Irish-born cookery writer popular in France turns sights on Britain

27th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 27, 2007 (AFP) - Trish Deseine knew she was being provocative when she titled her first cookbook in English "Nobody Does it Better," referring to French women in the kitchen.

PARIS, June 27, 2007 (AFP) - Trish Deseine knew she was being provocative when she titled her first cookbook in English "Nobody Does it Better," referring to French women in the kitchen.

Then again, she can speak from experience.

For the past 20 years this Irish-born cookery writer has watched and learned from French home cooks, and the result has been approachable books with clever photographs such as "Petits plats entre amis," (Easy meals with friends) "Je veux du chocolat" (I want chocolate) and "Ma petite robe noire" (My little black dress), all published by Marabout.

Parisians snap up her cookbooks as if they were macaroons -- the little almond-and-meringue cakes all the rage in France these days -- and her face appears regularly in Elle magazine and glossy food monthly Regal, for which she writes a column.

It was only a matter of time before Deseine wrote a cookbook in English, published by London-based Kyle Cathie, but even for such an experienced author it can be tricky to sell a book about French cuisine. 

"It's been in the back of my mind for a long time, ever since the beginning really," says Deseine, who is currently working on a series of small books (in French) on how to cook with luxury foods.

"I wanted to do something that reflected what goes on in homes because that's what interests me, and I came up with the idea of describing this archetypal Frenchwoman and why she's such a great cook."

Deseine readily acknowledges that not everyone agrees with the title's claim. "They do take it badly," she says, referring to the British press. "But I like hot debates.

"Of course it's a personal view. I haven't lived in Spain or China or Italy, or any of the other places where people arguably cook as well as they do in France. But I still think that French people have so much culinary history to dip into, from rustic regional to gastronomic to the creative foodie revolution.

"It's so creative and dynamic, and I don't know if that's true anywhere else."

Each chapter aims to show what makes the French home cook so skilled: shops wisely, knows her classics, steals from chefs, and rises to the occasion.

As in her French cookbooks, the recipes call for few ingredients yet come out looking sophisticated. Deseine included some classics, such as soupe a l'oignon, canard a l'orange and frisee aux lardons, a popular cafe salad, but does not shy away from more challenging ingredients such as escargots, saddle of hare and even pig's ear.

"I love pig ears," she says, "and I've noticed on my trips to the UK that more and more restaurant menus have dishes like pig's trotters, pig ears and foie gras. Giving people recipes taps into the interest they are showing when they order these dishes."

The book also reflects new ways of cooking and eating in France.

When Deseine first came to this country she encountered a "lost generation" of women who had never learned to cook after their mothers cast off their aprons in the great rebellion of May 1968.

"They couldn't understand where my motivation or pleasure came from in wanting to learn more about French cooking. They were too busy forging careers.

"But now food has become so fashionable as a means of self-expression and there are so many sources of inspiration, such as cookery classes and food blogs."

This more open-minded approach to food -- one that has embraced British teatime treats such as scones, muffins and crumbles -- might explain how an Irishwoman was able to become a French culinary icon.

"It wasn't calculated. I just happened to be there at the right time, and being Anglo-Saxon, as the French say, I wasn't weighed down with too much knowledge or tradition. I tried a lot of stuff and I think that gave people confidence."

So what advice would she give to those who aspire to cook with the (apparently) natural ease of the French?

"Sniff, poke and prod. We really just need to get back to the taste. There is a huge taste deficit in the UK. People come on holidays to France for the good, simple food and they need to shop at the markets at home. There is a growing amount of good produce available and anybody who is serious about food should be using it."

Copyright AFP

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