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French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries, and the Beautiful Food along the Way

French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries, and the Beautiful Food along the Way

by Jean-Pierre Moullé, Denise Lurton Moullé, Patricia Unterman (Foreword by)

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A narratively rich cookbook of French and Californian recipes from longtime Chez Panisse executive chef Jean-Pierre Moulle and his wife, Denise Moulle.

Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé met on a street corner in Berkeley, California, in 1980; six months later they were married. French Roots is the story of their lives told through the food


A narratively rich cookbook of French and Californian recipes from longtime Chez Panisse executive chef Jean-Pierre Moulle and his wife, Denise Moulle.

Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé met on a street corner in Berkeley, California, in 1980; six months later they were married. French Roots is the story of their lives told through the food they cook, beginning with the dishes of old-world France--the couple’s birthplace--and focusing on the simple, pared-down preparations of French food common in the postwar period. The story then travels to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, where Jean-Pierre was appointed executive chef at Chez Panisse when California cuisine was just emerging as a distinctive and important style, and where Denise began importing French wine. Finally, the journey follows the couple to their homes in Sonoma, California, and Bordeaux to revisit the classic dishes of the Moullés’ native country and hone the forgotten skills of foraging, hunting, and preserving. 

Exquisitely written, with recipes that are innovative and timeless, insights on cooking and thinking like a chef, and an insider’s guide to the wines of Bordeaux, French Roots is much more than a cookbook—it’s a guide to living the good life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When French-born Chez Panisse executive chef Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton of the Bourdeaux wine-exporting family connected in 1970s Berkeley during the Bay Area food revolution, they united the groundbreaking food culture of California with the culinary traditions of their native France. These “restless rule breakers” describe their lifelong journey between two continents and offer up 100 distinctively French-inspired recipes, which reflect a love of both innovation and tradition. They describe how “country lives” in two countries connect them to seasonal rhythms and local food sources and inspire their respect for ingredients, self-sufficiency, flexibility, and simplicity in cooking. The Moullés take readers to kitchens of their childhood, Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Denise’s Bordeaux kitchen, and list recipes both inspired: grilled duck breast with black currants and cassis; warm foie gras with onion confit; and ratatouille tart. Desserts include claufoutis; gateau au chocolat with ganache; and lemon verbena ice cream. There’s a section on aperitifs, toasts, wine pairings and history. The Moullés serve up inspiration for living and eating well. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
This book and its exquisite pictures bring back so many memories of the beautiful way Jean-Pierre and Denise cook and live. We had a dinner at their home in Peyraut that I will never forget: Eels freshly caught from the river, wrapped in bacon and grilled over the open fire, that was perfect in its simplicity. My time with them in France was a revelatory experience, and an extraordinary education. The Moullés’ rich cultural heritage and unique sensibility are both thoughtfully captured in this book through their evocative stories, recipes, and images. Jean-Pierre has a rustic yet elegant style in the kitchen—a rare combination—and I have always admired the graceful way he approaches food. Whether he is effortlessly filleting a fish or boning a leg of lamb; assembling a beautiful, seasonal four-course menu, or preparing a special lunch for friends with a wild duck he hunted himself; cooking is second nature to him. This book is a delight to read, and perfectly captures the values that matter most: gathering with family and friends around the table and living attuned to the rhythms of the land with a deep respect for season and place.” 
—Alice Waters, proprietor of Chez Panisse and author of The Art of Simple Food 

“That Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé curated such a stunning collection of recipes is an inevitability. That they managed to animate each recipe with feeling and memory is a supreme act of generosity. French Roots lovingly narrates the places, times, and tastes that shaped their marriage—it’s a vivid reminder of the transcendence of good cooking.” 
—Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns

“Count yourself lucky to own this book, a collaboration by one of the most magical couples I know. My husband and I spent a week with them, and it was an inspiration to watch them in action, so relaxed and intuitive about food, wine, hospitality, and life.”
—Bette Midler

Library Journal
Like Hubert Keller's Souvenirs, this cookbook from former Chez Panisse executive chef Moulle and his wife, Denise, pairs rich memories of family traditions and professional milestones with classic French recipes, including poached Eastern skate with shallot vinaigrette, stuffed tomatoes with tuna and herbs, and spring vegetable ragout. Connecting their French roots to their love of California cuisine, the authors reflect on Berkeley in the Seventies and after, the resemblance of the French aperitif to the American cocktail, and other topics. VERDICT Readers who have an active imaginary life in France will relish poring over this cookbook's extensive narrative. Fans of Chez Panisse will enjoy pairing it with titles from other chef alums, such as David Tanis and David Lebovitz.

Product Details

Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
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7.60(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


, we are having our picnic now,” announced Denise.

She unfurled a tablecloth over some wet logs in the middle of a meadow in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Jean-Pierre pulled bread, charcuterie, cheese and fruit from a wicker basket.  The Americans, kids and adults in sweatshirts and jackets, actually thought it was raining.   The French, in shirt sleeves and shorts, sipped wine from tumblers and admired the scenery. We picque-niqued for exactly forty-five minutes and damply piled back on the tour van, which headed straight up the mountain to an encampment of Basque shepherds in their late spring stage of transhumance, the annual migration of pastoral animals with their human and canine caretakers.

The mountain pastures dotted with tiny yellow wild flowers looked like psychedelic green velvet. Misty bare peaks and forested slopes enveloped us. Our French-American contingent set up tents amidst outcrops of rock. We shared the meadow with woolly white sheep on impossibly skinny legs and monolithic reclining dun cows in leather necklaces strung with tin bells. The ruddy shepherds in serge jackets and black berets lived in a crumbling stone building with a tiny stove. There Jean-Pierre heated up his garbure—a thick soup of ham, cabbage and vegetables enriched with stale bread and mountain cheese—our dinner. 

I had never been anyplace as profoundly beautiful as this, and I have never spent a more miserable night.  At dawn we watched the sheepdogs corral ewes for milking, guiding them one by one into the hull of a gutted car, its open doors creating a stall. The cheesemaker, in white coat and hat, heated an aluminum pot of sheep’s milk over a burner on the stone floor of the house, added a few drops of rennet, and gently stirred it with his hands until he was able pull out a soft, poofy basketball of curd—the birth of a wheel of tome de pyrenees.

Draining the whey, he gave us the warm solids, sheep’s milk fromage frais, to eat with wild berry preserves, and cooled the rest in a pail anchored in the icy stream that meandered through the pasture. I have never tasted anything more delicious, or more intimate with nature.  Jean-Pierre and Denise had taken us Americans by the hand and dragged us to experience the wonder of the traditional food they grew up eating. We would never be the same.

This happened twenty years ago. As I read French Roots, more memories flooded back—being with Jean-Pierre and Denise in Peyraud and Arcachon, and in Berkeley and Healdsburg. The two of them  taught me, and a whole generation of northern Californians, how to eat and drink and cook and live. 

Now, reading this evocative joint autobiography, I discover what great storytellers they are. They describe the evolution of their unique, multi-cultural sensibility in a moving coming-of-age story with benefits: it includes an inside look at the Chez Panisse kitchen, a wonderfully personal collection of recipes (some so simple and homey I started cooking them for dinner; others I’m aspiring to take on) and a lifestyle primer. Most of all, they’ve written a love story—their own—rooted in provincial France and nurtured by the social freedom of America. 
I didn’t want this book to end.


comté cheese soufflé
Soufflé au Comté

We lived in Franche-Comté for ten years when I was a child, years that have been extremely valuable to me as a chef. The quality of the ingredients there at the time was unreal—surpassed perhaps only by their diversity. Jura, in the south of the region, is the epicenter of the world for Comté cheese. We ate a great deal of cheese—on bread, in gratins and quiches, and, of course, in soufflés. My mother’s soufflé mixed three different types of Comté that had been affiné, or aged and tended, for various lengths of time: soft and creamy Comté, aged less than six months; a young, one-year-old cheese that was firmer with a stronger flavor; and finally a fairly dry, older Comté, or comté fort, aged to sharp maturity for more than two-and-a-half years. If my mother had a signature dish, this cheese soufflé might just have been it. —jean-pierre

Serves 4 
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Salt and black pepper
3 eggs, separated
6 ounces Comté cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 425°F. 

Scald the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and set it aside. 

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it’s hot, whisk in the flour and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula. Add the warm milk to the flour mixture slowly, whisking steadily as you pour. Season the batter with a pinch of salt, black pepper, and a few shreds of grated nutmeg. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let the batter cool for 10 to 15 minutes before whisking in the egg yolks and cheese. 

Use the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to coat the insides of 4 individual (6 ounce) ramekins and then dust them with flour. 

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold them gently into the mixture. Fill the ramekins about two-thirds full with the soufflé mixture. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the soufflés are well browned on top. You may also bake the soufflé in one large, 5-cup soufflé dish. Cook the soufflé longer, 18 to 20 minutes, until it rises measurably above the rim of the baking dish and is nicely browned on top. Serve immediately.

Meet the Author

Until his retirement in April 2012, JEAN-PIERRE MOULLE was the executive chef at Chez Panisse, where he began working in 1975.

DENISE MOULLE comes from the Bordeaux wine-making empire of the Lurton family. She worked as a wine distributor in California for many years before starting Two Bordelais in 1987, which offers guided tours through France.

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