An Evening with David Lebovitz at La Fromagerie
Those of you who follow this blog will know that I have made several references to David Lebovitz, a pastry chef turned renown food blogger who has been writing on his website since 1999, way before the term ‘food blogging’ had been coined. He spent nearly thirteen years in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, whose owner Alice Waters is credited with the revolution of California cuisine. He left the restaurant business in 1999 to pursue writing books and now lives in Paris full time.
To celebrate the UK launch of his latest book Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, David hosted a dinner at London’s La Fromagerie which was attended by about 50 enthusiasts of his cooking, baking and blog.
On arrival, guests were treated to an aperitif of David’s Vin d’Orange, along with a selection of canapés which included gougères (French cheese puffs), aubergine caviar, pissaladières (mini onion tarts) and radishes with seasalt and anchoïade.
We were then seated and Patricia Michelson (co-owner of La Fromagerie) provided an eloquent introduction to the evening and dinner courses. David gave a short demonstration of a recipe from his cookbook, an almond ding which we enjoyed at the end of the evening with coffee or tea. It must be said, I didn’t know what to expect from an evening with a famous personality, together with a shop full of mostly strangers (albeit strangers with a shared interest) but David set the tone for the evening wonderfully, speaking affably and with self-deprecating humour.
The team at La Fromagerie provided excellent service, cheeses and wine pairings to go with our food courses. We started with a salad Lyonnaise before moving on to a selection of cheeses which was accompanied by David’s homemade fig jam. The dessert plate consisted of champagne gelée with summer fruits, peach amaretti crisp, ricotta cheesecake made with orange and aniseed, and a slice of rich chocolate orbit cake – recipes for all can be found in David’s cookbook.
Having followed his writing through his blog for a number of years now, I feel I have got to know the voice behind it just a little bit. Before the evening though, I asked David a few questions via email which he obliged despite a hectic travel schedule.
Even professional chefs encounter disasters in the kitchen. What has been your worst kitchen disaster?
The most difficult night was the evening that we served Three Basil Sorbets (which wasn’t my idea…) The first order went out and the waiter returned to the kitchen about 18 seconds later, carrying four half-eaten bowls or sorbet. Needless to say, you never saw anyone make a batch of chocolate cakes so fast in his life!
What is it about food that gets you most excited?
I like finding things that wow me. Like a perfectly ripe Brie de Meaux or a awesome piece of chocolate filled with salty dark caramel inside. But I also like a plate of nice, crispy French fries, or a bamboo steamer filled with dim sum.
We are coming into autumn now – what is your favourite ingredient to cook with from the season and what would you make with it?
I really like Comice pears. They’re so perfumed and flavourful, that when you open a bag of them, the scent goes right up through your nose to the pleasure center in your brain. I use them to make a simple sorbet, just pear puree and water, and I’ll often douse glasses of it with Cognac, Pear William, or Armagnac, or just put scoops in half empty glasses of red wine to end dinner. Everyone is a little surprised, but the taste of the sorbet and the wine is really perfect together.
What’s your ultimate comfort food and why?
I’m from San Francisco and I have to say burritos. They don’t really translate anywhere else, but to a San Franciscan, nothing is better than unwrapping an overstuffed tortilla filled with black beans, rice, grilled steak or chicken, and plenty of hot sauce.
Have you developed any quirky food-related habits having lived in Paris for a few years now?
I eat a lot of salads, right from a large bowl. Because I tend to buy impulsively at the market, and I like crunchy things, often I’ll just toss together any number of things, from purple cabbage to avocados, to leftover chicken or tofu, and eat it straight from the salad bowl.
You are a renown food blogger (yes, you are!). How do you remain down-to-earth with your fame?
The great thing about blogging is that I like to think it’s a level playing field because anyone can log on, start a blog, and go for it. I read the bigger blogs as well as a number of the smaller ones, and I like both for various reasons. That said, I do have a good number of readers, which is really gratifying but what keeps it down-to-earth is the feedback from readers, which is immediate and honest. If people like or dislike something, they’ll say so. I like meeting people and discussing food, so it’s a pretty great medium for me. But a lot of the technological stuff often kicks my butt, which keeps me humble.
I view baking and blogging as my form of ‘getting away from it all’. How do you relax?
Paris is a pretty wound-up city so it’s hard to go somewhere and just let go. Aside from a daily glass (or two) of wine, I do yoga and ride a bike. People think that bike riding is scary in Paris but in reality, Parisians treat bikes like vehicles, not as nuisances. (I think because most of them have ridden a bike at sometime in their lives for work or to get to school.) I also find going to the outdoor market when it’s not busy, very relaxing. I love roaming around with my market basket, looking at everything and wandering around the stalls and talking to the merchants.
Another favourite thing is to sit on my roof and gaze out upon the city, where no one can bother me. Well, except the pigeons.
Thank you again, David for sharing your recipes, knowledge and humour with us; and the efficient team at La Fromagerie for a truly delightful evening.
*Update: My friend, Rachel has also written about the evening here and tried out a few recipes from David’s cookbook.
P.S: Do you recognise the blurry image of the gentleman in the background of the first photo?