“Meals can, and often do, tell stories,” says Elizabeth Bard, a 39 year-old writer, of the huge Seders her mother once hosted at her childhood home in Teaneck, New Jersey. “When I first arrived in France almost everything I learned about the culture I learned “autour de la table,” around the table. Now settled in Céreste, a medieval village in the heart of Provence, Bard is telling a new culinary tale, selling bright pink beetroot sorbet to local children and tourists from a store front shop housed in a rough stone building.
Her French husband, Gwendal, who learned to churn frozen desserts mostly from books, named the company Scaramouche, after the swashbuckling hero of a favorite childhood film. “A difficult name that people would remember,” says this 6-footer with a PhD in computer science, who now spends 18-hour days in a nearby lab combining fresh seasonal ingredients from local farms into sweet confections. “At our 4-year old son’s school, I’m a star,” smiles the newly minted artisan glacier.
After studying to be an art historian and several years in journalism (and giving tours at the Louvre), Bard published “Lunch in Paris: A Love Story With Recipes,” a bestselling memoir with recipes, where she tells of falling in love with a Frenchman, and with French cuisine.
After nearly a decade in Paris, they decided to leave their city life style and, in Gwendal’s case, an executive position in the cinema industry. “The Franco-American combination has been a rich one for us,” says Bard “I gave him permission to dream big, and he taught me that French joie de vivre, how to live in the moment.” Gwendal nods in approval across the red metal table on a Matisse sunny morning, “Now he’s got a whole closet full of suits gathering mold.”
Located in the tony 17th Arrondissement, a ten minute walk from the Etoile, in a neighborhood both residential and commercial, Boucherie Levy stands next to a store selling Judaica. While France’s kosher authorities have certified more than two dozen delicatessen and butcher shops in Paris, this is perhaps the most beloved, and with good reason.
By New York deli standards (think Zabar’s), the corner shop is small but inviting thanks to large bay windows, a white tile floor and brightly lit display cases overflowing with fresh meat and take out preparations. Here, you’ll find an array of Jewish comfort food like pickled beef brisket and chopped chicken liver, together with traditional French specialties such as foie gras.
On one side of the shop, I noticed paper thin garnet slices of beef carpaccio for two (10 euros or about $12), on the other, a rosy chunk of braised veal labeled ‘veau à l’os’, that I thought could be mistaken for (God forbid)… ham. Next to that, was another of the shop’s exclusive specialties: foie gras speckled with candied fruit like apricot or figs.
The delicious cuisine that normally graces my husband’s family’s Shabbat table can be described as classic Ashkenazi Jewish with French sophistication. My mother-in-law Helene Sommer can produce a heavenly French fruit tart and a mean kosher version of Alsatian choucroute.
Little of the Middle East has made it into the Sommer family repertoire, despite the fact that they left France for Israel half a century ago.
There is one gastronomic delight, however, that made its way onto Helene’s table by way of North Africa and France — mafrum — tasty meat patties nestled between slices of potato sandwich-style and pan-fried. A steaming mountain of couscous crowned with a chunky vegetable broth, with crisp mafrum tucked beside it, is as irresistible a combination as spaghetti with meatballs, and it a staple of Libyan and Tunisian home cooking.