New Edition of My Paris Market Cookbook: Q&A with Emily Dilling
In 2013 I moved to Paris on a bit of a whim. At first I deemed it a “creative sabbatical,” an escape from my life in Portland, the opportunity to have some free space to work on two book deals that I had recently signed contracts for. It didn’t feel like a particularly big decision at the time. After all, I only intended to be there for a month or two. But seemingly insignificant choices are often the ones that create the most change. I stayed for almost three years, penning the two books and then a couple more, and building up a new portfolio of work. The first seeds of Comestible were planted in Paris, germinating in my head until I moved back to the U.S. and decided to take the jump.
I had a few guiding lights at this time, in the form of a weekly catch up with a group of female friends, all of whom serendipitously ended up working on food-related books around the same time: Emily Dilling, Jessie Kanelos Weiner and Kristen Beddard Heimann. You may have seen their work in previous issues of Comestible.
I think that for all of us, despite the differences in time that we had spent in France, food had become a guiding force as we navigated a place that wasn’t our own. That was particularly true of Emily, and she used food as a way to not only explore Paris, but connect with it on a deeper level.
When I met her, she was running her blog Paris Paysanne, which later turned into a podcast as well as inspiration for her book My Paris Market Cookbook. Part guidebook and part cookbook, the book gave a fresh look at the new face of Paris food, like specialty coffee roasters and microbrewers.
That was 2015. Fast forward a few years and now both of us have transitioned to more rural locales, me in the Pacific Northwest and Emily in the Loir-et-Cher. As anyone with faraway friends knows, it’s difficult to be apart from people that you’re close to. Food has become a sense of connection. With local mussels and cider from my own region of Western Washington, I cook up her recipe for moules frites. In the winter, her stout cake, a dense and hearty dessert. The recipes from My Paris Market Cookbook become a memory of a time and place, but also offer the opportunity for local adaption.
As we have evolved as individuals and friends, so has the Paris food scene. Things look different than when I arrived in 2013 and a good cup of coffee was difficult to find, a craft beer only slightly easier. A short train ride away, Emily continues to be connected to the city and keeps a good eye on the pulse of what’s happening and she has seen those changes firsthand, documenting them as the city evolves.
The new edition of My Paris Market Cookbook is out this week in paperback, with lots of new additions and recipes (if you don't have it already, it's time to add it to your bookshelf!). I caught up with her to share a little but more about her work and what you can expect from the new edition of her book.
Can you give us a little backstory to your blog Paris Paysanne? When did you start it and why?
I started the blog as a way to chronicle my research on Paris markets and which ones had actual farmers selling locally grown produce (as opposed to resellers or wholesale produce from Spain or even further abroad). The idea was also to find alternate sources of food shopping and get away from the run of the mill supermarket, which is as dismal in France as anywhere else. Fortuitously, my interest in Paris markets coincided with an increased interest on the part of Paris restaurants in the source of their ingredients and a farm-to-table movement. At the same time craft beer, craft coffee, and natural wine were all experiencing waves of new energy and expansion. It was a great time to write about food in Paris and Paris Paysanne, as well as the other publications I freelance for, became a place for me to share my findings and document the new Paris food scene.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to write a book? How did the book start to take shape?
On a trip to California, a friend of mine from grade school said in passing one day that they could imagine the work I was doing being turned into a book at that's all it took to plant the seed in my head. I started hunting for an agent, which I was lucky to find fairly swiftly. Finding a publisher for the project was another story... but we found one and developed the idea that eventually became My Paris Market Cookbook. Originally I had pitched a guidebook, but along the way recipes became a part of the project and I'm glad they did. Developing, testing, and compelling recipes was a huge challenge, but I think they add a lot of value to the book and make me even more proud of My Paris Market Cookbook.
Working on books is such a long endeavor. What is one thing that you didn't expect when you went into the book writing process? What is one thing about the book writing process that you enjoyed?
I didn't expect half of the process to be so easy and the other half to be so difficult. Writing the guidebook elements flowed so naturally as I had already done a lot of footwork and research and I also just love talking about Paris and giving people advice on what to do when in town. The recipes were a major challenge. I had never written a recipe before, and in order to have an exhaustive selection of starters, mains, and deserts, I really had to get outside of my comfort zone. Baking, for example, has not always been my best friend.
Luckily I was surrounded by women, including you (whose requests to have me test recipes for your book Fika boosted my baking confidence) who were all working on books about food. Having that support group was invaluable and made the process almost collaborative and also totally manageable knowing I had people to commiserate with.
What can we expect in this new edition?
First of all, I thought it was important to update the book because the Paris food and drink scene—especially when it comes to natural wine and craft beer—has changed so much and gotten so huge that I think in a way it's become harder to be a distinguishing diner while visiting, or living in, Paris.
The new edition is full of additional addresses and content aimed at getting readers to the right tables and bar stools in the city. There are also 9 new recipes, including contributions from chefs such as Amanda Bankert of Boneshaker Doughnuts and Mardi Michels, author of In the French Kitchen with Kids.
I've also included neighborhood roundups with my favorite spots to shop, eat, and drink in four Paris neighborhoods (Rue de la Folie Méricourt/Rue Saint Maur, Marché d'Aligre/Bastille, The Other Side of Montmartre, and Central Paris). The updated edition also includes info on vegetarian dining in Paris and (one of my favorite additions) a section dedicated to Women of the Paris Food Scene.
You have been covering the French food scene for almost a decade now. What are some shifts that you have seen take place?
I feel like when I started covering the Paris food scene it was all about finding not just hidden gems but gems in general. Dining was an elite experience and it seemed to me you paid for just that—the experience and not so much the craft. I also remember being excited to go to places like Café Malongo on rue Saint-André des Arts just because it felt like a Pacific Northwest or San Francisco coffee shop—or as close a you could get in Paris—but the quality just wasn't there. Then this new wave of the food scene built up and there were more and more options. Now the wave has, I wouldn't say crested or crashed, but it's gotten so huge that you have a lot of choices of places that claim to be craft, farm to table, have a natural wine menu, etc. but they aren't legit. To put it simply: the first edition of My Paris Market Cookbook aimed to help readers find great places to eat and drink in Paris and the updated edition aims to do the same but also help readers distinguish between what is true and what may be trying to co-opt a very credible and noble culinary movement.
What's your current favorite thing you're cooking/eating?
Right now where I live we're still not in full on summer so just starting to see strawberries but have to wait for all the fixings for ratatouille to arrive at the market. While remaining patient for those great summer dishes I'm enjoying roasting some nice transition veggies like baby potatoes, fennel, and celery. That with a nice grain salad—bulgur or faro based—is my favorite early summer meal.
What books/podcasts/art are you currently inspired by?
I go back and forth on food podcasts because sometimes I feel like I get too focused on that subject and it starts to lose its affect. Having said that, I'm consistently inspired by the chef I'm working with at a bistro in a little village not far from where I live. I appreciate the craft of what he's doing, but it's also the first time I feel like I'm graciously participating in the art of being of service to others in that context. I'm really inspired by the work that talented and passionate restaurateurs do. Of course my mind is reliably expanded by the work of strong women and I love reading food memoirs by greats like Ruth Reichl, Gabrielle Hamilton, Julia Child and MFK Fisher. Also Michelle Obama and Beyoncé, because duh.
Papercut illustration by Anna Brones