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Childhood sweethearts in Queens , Gerry and Joanne have been in love with Paris and each other for a long time. Their latest book Coquilles, Calva & Crème is an homage to the life and love they have shared in France.
When did you first come to Paris?
About a half-century ago.
When and why did you come back to stay?
We came to experience an alluring world different in different ways from Queens, N.Y., Princeton, N.J, and Cambridge, Ma, where our lives were formed until then. We budgeted ourselves to stay six months, but Paris is a hard place to leave, so Gerry had to get a job—at the Herald Tribune, which led elsewhere.
Where do you live (arrondissement?)
Our first, small apartment was in Vincennes, with a window on the castle. Otherwise very modest. It was a good deal. We moved to the Sixteenth shortly afterwards, and lived in the Sixteenth until not long ago.
The Sixteenth has a dated reputation of being snobbish; there was even once a Sixteenth accent, but it’s become more varied, and anyway, it wasn’t snobbery that drew us there; it was just a real neighborhood, quiet, lovely and great for bringing up kids, which we proceeded to do.
Now we live in the 7th. We like our apartment, but it’s become pretty touristy where we are, around the corner from The Eiffel Tower. We’re not snobbish toward tourists, but their presence in great numbers denatures the personality of a neighborhood where people live.
This place, Le Rosco, is just plain and endearingly dated, not of historic value nor of an interesting design. But the coffee is good, and we’re alone with our computers yoked by Timbuktu until the street sweepers come in and hang out at the bar for their break. It’s a good place to work all morning over a single cup of coffee. Alain is friendly. All in all, it has character without a “look” as the French say.
What’s your favorite starred restaurant?
We are definitely not star-struck. And we have better ideas for spending a thousand and a half dollars than for lunch these days—check it out, that’s what two people parting with if you want to attend a star performance of a chef. Gerry used to lunch several times a week at Maxim’s when that was a top restaurant and he had an expense account for being the ambassador to the fashion world for Fairchild Publications. People have taken us on rare occasions to one of the hallowed “mouth brothels” as one writer put it, but we don’t go to a restaurant for a titillating experience for our palates. When we eat out, it’s the emotional resonance of the place, the people, and the food as a sensuous form of communication with a culture—if that doesn’t sound pretentious—that come together for an experience worth remembering.
That’s how we eat in our book, “Coquilles, Calva and Crème”. We do it on what Kirkus Reviews calls “ a journey that will delight the palate and nourish the soul,” all around France.
What’s your favorite bistro du coin?
There is a place, not in our neighborhood, but in the 5th which, in the throes of gentrification is still very old Paris, where a family has been running the place since 1974, and modest people have been coming there since, for the kind of humble but old-fashioned food you rarely find now. They make their own mayonnaise, their own whipped cream, pot their own confit de canard. The food is no taste thrill, but the côte de boeuf is better than you’d pay a lot more for, the herring generously served, and the welcome warm. It’s called Le Languedoc.
At 12 euros a bottle their Marcillac is a wine that drinks very well.
What’s your favorite market?
These days, rue Cler. It’s close.
What’s your favorite park or garden?
Le Champ de Mars. It’s around the corner.
What’s your favorite time of the year?
When the flowers bloom and the linden blossoms perfume the streets.
Talk about the genesis of Coquilles, Calva & Crème.
Joanne said, stop scratching your head, Gerry, let’s write what we talk about. We’d talked a lot about the hype and pretense that had been happening in the culinary world. It was like the fashion world we’d known: You have some people who have something very lovely and original, and then there are all the others who, to be noticed by the press—whose diet is newness—try off a lot and at the same time follow fads—once, for example, it was kiwis, then baby food in shot glasses, later replaced by foam.
Christian Millau, who did more than anyone to promote Nouvelle Cuisine, calls the situation decadent and ridiculous now. You can read what he says in our book.
The loss we see, with the fusion food and the globalized ingredients, is that chefs interested in a career delve into their imaginations, for better or for worse, rather than a rich, deeply touching tradition. But that happens to be changing now.
The Facebook page of the book: www.facebook.com/CoquillesCalva has a lot of great pictures that illustrate where we’re going.
What was the most unusual meal you’ve had in France?
On a trip to Sainte Terre, self-proclaimed World Capital of the Lamprey, I cooked and ate a Lamproie à la Bordelaise. Joanne backed out of that journey, being rather reluctant to eat a “prehistoric bloodsucker”, which is what lampreys indeed are. Mine didn’t have much taste at all, except for the sauce. Sauce is a profound element in the French nature. You can expand the term beyond food.
How has Paris affected your life?
Gertrude Stein wrote (when she wasn’t writing for the Nazis): It isn’t what Paris gives you; it’s what it doesn’t take away.
When we think of New York, which for years we were told was the navel of all creativity, we see the power lunch spots, with the high-pitched sound like hysteria of people selling themselves to each other. When you look, though, where writers in America are now, you find them away from the madding crowd in the sticks.
In that sense, Paris is our sticks. Some sticks.
Other books by Gerry & Joanne
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