I’d share it with you, like the aforementioned examples of pinch-myself-moments, it wasn’t all that spectacular, but it was another reminder of how truly fortunate I am to be here in Paris. I was riding my bike home on one of my normal routes, when I happened to look up at a certain moment and see a beautiful angle of Saint-Sulpice Church backed by a lovely lavender Parisian sky, then I looked down to my bike basket filled with the wine, chunk of Roquefort cheese, pinot noir confiture, white peaches, and freshly baked walnut bread that I had just bought at Le Bon Marché and poof, just like that, a pinch-myself-moment. I warned you that it wasn’t spectacular, but it was just enough to remind me not to take it all for granted. Remind me that I need to enjoy the rainy days, just as much as the sunny days, because it’s on those rainy days that you get lovely lavender skies.


Filed under My Life, Paris

Wow Foods: Category 3

The final category.

Category 3: “Wow, this is amazing; wow, this is really really amazing.” (which is usually followed by weeks of thinking about the dish on a daily basis and neurotically telling everyone I know about it)

Kouign Amann: This “wow food” has a back story or two leading up to the “wow” moment. Back story 1: A few years ago I was watching the Food Network, I don’t remember what show, and there was a segment on a bakery somewhere in the Northwest, I don’t remember exactly where, that made an obscure French pastry from the Bretagne region of France called kouign amann (pronounced almost like queen iman). It is the Breton words for cake (“kouign”) and butter (“amann”). The segment left me salivating and adding another thing to my ever-growing culinary bucket list.

Back story 2: Fast-forward to this past March and my third day in Paris, my friend Jenna, who happened to be in town, insisted on being the one to introduce me to the renowned patisserie, Pierre Hermé (to be clear she introduced me to the eponymous pastry shop, not Pierre himself – gosh I wish!). In my opinion, Pierre Hermé has not only the best macarons in town, but also the best croissants; it also on some days sells kouign amann. Jenna suggested we get one since they were available and I squealed like a schoolgirl when I realized what it was. Not being able to wait until we found somewhere to sit, we ate our croissants and kouign amann à la Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as we strolled down the street in our oversized black sunglasses and window-shopped. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed, the kouign amann was tasty, but didn’t have the wow factor I was anticipating (and the croissant really stole the show). Luckily Jenna had tasted an authentic Briton kouign amann the week before and she reassured me that Pierre Hermé’s kouign amann (surprisingly) wasn’t as good as the real thing. Thus, kouign amann went back on my culinary bucket list, waiting until I could find a more authentic version.

A few months later during a patisserie demo one of our chefs, Chef Cotte, was teaching us how to make croissants and in true Cotte style he had to throw in a “surprise,” so he also made a kouign amann. Chef Cotte, like all the chefs at LCB, is not a modest man. While making the kouign amann he shared with us that he learned to make it while working in Bretagne and created his own recipe that he then brought Paris and subsequently single handily “introduced kouign amann to Parisians.” It’s hard to believe that this is true since kouign amann has been around for over a hundred years, but I can say that his kouign amann is quite delicious. I could not stop saying wow. My friend and fellow kouign amann groupie, Marisol, and I talk about kouign amann on an almost daily basis. I don’t know how we do it, but it always manages to pop into conversation. We are actually planning a trip to Bretagne for the sole purpose of eating as much kouign amann as possible. I’m sorry, I just realized that I haven’t even described what a kouign amann is, how rude of me to leave you wondering, well… it’s made with a dough similar to croissants, but rather than dry butter it’s made with gorgeous Breton salted butter, which has delicate shards of sea salt in it, and then the layers are rolled out on sugar instead of flour, embedding sugar into each layer and resulting in layer, upon layer of sugary, salty, crunchy caramel and flaky buttery pastry!

Cantaloupe Soup with Chorizo Foam: A few weeks back, I had one of the most memorable meals of my life at Le Chateaubriand. I had added Le Chateaubriand to my restaurant black book* a few months ago after reading about it in a handful of articles and blogs. But once I heard that it was named number 11 on this year’s SP World’s 50 Best Restaurants, it quickly jumped to the top of my list; especially considering it’s a relative steal at 45€ for a 6-course-prix fixe, most restaurants on the list are well beyond my student budget, averaging $200+ per person (as a reference point for Bay Area-ites The French Laundry was number 32 this year). Reservations can be hard to come by, but they have a no-reservation, first-come-first-served 10 pm seating. Benjamin was in town and told me he was in the mood for a really good dinner, I took one look in my trusty black book and knew exactly where to go. I didn’t know how the 10 pm seating worked, but we showed up around 9:30 and luckily made the list. After a leisurely wait at the bar where we enjoyed a delicious effervescent white wine, I unfortunately cannot remember the name, we were shown to our table. Unlike the Michelin Guide, SP considers restaurants in and outside of the white-table-cloth circle of the restaurant venn diagram. Le Chateaubriand definitely is nowhere inside the white-table-cloth circle. The restaurant is simple almost Spartan, with warm, rustic, dark wood, table cloth free, tables and not much else. The menu changes daily and there are no options, you eat what they bring you. I should start by saying that the entire meal qualifies as a “wow food” moment, however there was a star of the night, but in respect for the rest of the delicious meal, I’ll describe it all.

For the amuse bouche we had a gougere (aka cheese puff) topped with poppy seeds, it was straightforward, but with something as deliciously simple as a gougere, there is no need for innovation. Next we had a raw shrimp in olive oil and lemon juice, topped with sea salt, mache, samphire and an untoasted blanched almond. If I had to pick a least favorite dish it would be this one. It tasted fresh and somewhat oceany from the samphire and sea salt, but it lacked any definite flavor. However, the soft crunch of the almond added a nice contrast to the supple shrimp that I think was supposed to be somewhat “cooked” ceviche style by the lemon juice and olive oil, but it was really just completely raw.  Next came the star, the cold melon soup with chorizo foam. It’s one of those wonderful food paradoxes; it sounds so wrong, but it tastes oh so right. It was served unassumingly in a simple metal bowl, no garnishes, no extras, just melon soup and chorizo foam. The melon soup wasn’t super cold, really just a few degrees below room temp. It tasted of pure melon, but somehow the savory qualities of the melon were highlighted rather than the sweetness. I know that foams are somewhat controversial; chefs seem to love them, but many diners don’t really see the point as it’s often completely superfluous and flavorless. But this foam delivered what it promised; it tasted like chorizo. They encouraged you to drink it directly from the bowl, as one would do with miso, which was smart, because it guaranteed that you got the spice from the foam and the mellowness of the melon with each sip. The combination was really spectacular. I can’t remember what they called the next dish, but I’ll call it a Moroccan spiced sardine taquito with shaved raw fennel. Sardines have a bum rap in the US, but when used fresh as they are in many countries in Europe, they can be delicious. And particularly delicious when doused in Moroccan spices and deep fried in a crisp pastry. Next was the main fish dish: quickly seared sea bass, topped with (what I think was) baby chard, pickled pearl onions, red currants and drizzled with a frothy raspberry butter sauce. This dish came in at a very close second to the melon soup. The sea bass was seared in butter and was crispy on the outside, but still rare inside (exactly how I like my fish prepared). The pickled onions and red currants were tangy and tart, which perfectly balanced the luxurious, salty, sweet raspberry butter sauce. I was so enamored by the sauce that I had to ask the waiter how they made it, he thought it was just dehydrated raspberries cooked in butter, strained and whipped to add some lightness. Next was the meat course, filet-mignon barely cooked in butter, served sliced and almost completely raw, drizzled with warm butter, topped with a perfect rectangular sheet of daikon radish, which was topped with a mixture of thinly sliced root vegetables that got their crunch from either being raw or fried, and because everything is better with truffles, it was all topped off with a generous shavings of white truffles. Oh there was some seaweed on top too, but since I’m not a big seaweed fan (unless it’s holding together my maki roll) I put it to the side and didn’t touch it. It was umami overload, extremely savory and earthy, with great textures. Then came the only choice of the night, cheese course or dessert. It took only one quick reassuring glance at Benjamin to know that the answer was obviously the cheese course. After an amazing cheese course at Gary Danko’s a few years ago, I don’t think either of us can pass up the option of cheese over dessert. The plethora of cheeses available in France still remain a mystery to me, so I won’t try to guess what they were, all I can say is that they were delicious and a wonderful ending to an amazing meal.


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Wow Foods: Category 2

Thankfully there is only one thing in this category:

Category 2: “Wow, that is the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten.”

Andouillette: During my Basic section of cuisine we had a market tour with one of our chefs. The chef was given $100 by the school and with a group of 10 we went to an open air market for some shopping and then returned to school to feast on our findings. Our group purchased a variety of normal market offerings: cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, breads; but we also purchased a few things that I hadn’t tried before: goose eggs, boudin noir (blood sausage), and andouillette (chitterling sausage). The goose egg was huge and greasy. The boudin noir, despite my timidity to taste it, was actually pretty tasty and not nearly as mineraley as I feared. The andouillette on the other hand was horrendous. In case you couldn’t tell from the translation, chitterling sausage, it’s made from pig’s colon. The taste is difficult to explain, but I’ll try. First of all the smell alone is nauseating, but I’ve come to learn that smell should not always be a deterrent as some very pungent smelling things have a much more appetizing taste (many soft cheeses for example). Andouillette is not such a thing. It has a very musty/old-dirty-sock smell and the taste, oh the taste is much, much more intense. I mean, I suppose it tastes how one might imagine colon to taste. It’s like that tent in your garage that has dust and dirt so deeply embedded into the fibers that no matter how much wash it and scrub it, it will always be somewhat dirty and dusty because the continuous exposure has made the dust and dirt one with the fabric. I think colon is like that. You can wash it, and soak it and even use chemicals, but it must be almost impossible to get rid of all traces of the “substances” that were being passed through it while it was in use. Not surprisingly, it’s considered an acquired taste, but you still find it on a fair number of menus in Paris. The other day I heard an American order it and somehow I could just tell that he did not know what he was getting into. I had a strong impulse to jump up and warn him, but lucky for me, the waitress saved me the embarrassment, because she must have had the same sixth sense as me. In a very un-French way (the French do not believe in getting involved in other people’s business), she asked him if he had ever had andouillette before. He must have realized from the tone of her voice that it was probably not the same as the spicy Cajun andouille sausage we have in the states and sensibly switched his order. I am all for trying new things and as a rule, I strongly encourage it…but regarding andouillette don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Filed under My Life, Paris

Wow Foods: Category 1

In the past few months I have had quite a few “wow” food moments. Here are a some of my most memorable, starting with:

Category 1: “Wow, how did they make this?”

L’ail Doux: At one of my favorite restaurants, Da Rosa, they serve this amazing garlic that they call l’ail doux (soft garlic). “Soft garlic” makes you think that it will be roasted and “soft” in texture, but it’s actually the exact opposite, it’s crunchy. “Soft” refers to the soft flavor, but regardless, the crunchy texture can be daunting. The first time I tried it I was pretty scared. You put it in your mouth and it crunches like raw garlic (well, I don’t think I have ever really put a whole clove of garlic in my mouth and chewed it, but I imagine that it would have this texture). It crunches like a radish, which makes you instantly worry that you are going to reek of garlic for days. But then you realize that it has a very mild, almost sweet garlic flavor. I have no idea how it’s made. It tastes as though it’s pickled in a vinegary brine, rather than confit-ed in oil, but how long it’s soaked or what exactly it’s soaked in is still a mystery to me.  However because it’s so addictive, I’m hoping to figure out the secret recipe soon. Don’t be surprised if you see a future post about my garlic pickling adventures.

Octopus Salad at La Mora Bianca: I’ve had some great octopus in past trips to Italy, so when I was in Sardinia earlier this summer I was really looking forward to enjoying some. After a few nights with no octopus on the menu I was getting discouraged, that is until we went to a restaurant, La Mora Bianca, suggested by our hotel. It was a little off the beaten path so we were skeptical at first, but one look at the local crowd seated in the restaurant and we were a little more confident; and after one bite of the octopus salad, I was sold. The menu didn’t have any description of the dish besides the name, so we didn’t know what to expect. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when the beautiful dish above appeared. As you can see from the picture, the octopus is served thinly sliced like carpaccio, piled up, and topped with a tomato-caper-onion relish and vinaigrette. The mystery to me is how they create the carpaccio like slices. The slices are solid making me think that the octopus is pressed into a loaf like shape, then perhaps frozen to firm up and make slicing possible, and then finally sliced to order on a deli/meat slicer. I really have no idea, but the resulting dish is fantastic. The octopus is ridiculously tender. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had.

(to be continued)

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Filed under Paris, Travel

My Hidden Kitchen Experience

It was amazing! Well I suppose when you have a 10-course-expertly-prepared meal with wine pairings at a beautiful apartment in Paris with 16 interesting strangers, it can’t exactly be anything but amazing. I really didn’t know what to expect going in but overall, it was way more professional and elegant than I imagined. Upon entering the apartment I was greeted by a black-apron-clad-Laura (one half of the Laura and Braden duo that IS Hidden Kitchen) with the most delicious lychee champagne cocktail. No really…it was the MOST delicious champagne cocktail I have ever had…and I have managed to fit an awful lot of champagne cocktails into my 26 years. I really wish I could remember what was in it, obviously champagne and a lychee and I know she said some type of vodka, but there was another sweet flavor too that I can’t quite put my finger on. I think I may have to email her for the recipe. Okay, I’m stopping the champagne cocktail tangent.

Champagne glass in hand, I mingled with the other diners in the foyer as we waited for everyone to arrive. There was a couple from DC visiting Paris for a long weekend, their first trip away from their two young children; two very stylish older women from Chicago, who were getting ready to depart for Namibia for an air safari; a middle-aged brother and sister, he a caterer in Napa and she from Southern California; a young student up from Milan where he is studying, who was supposed to be joined by his parents but they were detained by the pesky volcano; and last but certainly not least, there were the lively and lovely ladies that I was blessed to sit amongst, a group of women from Texas on an antique/flea market shopping trip organized by the Red Shed gals.

Now to the most important part of the evening…THE FOOD. Unfortunately, I realized half way through the meal that my flash was off, so I apologize for the dark pictures. As you all know, I love talking about food, but I think it would take a novella to write about each of the dishes, so I will primarily let the menu and pictures do the talking from here on out and only interject when I think absolutely necessary.

The Amuse

(chilled watercress soup, black pepper cracker and I’m sorry, I can’t remember what was on top, but I do remember that it was tasty)

Spring Vegetables, Poached Quail Egg and Green Goddess Dressing

2008 Domaine de Villargeau, Coteaux de Giennois

House-Made Tagliatelle with Radish Leaf Pesto, Asparagus and Ricotta Salata

2007 Château Pierre-Bise, Anjou “Le Haut de la Garde”

(the pasta was perfectly al dente and the ricotta salata added a wonderful salty balance to the freshness of the spring flavors)

Sautéed Salmon with Hibiscus Bay Leaf Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

2008 Domain de Tremblay, Quincy

Mint Julep Palate Cleanser

(the picture isn’t clear, but it’s bourbon jell-o topped with a canelle of lime sorbet…a dressed-up/grown-up jell-o shot, the recipe is on their website, it makes me want to throw a Kentucky Derby party simply so I could serve these )

Chicken Liver Ravioli with Braised Artichoke and Preserved Lemon Couli

2008 Domaine de la Cotelleraie, La Croisée, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil

Flank Steak with Grilled Polenta, Avocado and Roasted Cherry Tomato

2008 Clos de l’Anhel, Corbieres, Les Terrasettes

(I didn’t think anyone could beat my mom’s polenta but this was pretty close, oh and the teeny-tiny dollop of blue cheese really rounded it all out, further proof that the smallest additions can make a huge difference)

White Bean, Dill and Beet Salad

(My favorite dish of the night…I know it sounds crazy considering all the amazing other dishes, but this was spectacular. It’s one of those dishes that makes me think of Willy Wonka, because I imagine if Willy Wonka was going to cook white beans they would taste just like this. They look like normal white beans, but taste so much more intense, like the flavor of 10 white beans injected into the shell of just 1)

Strawberry Tarragon Sorbet with Puff Pastry, Shiso Cream and Rhubarb Sauce

2008 Château Pierre-Bise, Cabernet D’Anjou

(I love strawberries and I love tarragon, so I could have eaten a tub of this sorbet, it really makes me wish my ice cream maker was in Paris instead of in a box in my parents attic. And after all the puff pastry I’ve been making in school, I was impressed by Laura’s homemade puff pastry, an admiral task considering you can get good quality stuff in the stores, but I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything less given all the other wonderful components of the meal)

Coffee and Doughnuts

(I think the bottom one was chocolate and almond, and the top one was rosewater with pistachio sugar)

At the end of the meal, after all their slaving away in the kitchen, Laura and Braden came out and joined us. We learned that they have been doing this for the last three years. It started off as a once a month dinner party for them to meet new people in Paris after they moved here post-college and has taken off to something bigger than they both ever imagined. They now host dinners 6 times a month and are already booked through September. The success really couldn’t have happen to two kinder, more deserving people. They are definitely inspirations for me that you can do something you love and actually make a living at it. Oh and to top it all off…they invited me to their annual black-tie birthday soirée for their Boston Terrier, Tati! Yeah, it’s a tough life.


Filed under My Life, Paris, Uncategorized

Christmas in April

Yep, it may as well be Christmas, because I just found out that I’ve been granted a seat at Hidden Kitchen for this Sunday night.  I’ve been on the waiting list since I arrived in Paris and luckily, I got that spot on the waiting list before the New York Times article came out a few weeks ago. HK is currently booked through September and I can’t imagine how long the waiting list is now. So hopefully you can understand my joy at being one of the chosen people for the weekend. I will definitely be writing a follow-up post about the experience, so make sure to tune in next week.


Filed under My Life, Paris