PARIS — David Lebovitz is smiling. Sitting at the island of his kitchen here, he announces, “I’m going to call my next book ‘I’m not on vacation here.’ ”
He’s only half-joking. The Paris of Lebovitz’s world is not the one you saw the last time you were here. His is more multicultural, accessible, and in full view in his seventh book, “My Paris Kitchen.” The collection of recipes and stories reflects 10 years of a cooking life spent intertwined in the fabric of the city.
Lebovitz, 55, swapped restaurant work for cookbooks in 1999 after two decades working as a professional chef. The Chez Panisse alum had by then authored two successful dessert cookbooks and started a blog. On a whim, he moved from San Francisco to Paris in 2004. “I was a writer. I wasn’t working in restaurants anymore. Maybe I should move to Paris,” he reasoned. He didn’t know a word of French.
A native of West Hartford, Conn, the author is perhaps best known for his immensely popular Paris-based food blog, Davidlebovitz.com, which he started 15 years ago “before the word ‘blog’ even existed,” he says. He is the sole writer, editor, tech guru, and creative force behind his site, in which he narrates, with unfiltered humor, daily Parisian life. When he started blogging, friends chided him for wasting time on unpaid work. Now his posts attract thousands of readers a month, and people frequently ask him how to start a financially successful blog. He laughs and tells them, “First, you do it for eight years for no money.”
The writing of “My Paris Kitchen” proved more challenging than Lebovitz’s previous books, which include the memoir “The Sweet Life in Paris,” about settling into the city and navigating the culture, and “The Perfect Scoop,” a guide to homemade ice cream.
Lebovitz’s first “Paris Kitchen” manuscript vanished during a move, and the subsequent long and traumatic renovation of his new apartment ate up much of his creative time and energy. But he found the break to be a valuable reflection period. “During two year’s time, you change. I matured, and I thought a lot about Paris.” As a result, he changed the tone of the book halfway through, line-editing it four times before he was satisfied.
The move was to an apartment he bought in the cool 11th arrondissement neighborhood, Canal Saint-Martin, this one with enough space to build his dream kitchen.
Living in Paris changed the author’s cooking. “Being from San Francisco, I was used to 12 kinds of spinach and 14 kinds of plums and so forth,” says Lebovitz. “But the French are much more vertical in what they have, so I’ve become used to cooking with what’s available.”
In the decade since Lebovitz moved here, he has watched France wrestle with its culinary identity and the evolving question of what French food is right now. He sees young chefs struggling with that by their decreasing interest in classical French cooking and increasing focus on market cuisine. The influence of a new wave of American and Australian chefs to Paris and the embrace of foreign fare such as burgers, sushi, and Mexican cuisine adds to the complexity. “My Paris Kitchen” is one chef’s response to that question.
With stunning photographs and over 100 recipes, the book captures Lebovitz’s artistic sense and his take on modern Parisian cooking, including classics such as coq au vin, celery root puree, and madeleines, along with more multicultural dishes such as dukkah-roasted cauliflower or shakshuka. It’s his vision of what the French eat now, with clearly written recipes that use readily available ingredients. Rich pewter images of Paris illustrate his musings on French culinary life, and in the pages we meet the characters in his world: the olive vendor at the market, a parade of Parisian chefs, butchers, and chocolatiers, and his French partner, Romain.
Lebovitz is neither starry-eyed nor jaded in his portrayal of life in Paris. Rather he attempts to present a genuine view as a resident of the city, not a tourist. He has learned to portray the idiosyncrasies with wry humor, from cashiers who refuse to give change, to the professional sport of complaining, and as a result, humanizes a city that is often idealized. While he understands that his frank observations might be misconstrued as complaints, they are real, and he wanted to include them in this book.
“There are people that do these beautiful books about Paris, what a great place it is, pretty kitchens, bistro dinners. It’s fabulous, they do that well, but that’s not what I do.”
He’s definitely not on vacation here.