“Bistronomy” is the latest trend in Parisian cuisine. I was so pleased to experience it firsthand at a recent talk and tasting celebrating Jane Sigal’s latest book, Bistronomy: Recipes from the Best New Paris Bistros, at the Jamestown Arts Center.
Smitten, I wanted to know more; Jane was kind enough to have a chat with me before she hopped a plane back to France to cover stories for Saveur, Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine. Thanks, Jane!
I adore the title of your book, Bistronomy. Please tell us about the term.
Bistronomie = bistro + gastronomie. These new-bistro chefs are re-writing the rule book on upscale dining, going for a less-formal, more fun dining experience. In tiny independent bistros, they are turning out inventive food relying on the vibrancy of responsibly sourced ingredients. All this stress on locally produced, organically grown, seasonally available food has completely changed the way menus are composed. The dishes generally aren’t classics; they’re ephemeral, changing even within a single meal service.
What was your inspiration?
I wanted to meet the city’s young, adventurous, creative, and international chefs. What are their motivations? What’s it like to work 16-hour maniac days with just a quick nap on the banquette? I’m an interpreter—listening, tasting, taking notes, asking questions in the professional kitchen and then translating for the home cook. I spent a year squeezed into Paris’s tiny new bistro kitchens; notebook, pen, and iPhone in hand.
What was a challenge for you while putting this book together?
An actual written recipe. Often I was given lists of ingredients, told to add “as much as needed” and “combine as usual and cook until done.” Also, cooks prepare dishes through the day, so I often wasn’t able to see a recipe from start to finish.
Confronting those challenges, I would do a lot of my own test-kitchen reverse engineering, based on my cooking know-how.
How did you amass your cooking know-how?
I started cooking school in Paris in 1980 at 21, and I didn’t ship back my copper tarte Tatin pan until I was 36. During those years, I translated for the buzzy nouvelle cuisine chefs who taught at L’École de Cuisine La Varenne. I worked alongside the hugely influential Patricia Wells researching The Food Lover’s Guide to France. I wrote Backyard Bistros, Farmhouse Fare and Normandy Gastronomique (there’s even a French edition!).
Aside from the meals, what else has changed from the more formal French restaurant experience?
There’s a new inclusiveness. I can name more than 25 incredible women chefs in Paris right now. What’s more, many of the most sought-after restaurants are helmed by non-French cooks. The vibe in these small kitchens is more group home than military barracks.
Any standout stories you’d like to share about when you were spending the year creating this cookbook?
One particular photo shoot with chef Yves Camdeborde could have ended rather poorly, to say the least. The chef, book photographer, photo assistant and I could have dramatically plunged five stories to our deaths. We all inched across the slippery steel roof of the chef’s hotel, Le Relais Saint-Germain. Yves stood straddling the roof ribs, looking like a superhero in a tux shirt against the backdrop of a distant Eiffel Tower. (It is a wonderful shot…but what were we thinking?!)
Tell me about Bistronomy’s recipes.
Here’s an overview with an example for each:
Soups – L’Ami Jean is not allowed to take his parmesan soup with peas off the menu – ever.
Small bites and starters – Tomatoes with ticklemore cheese & lovage from Le Bal Café (don’t you just love the romantic sound of that dish?)
Eggs, salads, and a sandwich – Crispy five-minute eggs with butternut purée
Seafood – Monkfish with asparagus & parmesan cream
Note: I just made cod en cocotte with tomatoes and olives.
Poultry and meat – Thyme-basted pork tenderloin with oyster mushrooms
Desserts – Strawberries and pink grapefruit with fennel
Pastry – Salted chocolate shortbread cookies
Any fabulous Bistronomy talks or dinners planned?
In Paris, two of my favorite bistronomy chefs from Le Bal Café will host dinners-cum-book signings. They’ll push tables together to create an intimate, friendly vibe. And in the States there’s a whole other list.
For more details about Jane’s events click here.
Congratulations on your 2016 International Association of Culinary Professionals award nomination!
The Oscars of Food Writing! A total surprise.
Bon Appetit, all!
All images (unless noted) provided by Jane Sigal/Bistronomy: Recipes from the Best New Paris Bistros/Photographs by Fredrika Stjärne