David Lebovitz’s ‘My Paris Kitchen’: A compelling translation of French cooking

As facile or downright hokey as it seems to compare the prose of David Lebovitz to the physical poetry of Gene Kelly, I couldn’t keep from doing so while poring over My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Ten Speed Press; 100 recipes, $35). It is his sixth book.

Each multi-talented and impossibly winning, the American expat chef-blogger and the late screen legend have staked unforgettable claims in Paris. Lebovitz tells stories that are integral to his moves in the kitchen — a choreography that is compelling for Francophiles, inspired cooks and armchair sociologists.

What makes the French revere eggs yet eschew them at breakfast? Celebrate cheese as an art form and make consistently lousy coffee? Lebovitz explores with measured wonder and sly wit, covering a broad swath of food terrain. Chefs and culinary friends and purveyors perform a dance with the author at times, as he learns to tweak a dish or parse mustards.

Lebovitz’s extensive notes on making madeleines are as entertaining as watching Kelly pivot around the Place de la Concorde. The chef is at ease with the long and short form; he understands that the windup for a molten chocolate cake recipe has more ground to cover than, say, for his salted butter caramel-chocolate mousse. For the latter, the headnote is succinct: “There’s not much I can say about this. One bite will leave you just as speechless.”

Perhaps the reason his Parisian cooking translates so universally is that it reflects a growing global influence. In this cookbook, French lentil salad, Egyptian dukkah — the spice blend du jour — and stuffed naan are comfortable compatriots. The book’s warm photography goes a long way toward connecting the author’s life with the food he makes.

Some of the recipes tested for this review are not the ones I found most intriguing. (Those involved more time, effort and saturated fats than would be widely appreciated by the busy, less-food-obsessed readers of this newspaper.) Lebovitz’s repertoire speaks to those who can praise the crisp pork skin and pass the salted butter. Cookies made with duck fat, a mushy soup of bread and butternut squash and his run at cassoulet await with sticky notes, for special occasions and other seasons.

Lebovitz will sign cookbooks at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Recipes:

Lemon Pistachio Couscous

Caramel Pork Ribs

Chicken With Mustard

Bay Leaf Pound Cake With Orange Glaze

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.
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