An American mastering French cuisine

On one of the many trips from the US to France, I watched the movie Julie and Julia. Which gave me an idea. Maybe if acted like Julia Childs – spoke like her, dressed like her, cooked like her, and, er, drank like her – I’d master the art of French cooking. And then I thought better of it, save for the cooking part (and maybe a glass of wine.)

I’ve always been a good cook. And I like to do it. I think it’s the creative side, the artist, in me. I actually look forward to going to the market on Saturday mornings. It’s so inspiring! You never know what you’ll find.

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But I can tell you, cooking for two French stepchildren presents a whole new set of challenges – especially when their idea of a gourmet meal is MacDo.

Which has me cursing the golden arches and wanting to do very evil things to Ronald.

Very evil things.

I’m not your typical American chef. I’ve never been a fan of mayonnaise or yellow mustard. I’d never consider buying frozen vegetables or pre-packaged meals, save for the occasional croque monsieur for the kids. The only canned goods allowed in my cupboard are: corn, peas, artichoke bottoms, hearts of palm, chick peas, lentils, and the occasional haricots verts. I refuse to let my (French) husband put Mousline in our shopping cart. Regardless if the kids like it, there’s just something about powdered potatoes that doesn’t sit quite right. Yes, just like Mom taught me, I like making things from scratch. Which means things takes a bit more time. So when you’re slaving away over a hot stove, the last thing you want to hear after serving a meal is “C’est dégeulasse“.

Yes, I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations.

I’ve since learned my lesson: the tastes of French children (besides McDonald’s, sugary cereals, and junk food) are way different than those of American kids. I couldn’t imagine an American child delighting in the buttery goodness of foie gras or savoring the flavors of soup de poisson or confit de canard. But French kids – at least the ones in my house – do.

While the kids may not like moules au curry, they are fans of my moules marinière (served with fries, of course.) They love a good tartiflette (who doesn’t like cheesy potatoes), the raclette (what an easy dish!), and the simplest of meals, the galette. Even the youngest, who despises most legumes, will eat a Provençal Vegetable Gratin, a quiche made with leeks or courgettes, and one of my personal favorites, tomates farcies.

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Of course, in addition to the standard dishes, like Pot au Feu or pork tenderloin, sometimes I slip some of my own recipes into the mix. Spaghetti and meatballs, fajitas, and chicken Milanese (breaded in Panko) are meals the whole family enjoys. I’ve even introduced them to black rice and beans, which I have sent from the US. Basically, as long as a meal looks somewhat familiar, they’ll usually try it and like it.

Sure, sometimes I have to withhold some of the stronger spices I like to use, like red pepper flakes or Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood magic, and sometimes it feels like I’m running a restaurant with all four burners going at once, trying to remember which child hates red peppers, and which child hates saucisse de Toulouse. But it’s worth it in the end. No more drama. Through trial and error, I now seem to have somewhat of a system down.

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This American girl mastered the art of cooking…for French kids.

Tonight I’m trying my hand with an aiguillette de canard au miel.

Wish me luck!

Image credits: All images by Samantha Verant.
1. What can I make with artichokes?
2. Provençal Vegetable Gratin.
3. My idea of cooking simple includes crevettes flambéed in Pastis

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Samantha Verant

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