Despite being a former BBC TV cooking show host, an author of 15 cookbooks and a recipe writer for the French version of Elle, Trish Deseine insists that she isn’t a professional. “I’m not a chef, I’m a home cook,” Deseine says.
Yet, her practical and colorful attitude toward food is refreshing and has drawn many culinary followers. In her latest book, The Paris Gourmet, which came out in September, Deseine dishes on the Paris dining scene and shares her tips for Gallic cuisine and entertaining. She’s not a fan of “trophy eating,” where everything at restaurants tends to happen only on the plate and the social side is lost to an online experience echoing an “I was here” attitude rather than one that happens around the table.
According to Deseine, who has lived in Paris for almost 30 years, restaurateurs are constantly trying to outdo one another. They latch on to the latest trend but find that they are outdated within a year. Right now, it’s all about being a “Brooklyn copycat,” she says. Before it was about going to organic coffee shops; prior to that, it was about the bistronomie movement. “Bistronomie was a huge injection of energy in the Paris food scene — but the problem is that nothing’s happened since,” Deseine says.
Shedding the media hype that surrounds Paris’ dining scene, the foodie says one of her go-to spots is Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris for brunch. For lunch, she suggests Le Meurice’s Le Dalí, which centers on refined French terroir. “The cooking is masterful and it’s using very simple ingredients,” she says. She also likes Jean-François Piège’s restaurant at Hôtel Thoumieux. A fun place for the “institution Parisienne,” as Deseine calls it, is Hôtel Costes, and she highly recommends Monsieur Bleu. For dinner, her all-time favorite seasonal ingredient is truffle, especially at Pierre Gagnaire.
While it’s obvious that Deseine has a deep appreciation for fine-dining restaurants, Deseine herself illustrates that more attention should be paid on those who cook every day regardless of time, mood or resources — those who cook because they have a passion to do so.
“More value needs to be given to repetition, to ritual; eating is a habit that we do mostly as a family that is not highlighted enough,” Deseine says.
A great part of her concentration is on an effort-time ratio for cooking as well as when she is choosing a restaurant — you certainly won’t find her waiting in line for hours at a food truck for a pastrami sandwich. In 2010, her crusade for a more down-to-earth food attitude landed her a place in Vogue Paris’ list of “40 Women of the Decade.”
She shares more of her food philosophy in Paris Gourmet. Innovative, comforting, fun and accessible, it is Deseine’s third title for the English-speaking market (though many of her French books have been translated into various languages). It’s a welcoming initiation to Parisian culture via its food scene. Deseine’s personal descriptions provide a quick and accurate idea of the different restaurants for first-timers. The book also serves as a guide to a thoughtfully put-together selection of spots that are fully deserving of our attention.
And the book goes even further with sections on the various facets of French culinary culture, such as tableware, a breakdown of luxury “palace” hotel restaurants, different gourmet tours of the city worth trying and recipes for the home cook. Going to the market is another crucial part of French dining that subsists even in Paris and that is all too often neglected by food writers. Deseine includes insider tips for market shopping, as well as a list of her top markets (of which there are nearly 100 in Paris alone).
While she may focus on the Parisian food scene, Deseine is a global gourmand. In terms of the ultimate food tour, London tops her list. “It’s got it all — the decadence, the glamour,” she says. Deseine also loves the culinary scenes in Copenhagen and San Sebastián. Her latest discovery is her hometown of Belfast. She says it has evolved beyond recognition. “I have discovered a completely new edge.”
Photos Courtesy of Flammarion and The Dorchester Collection