PARIS — The woman I’m sitting across from couldn’t look less Parisian. Nor is she even French. Yet Trish Deseine, with more than 15 French cookbooks and several awards to her name, was chosen by French publisher Flammarion to write “The Paris Gourmet,” a guide to the best culinary addresses in a city already overflowing with fine food and wine. The book, published in September, complements another volume by the same publisher, on chic Parisian style, written by iconic fashion designer Ines de la Fressange.
It’s a long way from her Northern Ireland childhood, and a career Deseine never imagined she’d have. The author, 49, has lived in Paris for over 25 years, raising her family while indulging her passion for the city and its gastronomy. We’ve met in a cafe in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a quarter known for its beautiful specialty food shops, and she sighs as she notes several of her favorite places. Although she has resided in several areas of Paris during her years here, and now lives in the suburbs, it is only to this neighborhood that she returns to shop. She points across the street to a butcher who will prepare game for six euros a bird. “I love that there is that level of care, or even that volume that they would have such a service that is thriving.” As we talk, occasional vowels of her native Belfast slip into her speech.
Deseine arrived in Paris with her French then-boyfriend, now-ex-husband, shortly after finishing her degree in Edinburgh. When he took over his family’s company, they moved out of the city to the suburbs, and Deseine often played hostess when friends came out nearly every weekend. Marrying into a foodie French family and living in France gave her plenty to prove as a young Anglo cook. She felt a strong anti-British and Irish cooking bias back then and says, “A lot of the meals I cooked were to show people that was wrong.” She went on to raise four children, with only the youngest still at home with her.
Then she started a mail-order business selling chef’s equipment and chef’s chocolates before food was hip, and subsequently was discovered and asked to write her first book, “Cooking With Friends.” By then she had 10 years in the kitchen, discovering new ingredients and mixing them up with what she already knew. Her second book, “I Want Chocolate!” went on to sell more than 500,000 copies.
With an easy laugh and a generous smile, Deseine’s unguarded manner is reflected in the way she approaches her books — from the heart. Her first cookbook simply reflected her family’s cooking. She won’t develop recipes just for the sake of the latest fad. She prefers to give an ingredient a few months, cook with it, and see whether it “settles into her cupboard” before she ultimately adopts it.
Writing “The Paris Gourmet” followed the same immersive process and the result is a collection of restaurants, bakeries, kitchen stores, and singular culinary addresses that illustrate her personal bond with the city. She includes a few of her own recipes, which she says are “slightly tongue in cheek,” and each chapter showcases a section of tips that cover Parisian topics such as “How to Be a Perfect Guest,” “How to Book a Table,” and “How to Shop Like a Local.” Those are both useful and spot-on (they echo advice I give my own houseguests in Paris as they navigate the convoluted social rules of life here). One: At restaurants, clean your plate and never ask for a doggy bag.
Deseine has written almost all of her cookbooks in French, except for “The Paris Gourmet,” which she wrote in English; it was translated into French. The publisher produced the book first and foremost for the French market, but there is an English version. Deseine wrote the book thinking of people in America, and in the North of England and Scotland and Ireland, not sophisticated, hardened travelers, but tourists dreaming of Paris yet perhaps put off by the haughty reputation of the city. She hopes it will allow them to see the beauty in the City of Light.
“We all have Paris already, it’s already there. So I wanted to . . . stimulate their desire, but at the same time, reassure them. I believe so much in the anticipation of anything, especially food. I want to accompany somebody in their anticipation.”
Jill Gibson can be reached at email@example.com.