Take one French home cook’s cookbook and combine it with the cookbook from a highly acclaimed Chicago-based French chef and what do you get? A lively dishing session of sorts called the “Combat des Chefs: with Mireille Guiliano and Chef Jean Joho” held at the Alliance Française in Chicago on Thursday, October 28.
The two cookbooks couldn’t be more different: one lofty gastronomy and the other simple home cooking. Alsatian-born Jean Joho, a longtime, award-winning chef in Chicago (Everest and now-closed Brasserie JO), showcased his The Eiffel Tower Restaurant Cookbook: Capturing the Magic of Paris, based on dishes prepared at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas. Mireille Guiliano (Meer-ray Julie-ano), former CEO of Cliquot (as in Veuve Cliquot champagne) in New York, is the author of the recently published French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook, her fourth book since her initial bestseller, French Women Don’t Get Fat.
Of course, the “combat” was tongue in cheek and the interchange a congenial one. Each author/chef was asked to describe what inspired them to write their book, and by extension, their approach and philosophy to cooking and eating. To most of the world, there’s something intriguing about the French paradox—how do they eat well and stay impossibly slim? And I, having devoured Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat when it came out in 2005, was thrilled at the opportunity to listen and meet her in person. Secretly, French Women is the kind of book I wish I had written because I believe eating is about quality food, balance, moderation . . . and pleasure—the same views Guiliano espouses and more.
A busy businesswoman and home cook, Guiliano began the evening by recounting how after she came out with her first book, she never imagined she would write another one, let alone a cookbook. But readers wanted more recipes, and voilà, the idea for a cookbook was born. The premise of The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook is that recipes can be simple, fast, and flavorful. Many of the 150 recipes presented can be prepared in 20-30 minutes and most rely on the addition of three to four herbs and vinegar or lemon juice. French cooks are resourceful, Guiliano said, so many of the dishes make for good leftovers or can be reused in different ways.
Some people Guiliano met over the years found they weren’t losing weight despite adopting the French ways. She realized they often were relying on packaged food products leaving them disconnected from their food. “Try cooking your own meals, even if it’s only two days a week,” she urged. “Once you get that connection, you will change.” One way to lose weight, though, she noted, is to make her aunt Berthe’s Magical Breakfast Cream, a yogurt-based creation that provides a balance of protein, carbs, and fat. Guiliano describes it as deliciously addicting, and a good way to start the day even if you aren’t looking to lose weight. I’m planning to give it a try.
The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook will appeal to cooks who are busy but want to good-tasting meals that are easy to prepare and healthy. Equally appealing are Guiliano’s personal stories, useful tips, and additional reflections on eating. Summing up her philosophy around food, she said, “It’s simplicity in all things. Not only in food, but also in fashion and life. And it’s quality over quantity.” Guiliano hopes her cookbook will get more people into their kitchens more often. “How many things in a day give you pleasure three times a day?” she asked. Good point, and one to live by in my opinion.
In his approach to cooking, Jean Joho echoes the French approach of seasonal, local, and simple, and did so even when these ways were not as common as today. And despite the refined French cuisine prepared at Everest and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Joho nevertheless focuses on lighter, more modern renditions. (Heads up Chicagoans: Look for Joho’s newest restaurant, Paris Club, to open in December.) Whether cooking for home or a restaurant, he says, the key is to balance a meal and not overpower dishes with too many ingredients.
Interestingly, Joho has never had an interest in publishing his own chef cookbook. He finds these books not designed for home cooks. The Eiffel Tower book, instead, is meant to be a souvenir book, but with recipes that are possible for the home cook to produce. Given how many people were snatching up the beautifully photographed tomes covered in red velour with a silver-stamped Eiffel Tower image, many friends and family are going to wind up with impressive souvenirs this holiday season.
The winners of the evening’s “combat”? Given that all copies of both cookbooks sold out, I’d have to say it was a tie.
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