Monday, August 15, 2011

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

From Goodreads:  
In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman--and never went home again.

Was it love at first sight? Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pavé au poivre, the steak'spink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce? LUNCH IN PARIS is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs--one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world's most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen), soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate soufflé) and develops a crush on her local butcher (who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Dillon). Elizabeth finds that the deeper she immerses herself in the world of French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate. French culture, she discovers, is not unlike a well-ripened cheese-there may be a crusty exterior, until you cut through to the melting, piquant heart.

Lunch in Paris is the perfect book to review here in my blog: It has has recipes (Foodie), it's a book (Bibliophile), and it takes place in Paris (in Wanderlust).  

What I loved about this book was that it was a fast, lovely little read to savor while on vacation or just sitting on the couch at home on a lazy Sunday. What I appreciated about this book over other memoirs of people moving to a new culture was that Bard didn't completely slam the American way of life. She didn't write of Paris as a way to say, "Screw you America, you suck! I moved to Paris and I'm never coming back." Throughout the book, Bard wrestled with her American cultural sensibilities that seemed to completely headbutt French convention. 

While Bard writes extensively of her appreciation of the French way of life when it comes to food and pleasure, she also addresses the frustrations she has with how the French deal with people, be it in the service industry or in health care. We see this especially when her father-in-law is battling cancer and the doctors in charge of his treatment won't even allow him or the family to be a part of the conversation for how he should be treated. The culture over there is "doctor knows all" whereas in America, the paradigm has shifted and we are encouraged to be an advocate for our own health. While our system in America is in desperate need of reform, it was enlightening to see how American doctors are much more willing to not just allow the patient to be part of the conversation, but also accept their input.   

We also see her cultural struggle when her husband Gwendal is having career trouble and she encourages him to take the initiative and make a drastic change.  Gwendal himself wrestles with this idea because they are both met with people criticizing his self-made success, saying that he needed to wait his turn, and that he was too young to be successful at his own endeavors. 

In terms of being so overtly critical of the French culture, I'd have to say that's where the book surprised me. I was expecting a completely indulgent food and travel memoir filled with joie de vivre and decadent descriptions of French pastries. While there is certainly a great deal of that, there is also more than the typical "culture shock" experiences that most people have when they first move to another country and then eventually assimilate.  

That is not to say that this book completely disses the French culture. There are a lot of wonderful moments that make you appreciate their way of life, but the book goes beyond croissants and creme brulee. It shows the struggle one must endure when you leave your own way of life and adopt another. There are things you appreciate about your new home, but there are things that will always go against what you've been brought up and led to believe your whole life. With Bard you can see that it will always be an everlasting struggle, and for some people that might be disheartening to read a book that doesn't have that total and complete sense of closure, but for me I found it refreshing. It shows that Bard is still living her life and that despite the fact that the pages in the book end, she is still learning and growing. 

Lunch is Paris is touted as "A Love Story, with Recipes." At the end of each chapter there is a collection of three or four recipes that supposedly go with the theme of the chapter. Some theme chapter recipes are obvious because she mentions the food somewhere in the chapter, but other chapters are kind of awkward because you feel like they're just there because each chapter is supposed to end with some recipes and she was struggling to figure out how to incorporate them into the end of the chapter. Still, there were quite a few delectable sounding recipes in the book that I will be trying some time soon I am especially eager to try the Chicken Tagine with Two Kinds of Lemon and the Oven Roasted Pork Ribs with Honey.  

Overall this was a page-turning memoir, and a must-read for anyone who loves to read about food and travel.

Visit Elizabeth's blog 

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Published: February 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
Pages:  326
Genre: Memoir (travel/food)
Audience: Adults


  1. WOW, love the sound of this one! I love memoirs, food, and Europe (though I've never been... not yet, anyways!).

  2. I'm glad to know this was a good read! It's been on my wishlist for awhile... I mean, Paris and food in a book? Love!

  3. I just left a comment but it disappeared! If it shows up, you may delete it.
    I came here via your comment on Uniflame's Weekend Cooking post. This book sounds so different from the usual 'I moved to a great place, don't you envy me' sort of story. No matter where you move, if it different from what you know and love, it will be difficult. It sounds like this is a wonderful book, and I plan to read it. Thanks.