Our Adventures in France
In a world that embraces cream, butter, and meat in every meal, could one even attempt to explore the culinary world of France and expect to eat only plants? Recently, guided with readings from Bill Buford’s book “Dirt” an adventure in French cooking and my French guide books, we set forth as a family to explore the sites of Paris, Lyon, and Annecy. As a young woman in the Reagan years of 1986, I lived a short stint in Libramont, a small French town in Belgium. The memories of eating frites, speaking the greatest romance language in the world and les bisses (the French greeting of kissing one on the cheek), these thoughts had never left my subconscious. This land was calling me back, and away we went husband, daughters, and their significant others in tow.
Our adventures began in the capital of all French food, Paris. Knowing we would arrive late into the city I chose a small restaurant near our airbnb, advertising all cuisine végétale. The name of the bistro, Le Potager de Charlotte, (https://www.lepotagerdecharlotte.fr/en/ ) They pride themselves in “fresh, local, seasonal and organic produce”. On entering the restaurant a copy of Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die” was placed on the entrance counter, realizing then that eating plant-based in France could be a reality. The atmosphere was quaint and relaxed, but apologetically my recollection of this meal was a little cloudy by effects of jet lag. I do remember our polite table neighbors, an American working in France and a mademoiselle showing her work partner around town. They gave us advice and shared their stories, setting the stage for our first encounter with France. Who said the French were impolite? Our experiences proved to be the complete opposite.
The next evening, we took our young adult children along for dinner. Have you ever experienced an event that had to be destiny? The universe leading you to a specific destination? Our next chance meeting of culinary delight included this experience of fate. Two individuals living separate lives separated by 756 miles, the older individual, me, reading about French restaurants in a blog ( David Leibovitz) found in a book published in 2015 ( “Will Write for Food” by Dianne Jacob) and the other individual, a generation Z techie, my oldest daughter, reviewing Paris restaurants on Tik Tok. Without hesitation, I made reservations. The restaurant named Kubri ( https:/https://www.kubri-restaurant.com//www.kubri-restaurant.com ) Six of us in a unfamiliar neighborhood searching for a Lebanese restaurant in Paris. We arrived an hour early, still blaming my cloudiness on the jet lag, but to our delight the staff led us to the outdoor seats to wait with drinks in hand til normal opening francais dinner time of 1900. After catching up on the patio, six of us wandering the streets with different agendas, the staff sat us punctually and transported us filling our palates with tapas like samples of hummus, lentils combined with radish and pomegranates, and spinach chickpea ravioli. The meal was perfection. The staff humble and engaging. There is a saying that the best food in Paris is not the French food. Chefs come from all over the world to present their culinary passions.
The week continued, the six of us parted ways, four of us going east and the other two headed west. Our decision to head east was purposeful, headed to the gastronomic capital of the world, Lyon France. Our first stop, a five minute walk from the train, the famous chef Paul Bocuse indoor market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. If there could be a culinary heaven, then we walked right through the pearly gates. The best of the best, vendors after vendors of cheese, seafood, French wine, and limitless options to sample the most amazing food created on this globe. Our arrival was on a Sunday morning, knowing that the city would soon close at 1 pm and our options for food would cease to exist. We filled our bags finding fresh fruits and vegetables, falafels, gnocchi, baguettes from the best bakery in Lyon Boulangerie de I’ile Barbe, wine from the Rhone Valley, and a regional cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves. Our Sunday was complete.
Lyon was everything I hoped. The patisseries on every corner, Vieux (old) Lyon with culinary choices every step we took, and surprisedly the city beautiful with the two rivers converging together with Roman ruins just above the hillside. Prior to arriving in Lyon, I did a little research to find a restaurant my husband and I could partake an elaborate Lyonnaise meal without feeling the edginess or discomfort that Americans may experience in Lyon Michelin star restaurants. There are 15 Michelin star restaurants within the jurisdictions of Lyon. With the knowledge gained prior to our visit, I searched for a chef that was up and coming and open minded to visitors. We found this at “Monsieur P”, with Chef Florent Poulard, trained by top notched chefs as Daniel Boulud, Alain Chapel. The chef’s description of his restaurant: “authentic and innovative allowing the enhancement and respect of the products, transporting you to Mr. P’s universe his gastronomy, his taste for products, travel, all this in a friendly and warm setting.” I was in. And to boot, I read from other traveler’s that he was open minded to preparing several courses vegetarian. The charm of the cuisine did not disappoint. The staff, courteous and accommodating, the food I still dream about on a long summer night. The most unique item relished on our plate was a savory sherbet made from peas. It was perfect. Thank you Monsieur P, I’m forever grateful.
While experiencing the dining pinnacle of our lives, we left our young adult travel partners to their own devices, however, prior to our reservation I helped my youngest procure some groceries to make their dinner. She asked for meat. I obliged. We found a prepackaged chicken product, precooked, only requiring a 10 minute warm up, and set off to help her in an unfamiliar European kitchen. Not expecting much, we helped them get started with their preparations only to find out that this piece of poulet (chicken) was made Lyonnaise style and the most flavorful piece of meat we had ever tasted. Wow, do we really have to leave this city?
Yes, we did have to leave, a couple more days in Le Croix-Rousse area, and then to a small town in the Alps, a quaint city called Annecy. Our adventures in France will never be forgotten. The culinary experiences endlessly etched in my mind and taken to my own little corner of the world to prepare for others in the kitchen of Le Fogleman’s. I left France a changed person. My palate forever altered. I will return one day, and as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, “We will always have Paris”.