France Comes to Texas Wednesday, Sep 30 2009 

As a little girl growing up in Dallas, I went on a myriad of school field trips: A tour of the then-new Dallas-Ft. Worth airport including a peek in the American Airlines flight school cockpit simulator. A visit to the Mrs. Baird’s bread factory where we saw food manufacturing at its finest and were given a huge slab of blindingly white bread piping hot and slathered with butter. Trips to the Dallas Museum of Art (then the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts) at Fairpark with Frederic Church’s Icebergs painting standing watch at the entrance. Outings to Dallas Opera rehearsal performances where one coughing student could set off an epidemic of copycats and put a temporary stop to the theatrical proceedings. But my favorite off-campus excursions involved trips abroad—by way of Neiman-Marcus Fortnights.

Neiman-Marcus Fortnight 1957

Neiman-Marcus Fortnight 1957

In 1957, the legendary Dallas-based department store introduced the Fortnight concept and brought France to Texas. The two-week extravaganza transformed the downtown store into a French cultural, artistic, epicurean, fashion, shopping, and performance experience that made France real to scores of Dallasites, tourists and students. I wasn’t born yet so missed the inaugural festivities with a famous visit by Coco Chanel. However, over the nearly three decades of annual fall Fortnights that followed, I ‘toured the world,’ including France, courtesy of Neiman-Marcus.

When global travel became more common and the concept ran its course, the Dallas Fortnights ended. Happily, I can still find France in Dallas in many different guises—and these French experiences aren’t limited to two weeks. Here are some of my favorite offerings:

French flavors, food & wine: I get my Mariage frères tea fixes at The Cultured Cup in Preston Center. The thé vert Provence (Provence green tea) is not to be missed. The Travis Walk restaurant L’Ancestral is my favorite for classic recipes including their French onion soup. For a southern French meal, Le Lavendou in north Dallas hits the spot. Other French restaurants of note include Cadot, Toulouse and Rise No.1.

For authentic French cheeses, I head to Molto Formaggio in Highland Park Village and Scardello Cheese on Oak Lawn. True French sweets and pastries come from Rush Pâtisserie near the Bishop Arts District. Pastry chef Samantha Rush makes real croissants and pain au chocolat, along with tarts, cakes and almond macaroons. Her seasonal treats include les bûches de Noël and les galettes des rois (king’s cakes).

Macaroon

For an outstanding selection of French wines, I visit La Cave Wine Warehouse where owners François and Anne Chandou always recommend the right wine for the right occasion. Their twice-monthly Saturday wine tastings are as fun as they are informative. And I like to stop by Calais Winery in Deep Ellum to enjoy a glass of wine and a good chat with French winemaker Benjamin Calais. While he is a New World entrepreneur, his passion for winemaking is a time-honored French tradition. Finally, France is always in my kitchen via my collection of white French Apilco porcelain. It dresses up or down, and my occasional browsings at Williams-Sonoma culinary stores never fail to turn up an additional interesting piece or two.

For more France in Dallas, we’ll continue with some fabulous French art, antiques and fashion sources in a future French Affaires Weekly posting—restez en ligne (stay tuned)!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter ™

This fall, we’re excited to have a “part of France” joining the French Affaires team. We welcome our new Special Events intern, Anne-Lyse Ségur, who comes to Dallas from southwest France. Look for her at upcoming French Affaires events–she brings a wealth of enthusiasm and passion for things French!

“My name is Anne-Lyse, and I grew up in a small town called Lavaur, situated in the ‘pays de Cocagne’ (region of Cocagne) in southwest France. It was the territory of the Cathars and the Crusades in the 13th century, and this region became the land of plenty and abundance thanks of the cultivation of a plant “the pastello” (“Blue Gold”) for over 300 years.

I went to business School in the town of Pau and have a masters degree in business, specializing in entrepreneurship. I studied in Australia and Brazil, and I took the opportunity to move to Dallas last year. In addition to interning for French Affaires, I work for a beverage supplier and enjoy travel, restaurants, flag football and tennis as hobbies.

I am having a great time in Dallas–there are so many great foods and restaurants specially Italian and Mexican. I especially enjoy the warm and friendly people, their greetings, their positive attitude and their craziness about American football! But I miss the Saturday markets in France where you find fresh regional products all year long. I also miss walking in the countryside and in the small villages, where you can stop at the bank, pharmacy and get a baguette, cheese, flowers and newspapers by parking your car just one time.

I have to admit that I can’t wait to have again some homemade foie gras and charcuterie, but fortunately, Nutella crepes can be made everywhere–I can’t resist them!”

Anne Lyse

My Brush With Julia Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

If there’s one thing the ‘Julie & Julia’ movie and book hype has done, it’s to make France and things French pretty cool again here in the U.S. Sales of Julia’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking are going through the roof. Julia-themed French dinners are popping up in restaurants all over the country. Cooking too is hip once more, particularly French cooking.

It’s a welcome change from the frosty Franco-American relations in the aftermath of 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Almost overnight, France became the ‘country non grata’ to many Americans. This reaction led to “freedom fries” and the purging of many a wine cellar of its French wines. I wonder if Julia knows she’s helped America fall back in love with France?

As her heyday was (unfortunately) before my time, I have come to know Julia through her cooking volumes, DVDs of The French Chef and other books such as her autobiography My Life in France. But what made her real to me was a visit three or four years ago to her former home in the south of France, la Pitchoune.

Meaning “the little thing,” la Pitchoune, or “la Peetch” as she and her husband Paul nicknamed it, is located in the hills near the village of Grasse. As she wrote in My Life in France:

“The little house was just as we’d dreamed it would be: tan stucco walls, red-tiled roof, two chimneys, wooden shutters, and a stone terrace…La Peetch was set into a hill that had been terraced with low stone berms and was studded with olive trees, almond trees, and lavender bushes. The top of the driveway was just big enough to turn around a compact French car in…A spreading mulberry tree hung over the terrace…And we partially renovated a small stone shepherd’s hut, the ‘cabanon’ to use as a combination wine ‘cave’ / painting studio / guest room.”

Today, la Pitchoune is home to the culinary school Cooking with Friends in France run by American Kathie Alex. My visit to “la Peetch” coincided with a business trip to nearby Nice. I was invited to dinner by a business colleague’s wife who was spending the week cooking with Kathie. I jumped at the chance to enjoy an evening of good food and company—and also to see Julia’s unassuming southern France kitchen where she worked on many of the recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

While it was touching to walk in her footsteps, most memorable was the sight of Julia’s kitchen wall where Paul had mounted her signature pegboard and outlined her pots, pans and utensils with a black marker. It was wonderfully retro and immediate at the same time.

09_09_16_la_pitchoune_1

Now that Julia is back in the mainstream again, I treasure even more my tangible brush with her love of France and French cuisine. And although good cooking—French or otherwise—won’t resolve the current economic crisis, difficult wars, religious divides, education issues, or healthcare woes, it is honest and soulful and essential (everyone has to eat). Perhaps most important, it creates connection and community around the table. Cheers, Julia!

La Pitchoune photos by Alice Barker
La Pitchoune photos by Alice Barker

 

French Take-Out  ~ La France à emporter

The south of France and cooking schools are made for each other.

To enjoy a full week of cooking experiences with Kathie Alex at La Pitchoune near Grasse, check out Cooking with Friends in France . With classes in Julia’s kitchen and visits to nearby markets, the emphasis is on fabulous French food and friends in France—what more could one want?

For cooking school French-style, nothing can beat a morning session with Reine Sammut, the chef of Auberge la Fenière  near Lourmarin. Reine is truly an artist in the kitchen, and her inn is a magical space in a magical part of Provence.

And if you can’t get away to a cooking school in the south of France, then you can bring it to you. Save the date for the French Affaires Gourmet Provence Workshop  where we’ll go deep into the signature tastes and flavors of Provence. We’ll meet on November 8th at The Cultured Cup in Dallas for food, culture and a visual tour of what makes this region and its cuisine so special.

I love the book Cooking School: Provence  by Guy Gedda. It marries step-by-step instruction with southern French flavors and dishes. A wonderful way to bring Provence chez vous.

09_09_16_cooking_school_provence

More Sacred Provence Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

A couple of weeks ago via French Affaires Weekly, we took a photo tour of Aix-en-Provence and its remarkable collection of oratoires urbains, mini places of prayer affixed to houses and buildings. But the sacred art in Provence doesn’t end there. There are les églises (churches), les chapelles (chapels), les cimetières (cemeteries) and les cathédrales (cathedrals). Pedestaled crosses of all shapes and sizes are on view both in town and countryside. These three crosses from the hilltop village of Les Baux-de-Provence are striking from any angle.

I think I am the most moved, however, by the solitary crosses along rural routes. Their weatherbeaten iron and stone facades hold a sacred space through sun, wind and rain. One of my favorites is this simple croix along a quiet lane outside the village of Maussane-les-Alpilles, just down the hill from Les Baux.

Before leaving Maussane and its environs, I like to visit another sacred sight located along the main street of town. Erected in remembrance of the great plague of 1720 that ravaged Provence, this free-standing oratoire houses the figure of Saint Roch, known for his healing powers against la peste. In olden times, spring water from la Fontaine des fièvres (the Fountain of Fevers) filled the small basin at the base of this oratoire.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

Our sacred Provence tour ends with this private chapel on an estate outside Aix-en-Provence. Cette chapelle has remained in the same family for generations. Scores of French family members have been married there.

I was reminded of it earlier this year when I attended a French-American wedding in Florida. The bride was French, and the groom American. The ceremony was held in both French and English, with Notre père (the Lord’s prayer, literally ‘the Our Father’) as part of the service. Here is the French version which I took away as my souvenir: