Tours week 6: learning french cuisine

My host family has finally let out her frustration about american cuisine. At the dinner table one night, she suddenly laid down her fork and knife, cocked her head to one side and inquired, “do you really just eat burgers and fast-cooked meat in the States?” It was such a silly question that my roommate from Michigan and I was too surprised to answer right away. But given our stay here we have experienced first-hand how the French cure, smoke, bake and cook their meat, and to be honest, the “American way” just cannot compare. In our household, the simplest steak is first soaked in spices or sauce then sautéed in melted butter. To add to that we were sporadically served French Terraines or slow cooked roast, and for dessert souffles and home-made gelatos. The unhurried way the French make their food, every dip and taste, sauté and frappé is thoughtful and measured. My Madame showed me her recipes—each christmas she collects ideas and traditional recipes from her family all across France and publishes a little booklet of recipes, which she distributes to each family member. It has become a little tradition within the family, she explained as she waved her hand theatrically over a little pile of twenty or so booklets.

One evening, I decided to join Madame in the routine dinner preparation, after all, what better way is there to learn conventional french? When Madame heard that I would like to learn gastronomy, she was both thrilled and flabbergasted. After a short while we decided to try a pistachio chicken french terrain. The process was surprisingly complicated; we pureed three different concentrations of cream fraiche and chicken, smashed the pistachios, and boiled the sauce. Then we assembled the layers in a traditional terrain pot and laid it in the oven. The whole procedure took about 3 hours and by then end our hands were clay and our foreheads were beaded with sweat. About an hour later, my first terrain was ready! Once turned over, it held its shape well and had four different colors and layers. But what was most exhausting was communicating in french, especially when learning techniques, I had to combine the movements gestures and words to slowly understand what I’m supposed to do. But in the end it all turned out a huge success—both the food and my gain in vocabulary!

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