Some locals like to tease me that I’m not a true Languedocienne --- I lack the accent! True, I grew up all over France and never developed the essential Mediterranean inflection known as l’accent du Midi but, regardless, Languedoc is very much my home.
My family settled there many generations ago and, except for few renegades like me, most of its members still live there. As a child, Languedoc was a place for carefree endless summers visiting my numerous relatives. I was part of a brood of cousins running wild until sunset amid the chestnut and oak groves surrounding my grandmother’s hamlet hovering above the village of Berlou, next to Saint Chinian, or hiking and harvesting fresh hazelnuts near my great grandmother’s rustic château at the foot of the Cévennes Mountains. At my maternal grandmother’s beach camp near Agdes, we rose early to meet the small fishing boats bursting with fresh sardines and other delicacies. And, Languedoc is where I got my first taste of wine – a drop of a deep ruby vin de table in a tall glass of water. I was six.
On a whim, I moved to the US in my late teens and settled on New York City in the early 80’s. The culinary scene was exploding in this country and I wanted to be part of it. Food had always been a focal point in my life and I, immodestly, felt that I knew a thing or two. Growing up, I had eaten my way trough Europe and North Africa. In my house, Sunday in the country meant driving to far-flung restaurants serving eels, wild asparagus, cèpes or game just because they were in season. My mother was a good cook, and so was her mother. Their repertoires swung from tagines and couscous to daube languedocienne and sole meunière. I loved it all, and I quickly joined them in the kitchen. From them, I also learned the art of refined entertaining. To graduate from dilettante to serious cook, I enrolled at the Peter Kump New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education) to sharpen my skills and at the International Wine Center to refine my palate.
Soon I was a recipe tester for cookbooks and lifestyle publications, and a freelance food columnist for Northeast magazine. I eventually landed at The New York Times Entertaining Magazine as a creative consultant. For this newbie, it was a dream job that took me all over the country. I discovered America through its regional food, gracious hospitality and fabulous hostesses, and some of the most talented influential chefs of their time, as well. Not wanting to lose footing in my native land, at the same time, I co-authored Foie Gras, Magret and Other Good Food from Gascony with famed chef André Daguin.
When the Food Network launched, I jumped at the chance of producing “Dining Around,” a show focusing on the national and international dining scene. Unfortunately, when the network started putting more emphasis on entertainment than cooking and food, I knew it was time to move on.
For the past ten years, I have freelanced for publications from Food Illustrated to In Style and worked on a handful of projects for Discovery and PBS. I also translated cookbooks from great chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire, and wrote one of my own Cooking on the Road with Celebrity Chefs, a fun collection of recipes for RVers and campers, and anyone stuck with a diminutive kitchen, for that matter. Currently, I am the food correspondent for France Amérique, the US publication for the French community and Francophiles.
Ten years ago, my brother and I took upon ourselves to renovate my father’s home near Béziers -- an endeavor that took me back often for longer stretches of time, allowing me to slowly get reacquainted with the region, old friends and meet new ones. In between meetings with the local artisans and painting rooms, my father and I took many road trips visiting the nearby historical villages and sites, wine producers, and sampling the cuisine of a new breed of young local chefs. I also rediscovered the flavors and scents, and dramatic landscapes of the fall, winter and spring seasons. Summers brought many friends and, therefore, a lot of cooking. It is not unusual to host fifteen guests from both sides of the ocean for lunch and dinner a week at a time. Among many things, I love taking my visitors on wine tasting expeditions or to my favorite markets in the towns of Narbonne and St Pons, and to Bouzigues for bushels of oysters and mussels, stopping along the way for a glass of crisp Picpoul.
With Saveur Languedoc, I am expanding this journey of rediscovery I have been on, inviting food and wine producers and restaurateurs to open their homes and share their stories, creations and expertise in an intimate conversation. Through these talented artisans, you will recognize that this unique little-known region is a fascinating and seductive corner of France. And who knows, you too could become an honorary Languedocien for a week – no accent required!