Despite the sin of blogging an event weeks later, here I am. To me, my summer travels are still fresh and worth reliving, even if just to extend the trip a bit longer. Here are five lessons I learned.
1. Pastries, desserts, macarons are experiences of contradiction. Light and airy yet decadent and buttery. Sweets are not only sweet but flavorful. I can taste the butter, the fruit, the flavorings. In Paris, contradiction is sweet!
2. Location, location, location. During a food tour in Paris, we visited a cheese shop. The origin of each cheese variety, the type of milk, and the name was clearly labeled. The region of the cheese is part of the taste and experience. In France, location really matters. Sadly, I don’t know where all my food comes from.
3. Taking cooking classes was a humbling experience that helped me appreciate the simplicity of ingredients and complexity of skill. A baguette is made with flour, salt, water, and yeast. That’s it. No butter. 4 ingredients. A sequence of kneading, rising, kneading and rising, yields the crunchy on the outside, chewy soft on the inside bread that needs to be eaten within three hours. The master sauces class taught me the same lesson. Simple ingredients become unctuous sauces through appropriate sequences of heat, whisking, resting. In France, skill is respected and expected.
4. Markets have a beautiful variety of fresh produce, meats and dairy products. If I were to shop there to make a meal, I don’t know how I would choose. Building a relationship with a favorite vendor would be the best way to decide, I suppose. Somehow, my local grocery store seems very impersonal now. Next summer, if in town, I’ll spend more time getting to know my local produce vendors. I’m reminded that fresh and local produce is imperfect, beautiful and tasty.
5. Long walks between cooking classes, lunch, dinner, snacks, and markets with a curiosity towards small things like the weeds on the banks of the Seine grounds Paris. The idealized glittering image of Paris with its cathedrals, museums, palaces become gritty, real, and more beautiful in my eyes through the experience and perspective of weeds, trash, construction debry and hot summer sweat. The small things remind me that Paris is the home of many and not just an idealized tourist destination. I wonder if the beautiful floral weeds still live there.
What a wonderful trip discovering the grand- the small, the light-the rich, the sweet- the salty, the delicious-beautiful contradictions in Paris. The visit reminded me to notice the contradictions of textures and tastes, the location, the skill, the ingredients and the larger context. I hope to eat like a tourist everywhere, even at home.