france

catch of the day: my life in sourdough

In the world of "food television", there's not much I like to watch. I'm easily bored by cooking shows, get aggravated by nearly all reality television (thought I did have my Top Chef moment), and am wholly persuaded by Michael Pollan's observation  that more time spent watching food TV inversely correlates with more time in the kitchen (not to mention general culinary proficiency).

But I am an avid fan of culinary cinema, works that seek to tell a story beyond who can quickly bang out canapés for 500 guests and actually delve into the story behind the food—see Hiro Dreams of Sushi, Toast, or Kings of Pastry. That said, I don't often have the time to watch a two hour film, and wish there were more short-form cinematic food programs. 

Enter My Life In Sourdough , a just-launched cooking show by filmmaker Marie Constantinesco, a French transplant and baking aficionado living in Brooklyn. Admittedly, if there was an equation for things that are likely to please me, Food + French + NYC would be a pretty good bet. But there's an elegance and quirky honesty to Marie's work that speaks to both an intelligent, subtle French sense of humor (that I very much appreciate) and the wondrous absurdity of being young today in Brooklyn.

I had the pleasure to meet with Marie and speak about the series, her own experience with cooking and the differences between home-cooking culture in New York and France:

What inspired the series, and how did it come to be?

My Life In Sourdough was inspired by my love for food and film. I wanted to do a new kind of cooking show involving a narrative and decided to tell the story of a girl looking for food and for love in NY. Food was going to be the link between the characters. The series was developed as an independent study at NYU (I'm a thesis student in the Graduate Film Program) and we started shooting the series with a really small budget and a tiny crew of very talented fellow filmmakers.

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Is this your first foray into the food world?

Prior to the series, I had already been playing with food themes in previous short films (Too much strawberry jam, which involved an intense making out/bread kneading session) and I have been shooting food and blogging about food for a while—but food was never really the sole focus. So yes, the series is my first real food world adventure.

Any particular funny/interesting stories about the production of the series?

There are a few! From shooting at 6 am in Choice Green  in torrential rain (It was literally raining in the store and, if you look close enough, you can actually see the rain in the scene with the made-from-scratch  guy!), to feeding the crew prop food to save money (we used the pasta we made in the scene for lunch!).

For episode 4, we also needed one shot in the waiting room of an ER. I scouted a grungy hospital, but there was a lot of security and I thought we would never get away with shooting there without permission. On the day of, we went in with a tiny camera. We sat down quietly, I hid the microphone in my handbag and we stole the shot in less than 10 minutes. The security guards couldn't care less.  

What’s already in store for the future of the show/where would you like to see it go?

I’m planning on shooting another season in the fall in NY – it’s my favorite season on this side of the Atlantic and I can’t wait to shoot in corn fields and apple orchards. A season in Paris is also on my mind. Eventually I would love to develop the series in a longer format. I’m currently looking for producers and investors.

Are there any food films/series that you particularly like and respect?

I love In the Mood for Love, which is not a food film per se, but I particularly like the slow motion scenes where Maggie Cheung goes down the stairs to buy her daily dose of noodles. The sensual atmosphere that comes with slow motion was an inspiration for the food videos of My Life in Sourdough, shot by Chananun Chotrungroj who brought her great sense of framing and aesthetics to the series.I also really like Rachel Khoo’s BBC series, and while not a film, Clotilde Dusoulier’s series on French food idioms is quite fascinating!

When and how did you start baking?

I started baking and cooking fairly young, watching my parents cook. My Romanian grandmother was also a serious baker, and I would make hundreds of biscuits with her every Christmas. My first cookbook was called La cuisine sans maman (“Cooking without mum”), but my first cooking endeavors quickly became family gatherings over mini-disasters. I once attempted to make some powered sugar and mint syrup candy balls that would refuse to come into shape. My mum invited along the postman to help out, and the green liquid paste magically turned into candy—but they tasted horrible. 

The kitchen has always been a place of exploration for me. It’s the place where I go when I’m down, and I’ll make a rhubarb jam to cheer me up. The place I like to invite friends—to cook with me or eat the new cheesecake I’ve just made. It’s also the place where I can close the door, turn on the radio, and create something. I also love how you know very quickly when it’s working or when it’s a fail, and sometimes I wish making films would resemble that process.

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How would you compare home cooking culture in France vs. New York?

Typically in NY people have less time—they drink or eat their breakfast on the street, and tend to eat out or do take out for dinner. The tradition of home-cooked meals is not as rooted as in France, but it's changing, as there is a growing movement towards home-cooking in NY, and farmer's markets are becoming more and more popular.In France, where a croissant used to be the only thing that was acceptably eaten on-the-go, people now tend to devote less time to eating lunch. For instance, the two hour lunch break has often been reduced to one hour, hence more and more sandwiches eaten on the street. However, it seems that the tradition of family dinners remains somewhat unshaken, even though the communal table is often facing a television.

Eventually, the main difference is that in France, people are so obsessed by food that they can't stop talking about it. Even in a "non-foodie" family, it's not rare for a dinner conversation to focus exclusively around food. Reminiscing over extraordinary food experiences makes the best dinner conversation!

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travel notes: paris

At the end of August, I took an impromptu trip to Paris, Geneva and Franche-Comté. I couldn't be more grateful for this francophile trip, and I've been eager to share my new finds - from a zany barbie artist in the Parisian puces, to an old-timey Besançon patisserie that serves up one hell of a chocolate/meringue bomb. First things first? Paris.

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EAT Comme à Lisbonne: A tiny boutique specializing in Portugeuse pastels de nata. I first tried these flaky, flan-filled tarts in their hometown (Belem, Lisbon - near the breathtaking Jeronimos Monastery) and was delighted by the Parisian reproduction. Moreover, the accompanying espresso was top-notch, a true find in the notoriously coffee-challenged city of lights.

Chez Jeanette: A very hip, low-key bistro with impeccably fresh cuisine. The saumon en cocotte blew me away, and I also loved their just-rich-enough nutella tiramisu.

Neva: Neva may be in one of the less-traveled neighborhoods of Paris, but it merits the detour. It was my "splurge" this trip, but the prices were more than reasonable, considering the exquisitely balanced flavors and textures of each carefully crafted dish. I was especially impressed with the ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) and the meringue-topped lemon tart, but every dish was outstanding.

Les Petits PlatsThis unassuming, lovely bistro is a favorite among locals, and it's easy to see why. With charming service, vibrant flavors and beautiful presentation, it's a close contender for my favorite lunch spot in the city.

DRINK Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis: A strip of bars where patrons spill onto the sidewalks, drinks in hand. It was a bit of a gritty scene, with lanky, attractive bobo boys abreast seedier sorts. I loved the relaxed, pro-mingling vibe, and the bars themselves were actually somewhat charming, should you prefer to drink indoors.

BarbershopA French interpretation of a "Brooklyn bar"...which looks a lot like a Brooklynite's version of a Parisian bar. Clustered seating, a solid wine list and decent cocktails. Basically, it a was a hipster hangout and became a victim of its own trendiness as the night went on. (The solitary bartender served both diners and late-night drinkers, which meant by 11pm, you were literally waiting a half hour to get a drink.)

Grazie: An open, industrial pizza joint/cocktail bar. The kitchen closes late-nights, but I did enjoy an earthy, walnut-infused negroni.

VISIT Puces de Vanves: I had previously biked through this noteworthy flea market, but never really stopped to look. Among the piles of curiosities, I fell upon the aforementioned "zany Barbie artist" (apparently, the president of the market). He doesn't sell his imaginative works for profit, but rather, hopes they attract further visitors to the market. I applaud his efforts and urge you to go, if only to check out his sculptures for yourself.

Chez Chartier: A self-consciously touristy spot, this restaurant is far from the best in Paris. That said, the historic interior merits a look, and the crème chantilly (whipped cream) at Chartier is utterly addictive, so I'd recommend stopping in for dessert.

Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor: I discovered this footbridge by accident, as a study abroad student, and did not revisit it until this last trip. For the most exciting views, enter on the lower level from the Tuileries. Then climb to the upper arch, where you will find far more "love locks" than on the nearby (and better known) Pont des Arts.

Saint Sulpice: This has always been among my favorite churches in Paris, but for the first time, I got to see its facade fully restored. Enjoy the lovely plaza, then head inside - not for the Delacroix paintings, but to see the gorgeous, undulating statue of Mary in the chapel behind the main altar.

For more of my favorite spots in Paris, click here.

catch of the day: interview with honest cooking

I've had the pleasure of contributing to the website Honest Cooking - winner of the 2012 Saveur award for "Best Group Food Blog" - over the past six months, and was recently interviewed for HC's "Meet the Team" column. You can check out the original article here, or read it in full below.

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Learn more about Carly DeFilippo, one of Honest Cooking’s New York based contributors. By Kalle Bergman

Carly is a Contributing Writer at Honest Cooking. Her interest in “food as culture” led her to Paris, where she studied French culture and culinary criticism. Currently living in New York, she works in the field of holistic nutrition and has contributed to publications including Vingt Paris Magazine and Daily Food and Wine.

When and how did your passion for food start? I’ve been interested in food traditions and odd ingredients as long as I can remember. Growing up in an Italian family, my favorite moments were always the holidays on which we indulged in once-a-year treats, like St. Joseph’s Day sfinge. My eyes really opened however, the day I was offered Scandinavian reindeer jerky. I was about eleven, and it sparked an insatiable curiosity for the foodstuffs of various cultures. Studying culinary criticism and food culture in Paris only reinforced these passions.

Do you think you have a specific cooking style or philosophy? My style of cooking is ingredient-based, i.e. finding exceptional ingredients and developing recipes to feature them – even if it’s something I’ve never seen before! I also take a genuine interest both nutrition and the pleasure of eating, and enjoy developing recipes for “healthy(er) indulgences”.

What’s your favorite restaurant, and why? This is an impossible question to answer – but I will tell you about my most amazing restaurant experience in recent memory. I was in Italy with my family, and we were sitting at wood table on a hilltop in Frascati (outside Rome), as the sun was setting. The restaurant was Belvedere 1933. The food was simple, but inspired: zucchini flowers, exceptional pizza bianca and a smattering of perfectly al dente pastas, followed by pistachio semifreddo and tiramisu. But despite the amazing food, I recall the sensation of eating moreso than specific flavors and textures – the pleasure of passing shared plates, sipping on local wine and laughing with my family as sky darkened, streaked with breathtaking hues of fuchsia, blue and gold.

What’s your favorite holiday from a food perspective? Christmas Eve, without a doubt. Growing up Italian, we always celebrated the feast of the seven fishes. I’m fairly certain we never made it to seven, but I love the preparation and anticipation that always surrounded this meal. Not to mention that I am a huge fan of fish – the fishier the better.

What do you think or hope will be the next big food trend? I would hope that home cooking becomes increasingly popular, but - in lieu of that - I am a big fan of alternative dining. I would like to see more chef’s tables or special dining events at accessible prices, as well as interactive supper clubs, where groups of strangers get to know each other by cooking a meal together.

What’s your best tip for anyone who wants to improve their cooking? Take an interest in practical skills – read up on how to stock your pantry, how to steam vegetables, how to cook a steak, etc. – and then practice! There is a wealth of information on the various food blogs and websites addressing technique. Also, try to find a cooking-mentor: a friend who loves cooking and who will let you watch them in action. There is nothing like learning directly, in-person, from a seasoned home cook.

Read more from Carly DeFilippo here.