Provence, 1970 (Or, First Meals)

Right now I’m reading “Provence, 1970” by Luke Barr. It’s a re-telling of a time where MFK Fisher, Paul and Julia Child, James Beard, and other influential American cuisine writers of the time were all gathered together in Provence. It was a time where the conversation of American Gastronomy shifted significantly. It’s a fantastic read so far (not done reading yet). The author is largely writing based on memoirs of Fisher, his great aunt. The writing is so evocative – you can practically see yourself in the scene.

There is one chapter “First Meals” where each chef’s first meals in France are detailed. For Child, her first meal (and her first meal in France for every trip thereafter) was Oysters, Filet de Sole, Green Salad, and Fromage Blanc. For Fisher, crusty bread, cheese, fruit, and demi-liters of white wine. It wasn’t necessarily about the food itself, but about the indelible memories that food created.

For me, when I visited Paris with my new husband (nearly 11 years ago) there was good food to be had anywhere. The most memorable meal I had wasn’t even that complicated. It was a humble dish of pasta with salmon and a cream sauce. The sauce had Cognac in it, and I was amazed. What depth of flavor! What creaminess! And the view… sitting across the Seine from Notre Dame cathedral. There was a nip in the air. I often try to recreate that dish (and have come close) because this was our time together, away from everyone else, where we flooded the drain in our hotel room, and broke the bed because it was really two twins pushed together with slat framing.

When we returned from Paris (much to my husband’s delight), I threw myself into cooking. My eyes had been opened!

Now, I must pause here for a moment to say that I certainly did cooking and baking as a kid regularly with my mom… In fact, my most salient memory is of making tomato sauce from scratch every summer with tomatoes from our garden, and having lovely dinners out of doors on a wooden picnic table in the garden during warm weather (everything tastes better eaten out of doors). I remember soaking up Galloping Gourmet shows during our summer trips out to Montauk every year, and scribbling those recipes down for my mom to try when we got home. I also was deeply impressed by sitting on the docks in Montauk eating fresh Lobster that had just come off of the trawlers we watched come in with their catch. While I did not grow up eating French food, Paris seemed to highlight for me all of the things that food should be, and made me reminisce, on many different levels, about all of my best experiences with food to date. In my struggle to find myself as a young woman new to cooking on my own, Paris helped me to figure it out. It just made sense. Frankly, it helped me begin moving from a place of disordered eating, into a more normal outlook on food, which was a huge win.

Food Network, at the time we came back from Paris, was educational. I learned from Mario Batali and Ina Garten every afternoon, Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, and Julia Child on PBS. I snatched up cookbooks and food magazines. Before Paris it never occurred to me that food could be so exciting. Food became more than just about eating to live. In my mind it defined that food should be the best and freshest, no matter the expense. In my mind it was about recreating memories, and creating new ones. Through food I began to learn about culture. Through food I began to connect with those who had gone before. Through food I connected with those in the here and now, but also reconnected with childhood memories.

Still learning, and still reminiscing!

So what about you, dear reader? Have you ever had a defining moment with food? I would love to engage you on the topic!

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