BOOK: After working for nearly 20 years at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' famed restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., pastry chef David Lebovitz decided to move to Paris and immerse himself in the culture and the cuisine. He found a tiny apartment — so small he had to scrub his pots and pans in the bathtub — but the building afforded him a rooftop view of the Eiffel Tower so he couldn't complain. However, in his memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious — and Perplexing City, he does complain, robustly and with good-natured wit, about Paris, the Parisians, and even some of the food. As a veteran blogger (davidlebovitz.com), he excels at transforming ordinary experiences and observations into memorable anecdotes. Upon arriving in Paris, for example, he quickly learns to say "bonjour Monsieur" or "bonjour Madame" to anyone who makes eye contact. Apparently trying to maintain American-style anonymity in public is considered rude in Paris, he discovers. He also learns to translate what Parisians say into what they really mean: "When they say, 'Non,' they mean, 'Convince me.' When they say, 'It does not exist,' they mean, 'It does exist — just not for you.' When they say, 'The cheeses in France are the best in the world,' they mean, 'We are indeed a superior culture.' "
WHY READ? As a memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris works well enough, but Lebovitz is a chef so he cannot refrain from filling the book with recipes he collects from neighbors, friends and fellow chefs. And if you're thinking about visiting Paris yourself, he helps out with tips on packing, restaurant etiquette and acting Parisian. He even includes an appendix of favorite shops that will enhance any foodie's visit. Like a chef, Lebovitz knows about mixing flavors, and he brings that skill to his writing by blending his affection for Paris with a soupcon of annoyance. His self-assessment, after living there for five years, captures his ambivalence: "I do my best to act like a Parisian," he says, with a hint of sarcasm. "I smile only when I actually have something to be happy about, and I cut in line whenever I can. I've stopped eating vegetables almost entirely, and wine is my sole source of hydration. I never yield to anyone else, physically or otherwise." At the same time, however, he has learned to stop for a handshake and a chat with the vendors at the local market, the people in neighboring apartments and anyone else who might qualify as a friend. The memoir amounts to an American overcoming culture shock and adapting to the locals. As Lebovitz says in the last line of the book, "I now can count myself as one of them."
MAKE IT: Financiers au Chocolate is named for financiers, and shaped, appropriately, like gold ingots. You can buy a special pan for them, but a mini-muffin pan works just as well, yielding little discs of chocolate that invite a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Tom Valeo, Times correspondent
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches possible book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions, send an email to [email protected] Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.