Coquilles, Calva, and Creme: Exploring France's Culinary Heritage: A Love Affair with French Food

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The American Winner of the 2012 GOURMAND World Cookbook Award: A celebration and critique of the French culinary landscape and a gastronomical excursion across the French countryside in search of the unsung cooks who are still doing it right.A culinary memoir that brings to life some of the most fascinating, glamorous food years in France and reveals gastronomical treasures from gifted artisans of the French countryside.Dryansky’s stories are the stuff of legend—evenings with Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, ...

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Coquilles, Calva, and Creme: Exploring France's Culinary Heritage: A Love Affair with French Food

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The American Winner of the 2012 GOURMAND World Cookbook Award: A celebration and critique of the French culinary landscape and a gastronomical excursion across the French countryside in search of the unsung cooks who are still doing it right.A culinary memoir that brings to life some of the most fascinating, glamorous food years in France and reveals gastronomical treasures from gifted artisans of the French countryside.Dryansky’s stories are the stuff of legend—evenings with Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, historic wine auctions and memorable banquets—but Coquilles, Calva, and Créme is more than memories. These same memories prompt a journey across modern-day France, through kitchens, farms, and vineyards, offering a savory experience that can be duplicated by the reader afterward with numerous recipes, most of which have never before been recorded.In the world of today’s professional cooking, publicity-chasing and performance has overshadowed the importance of dining and the food itself. Too often the modern restaurant is a mixture of bizarre novelty and paradoxical clichés. Truly great dining happens when you’re fully engaged in the moment, acknowledging the range of associations that emerge, as Proust wrote, from sensory experiences. From small cafés in Paris to Normandy, Alsace, the Basque country, and beyond, Dryansky takes us on a sweeping sensory journey, with a voice as thoughtful as Kingsolver, as entertaining as Bourdain, and as cogent and critical as Pollan.

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Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
An appetizing, evocative, eccentric paean to Gallic gastronomy. A richly textured memoir.— Colman Andrews
Mort Rosenblum
“Reading this book is like lunching with Gerry Dryansky: from coquilles to Calva, with crème in between,
it is seasoned with wit and charm. Rich with food-lover wisdom, it captures what France does best.”
Alan Furst
“I have had the incredible good luck to have eaten dozens and dozens of French meals with Gerry Dryansky, and he was never wrong. I mean, never. We would travel down some little street, to some little restaurant, and then: delight, pure pleasure. There’s nobody I know, in Paris or New York, who understands French food the way Gerry does. And surely nobody who writes about it as well as he does.”
Eleanor Beardsley
“A delicious and delightful read,
especially for those who think they might know this country. When you sit down to a meal with Dryansky, you taste the very soul of France.”
Colman Andrews - The Wall Street Journal
“An appetizing, evocative, eccentric paean to Gallic gastronomy. A richly textured memoir.”
Michael Dirda
“Find an escape to a better world in Coquilles, Calva & Creme. A book to dream over.”
David Downie
“Tuck this delicious tome in your hamper between
Proust’s madeleines and the champagne—then feast your soul. The Dryanskys remind us that in France – at least sometimes and in some places – authenticity still rhymes with simplicity, and great writing makes a fine relish.”
Barbara Fairchild
“French food and travel with a dash of history—what a treat it is to sit at the table with this smart, engaging writer. A delicious read from start to finish.”
Gael Greene
“Has France lost its culinary edge? After decades living and chronicling the good life in Paris and overseas, Gerry and Joanne
Dryansky lead us to unsung chefs still championing the country's gourmand heritage.”
Gilles Pudlowski
“G. Y. Dryansky is the greatest gourmand in American letters today, the most gourmet of inquisitive journalists, the most French of foreign correspondents in Paris. When he recounts his exciting adventures in France, we're amused as much as we salivate. Delicious and savory!”
Christian Millau
“Congratulations to Dryansky. It was a great pleasure to read his text, both so well documented and free of polemics.”
Jacques Pépin
“Coquilles, Calva, and Creme vividly brings back my years of working in Paris in the 1950s. When I contemplate my cooking journey of the last half century, from classic to nouvelle, from fusion to modern American to molecular, the only reminiscences I have is of food that touches my soul or makes me salivate. Gerry Dryansky writes honestly and eloquently about these simple, honest, essential dishes in his engaging, compelling, and delicious memoir.”
Harriet Welty Rochefort
“Part memoir, part travelogue, Coquilles, Calva & Creme is a hymn to French food and wine and the joy of wining and dining in France with "convivialité" - which for the French is key. Dryansky has many a story to tell about the past (lunching with the likes of Coco and Yves) but in this present tour de France he greets each dining experience, each new chef, each new winemaker, and each new region, from Alsace to Le Massif Central, with genuine curiosity, an open mind, and a discerning first rate palate. This entertaining, erudite, and elegant book is a must for Francophiles and food lovers everywhere.”
Patricia Wells
“Gerry and Joanne Dryansky's book is a lovely ramble through a lifetime of experiences in France's high spots and some low ones too. Reading it brings as many delights as a marvelous long meal.”
Library Journal
G.Y. Dryansky (former contributing editor, Condé Nast Traveler) and his wife, Joanne, who live in Paris, have clearly left no stone unturned in tracking down historical bits about the culinary heritage of France, including stories of chefs both famous and notorious, restaurants frequented by kings, and those where whores congregated; however, the authors rarely stop long enough to truly satisfy readers' curiosity after piquing it with such wild tales. This book is part history of France, part travelog, and part description of culinary practices and ingredients, interlaced with recipes and tidbits about the people and places that have contributed to France's rich culinary heritage. VERDICT With so much information squeezed into this book, it is a fairly thorough history, but it deprives readers of the pleasure of savoring a well-described meal or a richly told tale. Still, avid followers of food writing or those with a strong interest in culinary heritage will find value.—Ann Wilberton, Pace Univ. Lib., Brooklyn
Kirkus Reviews
A gastronomical memoir of French cuisine that combines historical facts and traditions with today's best dishes. Longtime Condé Nast Traveler senior European correspondent Dryansky (The Heirs, 1978, etc.) and his wife and contributing author, Joanne (Fatima's Good Fortune, 2003), have been living and eating in Paris for more than 30 years. Their remembrances include the joys of eating ortolans, a small bird "not much bigger than the top joint of your thumb," before the creature was declared endangered, and drinking an 1874 Mouton Bordeaux at Chateau Mouton Rothschild with Philippe Rothschild and a Japanese ambassador. The authors write of eating leg of lamb with Coco Chanel in the flat above her couture house and pieds de cochon, breaded and fire-roasted pigs' feet, at a brasserie surrounded by local Parisians. The couple has traveled among farms, vineyards and restaurants across the country, and they recall with great love their adventures and meals. They move from the decadent, overblown, gourmet dishes of the past to the simplicity of the terroir movement, "the unique savor of things that are what they are because of where they are." The prose is as rich and delicious as the highlighted meals, and the authors also include some of the chefs' recipes for confident or adventurous home cooks to try. A journey that will delight the palette and nourish the soul.
The Washington Post
For those who long for that French holiday they're never likely to get, at least not this year, Coquilles, Calva & Creme…will be sheer torture. I mean that in the best sense. Here is a catalogue of refined pleasure, a chronicle of fabulous restaurants and famous acquaintances, a gastronomic memoir focused on the heritage of "real French food."
—Michael Dirda
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605983295
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,444,864
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerry Dryansky has called Paris home for more than thirty years, two decades of which he spent as the senior European correspondent for Condé Nast Traveler. He has written for magazines and newspapers around the globe and lives in France with his wife, Joanne, who is the coauthor of this volume.

Joanne Dryansky is the wife of Gerry Dryansky, the senior European correspondent for Condé Nast Traveler. Joanne and Gerry moved to Paris and write screenplays and fiction together. Their recent novel Fatima's Good Fortune, after being published in the United States and worldwide, is going to the screen.

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Read an Excerpt

Coquilles, Calva, & Crème

Exploring France's Culinary Heritage

By G. Y. Dryansky, Joanne Dryansky


Copyright © 2012 Andara Films
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4926-0



Joanne and I were heading to a village called Orvilliers to begin this book with the accomplishments of a twenty-six-year-old chef, who was cooking and catering out of a tiny country restaurant. Not long ago, he had revived, with both admiration and inspiration, his mother's cooking, which had become legendary in the region, the acme of exceptional cuisine bourgeoise.

We took the train, careful not to drive, after what we suspected would be a well-irrigated lunch, but we'd motored this way many times before. Less than an hour southwest of Paris, after the highway climbs out of the bowl in which the bright city lies, and quickly past the edges of suburbia, you're in another, green country. The meadows roll, dotted by little forests.

You pass the discreet roads that lead to the secondary homes of what, in the pecking order of French class identification, are still sometimes called la grande bourgeoisie and the second-tier bonne bourgeoisie. In the first tier, for example, a gaggle of Guerlain perfume heirs have houses here. The designer Philippe Starck, as attached as he is to the cutting edge of present mores, had an old house in Montfort l'Amaury that belonged to his father, a noted airplane manufacturer. Celebrities have also lived here. Montfort is where the composer Maurice Ravel had his retreat. Edith Piaf, who was once a street waif in the slums of Paris, realized a dream manor nearby, and Colette, who lived in a cozy little apartment overlooking the Place du Palais Royal, aired out her life retreating to the green, in the regional village of Méré, which may have recalled her country childhood....

The structure of French society, happily, is much more permeable these days, the rungs on the ladder not so perilously distant between the grande, the bonne, and the petite bourgeoisie, and all others who are simply the people or la noblesse, with those names as long as dresser drawers, as the French like to say. I'm in no way nostalgic about the meticulously divisive system that prevailed, in the French Republic, well into the twentieth century and that still hangs on here and there. It was never my realm. But this privileged and lovely little pastoral region near Paris still exists, and travelers who are drawn to get in touch with the particularity of places, in a physical world getting more and more homogenized, could do worse than take a leisurely drive through Montfort l'Amaury, Les Mesnuls, on to Orvilliers ... and on the back roads toward Houdan.

My own memories here bring to mind an unpretentious older couple, good friends to Joanne and me; we lived near each other in Paris. Pierre Schildge was the heir to a company renowned for making luxurious silk fabric. His wife, Liliane, was from a banking family, and they had a house in Les Mesnuls, near Orvilliers, forty minutes during off-hours from Paris, with a tenant farmer on the property and a couple of saddle horses. Pierre was mayor of Les Mesnuls, an honorary position, which required him to wear a red, white, and blue sash when he married people in the town hall before the many elegantly catered, country-estate wedding parties. When the champagne flowed and the cuisine was elegant too.

Like its class system, French cuisine has had its divisions, sharper, as I say, than they are now. The regional differences are obvious; the social differences were equally marked off: la grande cuisine, la cuisine bourgeoise, and the no less delicious, when deft, economical dishes of the most humble, that are still unabashedly called—with the ingrained class snobbery that has also been a characteristic of France—les plats canailles. Food for the rogues, with a great presence of cheap cuts and entrails that become, with canny treatment, memorably good.

La grande cuisine was once the purview of a handful of master cuisiniers who turned banquets into dramatic experiences for the summit of society. La cuisine bourgeoise has been the traditional fare of the well-off. It's the food that used to be prepared by the cooks who were part of every prosperous household.

The savory, full effluvia coming out of a concierge's Parisian lodgings that you passed at mealtimes announced the presence of les plats canailles....

In Orvilliers, near Liliane and Pierre's house in Les Mesnuls, there was a place we loved to go to with them. The luxury or perhaps the perceived ostentation of having resident cooks was already gone from even the grandest households among those country houses. Liliane cooked herself, quite simply, with the exception of an occasional imaginative dish out of Elle magazine. La cuisine bourgeoise at its high end of finesse was all the same kept alive locally for those for whom it was a fading heritage, by a corpulent couple in a tiny place on the road to Houdan. They were surrogate cooks to all the great houses, through a bustling catering business. They also had a restaurant called La Table d'Hôte with a few tables. The wife did most of the cooking. The husband, who'd been successful in an antiburglary equipment business, and who had turned exclusively to his interest in food usually did the serving. Their cuisine bourgeoise was at its most refined level and of the highest quality we've known.

Their son is at it again.

Pierre Petit has retired, but his wife, Christine, still keeps a hand in the place, where Sébastien, their son, reigns over the stove with a sure and resourceful hand.

A chauffeur-driven Mercedes had come and gone, Sébastien said, before we arrived. Out of it had stepped four bejeweled, leggy, blonde Russian women, who'd also come to eat. They wanted breaded shrimp with French fries, and Sébastien gently told them they'd come to the wrong spot. No doubt their directions, if not their taste, were right. Sébastien's place, now known as Le Relais Gourmand, was probably recommended to them by someone with the right Parisian friends, also staying at the Ritz. The guidebooks haven't shown attention to this place, but the wealthy are a kind of cosmopolitan fraternity, and members have houses out here. Nothing, however, about Sébastien's Relais Gourmand—with its two gazebos sheltering tables and chairs on the lawn, a dining room with white and floral fabric and prints on the walls—speaks of opulence or ostentation.

Serendipity brought the Petits to this spot in 1987, after the police had called Pierre to repair an ATM machine that had been burglarized in nearby Houdan. On his way, he saw the house at the end of the lawn here for sale, a stone house with a roof of ancient tiles, built by hand by the owner selling it. Pierre was fifty years old, and when Christine jumped at the idea, he decided to give up his antiburglary business to begin a new life here in the country, centered around their former avocation: cooking pedigreed French cuisine in its most delectable state of refinement.

At the end of the lawn near the road, there was an outbuilding in disrepair and covered with bramble. They restored it and made it into their kitchen and restaurant. Once it had been the servant quarters of the man whose ancient house was across the narrow road. He lived there in the early sixties with his Croatian mistress, far from the excited life he'd led elsewhere in the world. His name was Orson Welles.

When Joanne and I first came here with Liliane and Pierre, anxious to taste, in particular, Christine Petit's incomparable hollandaise sauce, Welles's former house had been squatted in and vandalized. Not long before Sébastien took over, a similar fate had struck the restaurant. Tired after a few years, the Petits had sold the place to someone who ran it into the ground and ran up bills. With the help of local artisans and some of the guys he'd grown up with, Sébastien restored the restaurant. They worked on Sundays when everyone was off work elsewhere, and his friends' reward at the end of the day was whatever was in the larder. It was, as our lunch would confirm, no small reward.

Sébastien had promised his grandmother he'd follow in his parents' footsteps in their devotion to their consummate cuisine bourgeoise that had been renowned throughout the region. He'd been cooking in hotels and restaurants since the age of sixteen, had cooked his first omelet at home at the age of six, and reproduced Christine's extraordinary hollandaise at fourteen.

He had been up since five in the morning the day we arrived, so as to prepare a seven-hour leg of lamb for people coming to taste it that evening for a party he was to cater. A seven-hour leg of lamb is a classic of French cuisine bourgeoise. The lamb, which Sébastien first marinates, is roasted at the low temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit for seven hours. It remains pink inside, with no flavor lost.

Sébastien explained that he was accustomed to fifteen-hour workdays, since there is no one else with him in the kitchen. After nights when diners linger until one in the morning, he is up a few hours later to select his ingredients for the day. He drives to Metro, located in a suburb of Paris quite different from Rungis, where the Les Halles market has relocated.

I raised an eyebrow. All I knew about Metro was that it was a professionals-only supermarket where today's run-of-the mill bistros and cafés get industrial food to reheat in their micro-ovens and serve as plats maisons. Ever smell cooking in these places these days?

No, Sébastien assured me. Metro is a huge place whose wares cover the whole range of restaurant food, from the most luxurious, with its freshest produce, fish, and meat stands, to its rows of packaged food. (His take on the place was confirmed to me some time later, when the newspaper Le Monde pointed out that Metro, part of a German-owned conglomerate, had four hundred Michelin-starred restaurants among its customers.) "The advantage of Metro over Rungis," he said, "is that you can get there at 6:00 A.M. and everything has arrived. At Rungis, the things come in one truck at a time, different things at different times, and you have to hang out all morning to fill your needs."

Because his staff is composed of only himself and his mother, with only him in the kitchen, compared to the squad of twenty-odd in a restaurant such as, say, Joël Robuchon's, he can afford to fill his larder at the sections in Metro where the luxurious restaurant people shop.

"I would rather be unemployed," he said, "than make my living by opening cans and packages."

With that Sébastien brought the apéritif maison, the beginning of what would be our exceptionally irrigated, exceptional lunch. We rarely drink anything alcoholic at lunchtime, and we didn't need an apéritif to make us hungry, but the very look of that drink was alluring. Rich ruby red, I said to Joanne, who recognized the color of the velvet in Napoléon Trois décor. The association was not off the mark. The apéritif, an accoutrement of fine dining for centuries, was becoming an antique.

For a long time, the apéritif was an alibi in an alcohol-bibbing culture that had ravaged many a French liver. The big distilleries in the nineteenth century even used to advertise it shamelessly as an aid to your health, enabling your digestive juices to get going, aided, after the meal, by another of their nostrums, the digéstif. Amer Picon, Suze, several vermouths, various versions of pastis, the folkloric beverage of the languorous south, which had replaced absinthe.... There was an apéritif that boasted of the digestive virtues of artichoke present in it, and another that even claimed to be full of oxygen. Nowadays, the French are less alcohol oriented. In an everyday restaurant you'll see more Coca-Cola bottles on the tables of young people than bottles of wine. Just as you see young and old sucking plastic bottles of Coke, once commonly reviled as "le Beaujolais de Texas," in the métro or on the bus. The change has helped out the health insurance system, which was much devoted to dealing with cirrhosis, and also put an important part of the traditional economy, winemaking, in a state of worry. The apéritif makers spend a lot of money on advertising these days, proclaiming ways that their potions, mixed with other beverages, are the new chic. Nobody seems convinced.

For French ceremonial meals, however, beginning with an apéritif lives on. We were going to take the train back to Paris rather than driving with a buzz. It was a lovely summer afternoon under a gazebo. What the heck.... Joanne and I clicked our glasses of the house apéritif in a toast—another antique habit.

Apéritifs are generally distillations of various things, or combine wine with herbs and other flavors. They tend to be at the same time sweet, acid, and bitter. Often they are served mixed with a cold white wine. Think of the kir, a drink of white wine flavored with black currant liqueur, crème de cassis, which I first tasted at a dinner given by Canon Kir, the priest and mayor of Dijon, who invented that apéritif. (He was a great gourmet who ended the speech making at that formal event by shouting, "My pots are burning!")

The most upscale version of a white wine–based apéritif calls for champagne, but in point of fact champagne loses its personality to the strong flavor of the apéritif base, and it's a flashy waste served that way. Honest restaurateurs will give the drink the added pleasure of a fizz using any of a number of effervescent whites.

Sébastien's apéritif contained a crêmant, or bubbly, from Alsace, his mother's native home. The other ingredient was a ratafia.

Ask most Frenchmen today to define a ratafia and you'll draw a blank. This ancient beverage has become far more obscure in French fare than the apéritif in general. A ratafia is fermented rather than distilled, using mashed fruit or dried fruit pits. The ratafia glowing in our glasses, Sébastien explained, was created from the pits and pulp of cherries from the region; they were griottes, of the same bitter-sweet variety that made the cherries of Montmorency, forty-odd miles away, famous, when orchards stood where suburban houses do now. Sébastien adds barley grains to increase the fermentation.

Our long afternoon of gastronomy had begun. These drinks were quite delightful overtures, flashes of fanfare, and our apéritifs went down in time for the first course we'd ordered to arrive: for Joanne, pétoncles, which are tiny relatives of scallops, with sautéed large shrimp, in a sauce of cream and garlic, very slowly thickened. Sébastien would not dream, he said, of thickening his sauces with feculants. Foie gras was my starter, which Sébastien had made from scratch. For the traditional alcoholic maceration of the liver, he had done a mixture of white port, Armagnac, and Madeira, imparting a complex fruitiness that goes well with the taste of the foie, which includes an unctuous, faint bitterness.

Two pink slabs came out with a pear that had been poached in spicy syrup and a brioche with a bit of pistachio in it, a local baker's specialty. With it came a little glass of sweet white wine, naturally sweet, like Sauternes, from having its grapes harvested late, when the "noble rot" that colors them brownish gold imparts its complex sweetness. It was another Alsatian wine, a Gewürztraminer 2007, vendage tardive, from a little vintner named Pierre Sparr in the village of Sigolsheim. The sweet wine and sweet fruit are classic accompaniments to a foie gras appetizer, but I've never drunk a Gewürztraminer that way. This was a contribution of Christine Petit, née Kopp's heritage, a substitute for the Sauternes or say, the Jurançon or Barzac restaurateurs usually serve. This Alsatian wine had the quality of being especially fruity and flowery; it formed a clean fugue with the sweetness, a bright taste like rose petals and citrus.

We didn't regret not having to drive home, when the trou normand arrived shortly afterward. A trou normand is an alcohol-flavored ice that separates courses in a traditional French feast. The trou refers to the clearing of more room in your stomach brought on by the ice's cooling effect on the digestion. Normand speaks of the usual alcohol used, calvados from Normandy.


Excerpted from Coquilles, Calva, & Crème by G. Y. Dryansky, Joanne Dryansky. Copyright © 2012 Andara Films. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2012

    This is a compelling food lover's road journey through beautiful

    This is a compelling food lover's road journey through beautiful France, meeting fascinating people, eating mouthwatering food, lovingly detailed meal after meal. I did not find restaurants where whores congregate today and wonder if that might be another book? Believe me this book is well worth the trip. Barbara MacLaurin

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