Baking icon David Lebovitz welcomed us into his Parisian apartment in the 11th arrondissement for an exclusive baking and chat session. As we chatted, David did what he does best: baked. He shared his recipe for his signature Berry Financiers, delicate almond cookies studded with fresh berries. Pick up a copy of our March/April 2019 issue for the recipe!
In 2003, you moved from San Francisco to Paris with three suitcases and no plan. What were your first impressions?
It was overwhelming. I packed up and moved there without knowing what was ahead of me. I had to get used to different customs and a different culture. I didn’t speak French (except for “croissant” and “baguette”), so it took a while to adjust. While my first impressions weren’t the best, the only way to go was up. I immersed myself in French gastronomy through the bakeries, the chocolate shops, the bistros, as well as the cafés and outdoor markets.
What was it about Paris’ culinary culture at the time that drew you there?
Being from Northern California, our foods are very similar: cheese, fresh herbs, wine, farmers’ markets, and bread. These were all staples of my life in San Francisco, and they’re just as important in France.
What neighborhood is your current apartment in? What do you like about the area?
I live in the 11th arrondissement. I was attracted to this apartment because there is a great market two blocks away, where I get most of my foods. This apartment is actually near where I lived when I first moved to Paris. Here, once you live in a neighborhood, you never leave because it takes a while to get to know the local shopkeepers and you get better service. That’s why I wanted to stay in the 11th.
You’ve written that one of the most exciting parts of baking in France is shopping for ingredients at your local market. What are your market day do’s and don’t’s
Do be polite; the people at the market work hard so respect what they do. Start any interaction with “Bonjour madame” or “Bonjour monsieur,” and be sure to finish with “Merci beaucoup.” Do hold your place in line. If you leave space between you and the person in front of you (no matter how insignificant you might think it is), that’s often construed in France as an opportunity to jump ahead. Don’t touch anything or help yourself, unless you see others doing it. Don’t haggle; prices at most markets are fixed, although if you’re looking for bargains, go at the end of the market day.
What are the main ways Paris’ culinary culture has helped you grow as a baker and food writer?
Being immersed in a culture that’s obsessed with food, not in a way that’s trendy but one that’s a deep part of their lives, has been enriching for me. It’s easy to assume a lot of things about the French and their food, but it’s another to learn about it. Sea salt from Brittany isn’t just salt; its history is deeply embedded in the history of France. Champagne isn’t just sparkling wine; it’s an expression of the land where the grapes are grown. I’ve learned a lot from taking the time to visit places, which is really the only way to learn about them. You can read about a French liqueur, or a cheese like Comté or Brie, but until you go to where it’s made, you can’t truly understand that it’s not just a product. It’s an integral part of local culture. That’s why I live in France: I love being right in the thick of things.
Are there any baked goods you see having a moment in Parisian pâtisseries right now?
I see breads that use heritage grains such as spelt and ancient strains of wheat. More and more young bread bakers are taking an interest in these grains. I’m loving all the rustic loaves they’re creating from them!
You have an affinity for chocolate and have certificates from Callebaut College in Belgium, as well as l’École Valhrona in France. Can you recommend a must-visit spot for chocolate lovers visiting Paris?
I love Fouquet for extra-dark chocolates, Jean-Charles Rochoux for classic, perfectly made Parisian chocolates; and Patrick Roger for his innovative chocolates that incorporate unusual flavors like oatmeal and saffron. I’m also a fan of La Manufacture de Alain Ducasse, a bean-to-bar chocolate made in Paris.
Describe the first baked good you tasted and fell in love with in Paris.
A chocolate éclair.
Describe your baking style in one word.
Favorite French product you can’t live without in the kitchen?
French cookbook that most inspired you?
The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot.
Most underrated French baked good?
Which traditional French recipe are people intimidated by but shouldn’t be?
Quiche. Making the dough isn’t complicated and the filling is just eggs and milk or cream, and whatever else you want to add.
Go-to bakery in Paris?
Maison Landemaine for the baguette de campagne.
Go-to French bakery in America?
Neighbor Bakehouse in San Francisco, CA for the everything croissant and Supermoon Bakehouse in New York City, NY for the everything croissant as well. (We don’t get bagel seasoning in France.)
Describe the ultimate croissant in three words.
Buttery, flaky, and mine.
David’s rules rule. So true about following polite marché behavior. And going to the place of origin completely changes your thinking about a particular food. The Fete de Brie du Melun in October is just 20 minutes outside Paris, but a wonderful way to get to know brie and even meet the cow. Thank you David for sharing so much of Paris and France.
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