The art of French desserts

An Interview with David Lebovitz:
By Spencer Christian

Q: Why did you decide to move to Paris?
A: "People always ask me, 'why do you living in Paris?' And I just say, look, look at all this stuff it's fantastic."

Q: What do you love about the desserts here?
A: "What I like about it is that everything is very well made but it's also small so it's very manageable. Everything you can eat in 3 or 4 bites, which is nice. It's not this big giant dessert. And people say, 'why are French people so thin?' It's like well because they eat very sensibly. So this is all sensible dining in France."

Q: So, what makes a good baquette?
A: "People ask me what makes a good baguette, and it's hard to pin down but basically you want that crunchy crust, you want lots of holes in it, you want that stringy elastic. One way to tell if a bakery is good, people say 'how do we know if it's a good bakery?' If you look at the bottom of the bread, it's flat. If it has a lot of little dots that means it was baked on a baking sheet industrially. If it looks like braile don't buy it. Always look for a line at the bakery. If you see a lot of people in there, it's usually a good sign."

About The Birth of Impressionism:

The de Young is proud to be the only museum in the world to present two consecutive special exhibitions from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The first exhibition, Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay, debuts at the de Young on May 22 and runs through September 6, 2010.

About David Lebovitz:

David spent nearly thirteen years at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, a popular restaurant owned by Alice Waters. He worked in the pastry department with executive pastry chef Lindsey Shere, creating desserts and baking as fast as my fingers would carry me.

Although it's become cliché to say that we created menus that were regionally-based, using local, sustainable, and fresh ingredients, we really did it. (I swear, if I hear one more chef say they do "seasonally fresh foods", but presents me with a menu with blackberries and peaches on it in December, I'm gonna scream.)

Chez Panisse pioneered a wave of change across America; we foraged foods from local producers, encouraged farmers to grow heirloom fruits and vegetables, and supported sustainable businesses.

David was also the pastry chef at several San Francisco restaurants and was named one of the "Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area" by the San Francisco Chronicle. I like to joke that there was only five of us around, but it was nice to be honored in a city known for such exceptional cooking.

In addition to local accolades, David got critical acclaim in such publications as Bon Appétit, Chocolatier, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, Food+Wine, Gourmet, Condé Nast Traveler, Cook's Illustrated, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New York Times, People, Saveur, Sunset, and USA Today. Yes, that was me in People magazine, with Paula Abdul on the cover.

David did some national television programs such as Gourmet magazine's Diary of a Foodie on PBS, the Discovery Channel, NBC's Today Show, and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel.

David's culinary eduction is mostly hands-on, but he did attend Callebaut College in Belgium and Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Tain l'Hermitage because I love chocolate so much, and took advanced courses in baking and the art of confectionery at the renowned Ecole Lenôtre in Paris.

Because we bakers like to share, David lead culinary tours of Paris, which focus on chocolate, ice cream, breads, and the pastries of France. In 1999, after I left the crazy restaurant business, David wrote Room For Dessert, which was honored as a finalist for an IACP/KitchenAid Cookbook Award. The New York Times called "Room For Dessert" "brilliantly appealing (with) recipes so good it becomes clear what a master baker he is" and the San Francisco Examiner hailed Room For Dessert as an "instant classic."

In his second book, "Ripe For Dessert," is filled with classic and contemporary desserts with fruit. Because of changes in the publishing industry, both of these books are now out of print, never to be seen again, and are considered rare and desirable. Thankfully, David have about 14 and 18 copies of each book left, respectively, which I'm saving to fund my retirement. But the good news is -- the book, "Ready for Dessert," features my all-time favorite recipes from both of those books.

David completely updated the recipes that I picked out, added a bunch more recipes that I couldn't resist sharing, included metric measurements, and had all-new photographs taken. And it's a pretty stunning book, if I do say so myself.

For those highly-intelligent people who are as into chocolate as David is, "The Great Book of Chocolate" is the ultimate guide to the new and exciting world of chocolate. "The Great Book of Chocolate" was cited as one of the top books of the year by The New York Times and Food+Wine magazine.

"The Perfect Scoop" is the best-selling guide to ice cream and frozen desserts, and contains hundred of recipes for ice creams, sorbets, and granitas -- plus all the deliciously gooey, nutty, and chocolaty things that get mixed inside and drizzled over the top.

David loves ice cream; from stirring up a egg-rich custard, to licking the ice cream fresh off the dasher of the machine, and folks around the globe have been enjoying this book as well. I mean, it's ice cream, folks. Who doesn't like ice cream?

David also penned, "The Sweet Life in Paris," a food-based memoir of my first fun-filled years in Paris, packed with humorous and delicious stories about the city, with French-inspired recipes that are both sweet and savory.

Unlike books by authors who lived on the Left Bank and spent their days strolling along the Saint-Germain, this is filled with stories about the real-life challenges David faced, like finding a new battery for my cordless telephone, trying to figure out how on earth a bank could not have any change, and working at a fish market, hauling slippery specimens from the deep and actually touching squid, if you can believe it.

No, David didn't renovate a house in the countryside nor did he fall in love with a café waiter. But he actually still live here, and am here for the long haul. So if you want to know the answers to the three questions that no one is allowed to ask David (#1, Why did you move to Paris? #2, How long do you plan to live in Paris? and #3, How often do you get back to the states?), read the book. (Well, except for #3, because he never understand who cares how often he gets back.)

"The Sweet Life in Paris" is currently a finalist in the Best Literary Writing category for a 2010 Cuisinart/International Association of Culinary Professionals award.

David has been living in Paris since around 2002, or maybe it was 2003. he started his website in 1999, which featured frequently updated stories and recipes.

In 2005, David added blogging software, which made writing and updating it a lot easier, so it could officially be called a "blog." He never realized how many people would start reading it, and continue to follow me, but folks keep coming back for more and more.

For more information about David, visit www.davidlebovitz.com

>> Buy this book on Amazon: Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes

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