“We cook every night,” says Arnaud, 56, in the cheerful singsong of a Montreal accent. “We take a lot of time at the table: two or three hours. We love music, food, art, wine. The good things.”
These women are beautiful, lithe and graceful as they move in the kitchen. Something about this is familiar and a little exasperating. Then the words of author Mireille Guiliano bubble up. As explained in her 2004 bestseller, French women eat for pleasure. French women don’t get fat.
Michele, her husband, Albert Charbonneau, and Catherine are all real estate agents. They work, live and cook together quite happily. Arnaud: “Every time my husband says, ‘Where do you want to go out to eat?’ I say, ‘At home!’ ”
Sounds like Guiliano again: French women think dining in is as sexy as dining out.
Arnaud’s friends admire her way with food. It comes from her upbringing in Mandelieu, in southern France. Her father and mother were masters in the kitchen, she says, but Arnaud had no time to enjoy their lamb rolled with herbs or Savoy cabbage stuffed with veal, pork and beef. “I just wanted to be outside playing,” she says.
In her teens, Arnaud began to understand. “It was relaxing for my father to cook,” she says. “He would stuff quail like farci; they were so good. Or fill a whole rockfish with onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Anytime he put stuff on the table, we were eating with our eyes.”
French women care enormously about the presentation of food. It matters to them how you look at it.
Arnaud eventually moved to Montreal, where she met her husband, and became a family doctor specializing in alternative medicine. They built a pharmaceutical business and sold it; she admits to a certain restlessness that prompts her to change careers every decade or so. The family moved to the Washington area in the mid-1990s so Catherine could attend the French International School.
Catherine describes growing up in a house where her parents were always cooking together. “So I wanted to be in the kitchen, too,” she says. Unlike her mother as a child, Catherine was attentive to the proceedings. Arnaud started her off with washing dishes, but by age 10, “she was surprising us” with things she made, the mother beams.
French women train their taste buds, and those of their young, at an early age.