APRIL 23, 2020

CHEW Cookbook Review: French Regional Food

French Regional Food By Joel Robuchon & Loic Bienassis

Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, 2014

We might be currently limited in our ability to culinary travel but that doesn’t mean we can’t still draw from the wonderful gift of the culinary imagination. French Regional Food (Frances Lincoln Limited 2014), assembled and written by the world-famous French chef Joel Robuchon, is nothing else if it isn’t a vintage homage to the culinary imagination inspired by the interconnected but distinct regions of France.

Joël Robuchon, image via www.departures.com

Robuchon, himself very much a part of that renowned heritage, was enlisted at age twenty to apprentice for the prestigious Compagnons du Tour de France, which offered him a seemingly fictional life as a young traveling chef, “departing from Paris and travelling through Montpelier, Nimes, Tours and Nantes” to learn his trade. This mobile and native understanding of the diversity of the essential – and often ancient – French cuisine comes through in how French Regional is put together as a tour along the French countryside and cityscape alike.

Photos as precise as the recipes accompany: oyster farms off the coast of Brittany, lush apple trees and cows in Normandy, or a rich ‘food-shot’ of a dish such as Gardiane de Taureau (similar to a stew) that comes out of the Camargue in south east France. Here Robuchon, a wonderful writer to boot, describes as he frequently does the landscape first, then zooms into recipe, interlinking them, “The marshlands of the Camargue offer a succession of tranquil scenes of undisturbed nature. Wild birds fly and breed in the protected regional park … From the ewe’s milk of the district, tome cheese appears either as soft, fresh curd cheese or as matured dried cheese. The local saucisson is good.”

Image via www.thetiffinbox.ca

The cookbook tour guide is a culinary historian’s dream. Recipes are announced as extensions of past honed techniques, shaped by craftspeople who may still be trying to hang onto fading arts. Of the Alsace ‘pay,’ Robuchon easily drifts back 300 years, “historical texts show that a vast range of sausages already existed in the sixteenth century: Knackwurst, the ancestor of Strasbourg sausage … The descendants can still be found on today’s market stalls.”

At home, we might not make homemade sausage anytime soon, but to see its locally harvested components parts and the process takes us right to the locals, a universal recommendation for any travel. A few pages later, a more approachable Kougelhopf (“probably the most famous cake of Alsace”) could easily be sitting at any of our own kitchen tables. Either way, ancient craft or quick cake, it is France in a book and makes for a nice tour without leaving home.