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An American in Paris - David Lebovitz

"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." David Lebovitz

For my occasional website posts I am launching into a group of long-established sites, some of which are fundamentally online magazines, and you will recognise many of the names because I refer to them often, and some of which seem to be iconic in some way.

Like this one, which is simply named for the man who writes it - David Lebovitz, a Californian pastry chef who began his food career as a pastry chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse - a California icon - in Berkeley.

"at the time Chez Panisse was a rarity. It was — it really changed the way we eat in America, and a lot of people don't realize that. The next generation doesn't — now you go on the airplane and there's radicchio on the salad. You go to McDonalds and they have arugula." David Lebovitz

He was born and educated in New York and Connecticut, but spent most of his adult life in California - 13 years of it at Chez Panisse.

From Chez Panisse, he began to write cookbooks - he has now written nine - including one which was less of a cookbook and more about his catastrophe ridden experience of rebuilding the kitchen in his newly bought apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, with the builder from hell. His latest is on drinks in France. I guess these days you could say he is a writer, having spent 30 years as a pastry chef, a fact that is reflected in the recipes on his site.

in 1999, whilst still in America he set up his website. These were the very early days of the internet. Indeed several commentators, almost, though not quite, credit him with starting the whole food blogging thing.

"he's basically had a hand in shaping the entire phenomenon of food blogging" Helen Rosner & Greg Morabito/Eater

This is how his website looks today. There is no catchy title, just his name, but it is a website/blog that has more to offer than just a recipe. Sometimes, in fact there is no recipe, but just an essay - with pictures - on some aspect of French life, some event in his life - all manner of other things. I would not describe his writing as lyrical in the manner of Nigel Slater, for example for it is more journalistic - he says he has a tendency to sarcasm - but it is interesting and I have often come across it in the course of writing my own blog.

He is particularly interesting when he talks about the French way of life - one should really say the Parisian way of life - and also the differences between American and French food culture.

“There’s a lot of truth to these Americans and Australians who are coming here and changing things. And then the French are following suit. It's not a criticism, it's just that it's part of our culture to want to change. We're not so bound up in tradition, so we take chances."

"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."

“Just go to a café! Walk to the nearest square and go to a café; the food might not be great but it doesn’t matter! Just order a croque monsieur and a pitcher of wine, and don't get so caught up in trying to get in to the hottest new restaurant. So many people come to Paris looking for a gourmet experience, but the most authentic Paris experience is often found in your nearest neighborhood bistro."

He moved to Paris in 2004, initially to learn about confectionery, but stayed on, writing his blog, writing his books, and generally doing publicity things. You can subscribe to a newsletter or comment on his blogs - and you might even get a reply. The comments seem more interesting than the average as well - or at least raise a smile. In one article about Sardines in which he moaned about scaling and cleaning the fish, which left a smell on his hands I found this:

"I’ve found toothpaste rubbed on the hands works really well for removing pungent cooking smells. Or kosher salt mixed with dish soap. Hope this helps!" Keri

Toothpaste - now who would have thought!

As I said before. with respect to the recipes they are heavily biased towards sweet patisserie. Indeed in 2009 he says: "I don’t think I’ve ever made a savory tart, until now, which marks the mid-point in my life."

I on the other hand I do not really have a sweet tooth and so I sought out something savoury and found a trio of tarts, two of which were based on the wonderful tomatoes that you get in France, and which are just beginning to make an appearance in our shops - at a considerable price however. The ones based on tomato are: Tomato tart and French tomato tart, which he made two different ways - the second with honey.

His third tart was a Herbed ricotta tart. Now I admit that none of these are particularly revolutionary - you probably make something similar every now and then, but then there is probably something just a little different in them to be worth a try. As he says:

"It's never done. Food is never done. Julia Child took ten years to write her first book and she kept revising it, revising it, revising it, because things change, tastes change."

I also found a couple of recipes for condiments - the first of which is for Home-made mustard, which he made when there was no mustard available in the shops - I think during COVID. In this particular article I found this, which was just one of those mildly interesting facts you come across now and then:

"in Canada (and elsewhere), the “Dijon” mustard imported from France is made with Canadian spices, which are shipped to France.

The other condiment was an Eggless chervil mayonnaise - it's made with milk!

The last recipe I offer is his most recent - Panettone French toast.

And here I will comment, that although I do really like this website, and have quoted bits here and there for my own blog, I think I like it for the little bits about French life and culture, or cooking in general, rather than the recipes. After all what is so noteworthy about Panettone French toast? There must be thousands of recipes for this, and this one is, dare I say, pretty standard. There is no little twist.

But then again I don't think he would see himself as an innovative chef like an Ottolenghi, or even a Jamie. There is no fusion cuisine here. I think it is more of a case of presenting fairly classic recipes with an associated story about something associated with the dish in question, whether it be a personal anecdote, a bit of history, a bit of French culture, notes about a place, an ingredient ... And many of his posts are more travel and culture oriented as well. Worth reading every now and then, but probably only if you are interested in the French, in Paris, and classics of French patisserie - although if you search you will find things like cassoulet too.

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