Traveling Foodie: Discovering My Passion for Food in the French Kitchen

Traveling Foodie: Discovering My Passion for Food in the French Kitchen

You can be as picky an eater as you want, but when your host mother gives you something to eat, you eat it whether you like it or not. My year abroad in France involved a lot of learning—about the language, the people, and most importantly myself—but this was the first lesson I learned at my very first meal with my new host parents in Aix-en-Provence.

On the plane on my way to France, I had brought along my trusty pocket French dictionary and spent the plane ride translating very specific things I needed to know how to say, in particular about my food preferences. Not that I was picky per se, but I was somewhat limited in my exposure to food. There were a few definite no-nos that I made sure to memorize on that trans-Atlantic flight: “I hate peanut butter.” (Not so much a problem, as it turned out that most French don’t like it either.) “I like fish, but I do not like other seafood.” (This was an issue, as I was studying right by the Mediterranean.) By the time I got off the plane I felt confident that I could express my food preferences clearly and politely.

While not in my top-five hated foods, avocado was pretty high up there, and I was faced with a choice.

The Traveling Foodie: Discovering My Passion for Food in the French Kitchen
A simple lunch of raclette in Aix-en-Provence.

So I found myself, jet-lagged and tongue-tied, at the moment of truth: dinner with my host parents, Michel and Amable, on the patio of what would be my home for the next four months. And what do I see on the table but an avocado salad. While not in my top-five hated foods, avocado was pretty high up there, and I was faced with a choice: risk offending my host mother who I had known all of two minutes, or suck it up and eat the avocado. I’ll let you guess what I decided. And you know what? It. Was. Delicious. I started off with the smallest amount I could politely take; I ended by finishing off what was left in the bowl. Thus began my cooking tutelage at Amable’s elbow, and her green bean, corn, and avocado salad with vinaigrette is now a staple in my house. First lesson learned.

Having narrowly avoided this faux pas in the first course, I promptly committed an even graver one during the cheese course by unwittingly mutilating the cheese set before me. Second lesson: there is a right way to cut different shapes of cheese, and for circular cheeses, it is NOT lopping off one end (pro-tip: you should instead cut a wedge.) If you care to learn the proper way to cut other shapes of cheeses, you can learn more here.

French kitchen
Learning all about cheese and how NOT to mutilate them.

These were two of many lessons I learned in Michel and Amable’s kitchen that fall in Provence, and I accumulated still more the following spring when I moved to Grenoble and was welcomed by Daniel and Francoise. I was incredibly lucky to have two host moms who were both excellent cooks, who tolerated me poking around their spice cabinets, tagging along to the market with them, and feverishly writing down recipes in some franglais gibberish only I could understand. I learned how to expertly flip an omelette…but only after making a mess all over my Amable’s stove and having to start all over again. I rolled out quiche crusts and tart crusts, and learned just the right consistency for crepe batter. I learned the art of a good soup, from cool gazpacho to creamy pumpkin, and everything in between. I ate seasonally; I bought bread daily; I never stopped asking questions. How do you get them so perfect? Why is this better? And you serve it with what? At what temperature? For how long? Where did you learn this?

I promptly committed an even graver one during the cheese course by unwittingly mutilating the cheese set before me.

French Kitchen
My host dad Michel was a master of flipping crepes; the batter was my host mom’s domain. (Hint: it’s all in the wrist.)

In my host moms’ kitchen’s, I not only learned recipes and techniques; I came to know them, their families, their stories, and, in the end, France. I marveled at the freshness of the products they used, their relationships with the neighborhood bakery, how fired up the whole family could get talking about wine while waxing poetic over a much-loved gratin. I will always remember my shock at seeing my host father Daniel hoisting an actual cured leg of lamb out of the pantry one day. It was truly shocking – there was still a hoof on one end! He then skillfully shaved off paper thin slices for us to enjoy, and it was heavenly.

The Traveling Foodie: Discovering My Passion for Food in the French Kitchen
Savoring a coffee overlooking Grenoble and the distant Alps.

That year, I not only discovered a new culture and a new palette; I became a cook, a lover of food, a traveling foodie.

That year, I ate things I had never dreamed of eating, and learned words and concepts in French that I had never used in English. Tomatoes, mushrooms, pate, foie gras, leeks (leeks! When I first saw them I thought they were huge scallions; I didn’t even know the English word)… and don’t get me started on the cheeses, the olives, the wine. All things that I actively disliked or was completely ignorant of, became part of my normal diet. The metric system even slowly started to make sense. That year, I not only discovered a new culture and a new palette; I became a cook, a lover of food, a traveling foodie.

I have taken that culinary curiosity throughout my travels, and so with this post I am kicking off a short series exploring some of my cooking adventures around the world. I’ve learned that the best way to a new culture is through the stomach, and gathering new recipes or bringing back products and spices only helps me to prolong and relive my travels once I’m home. To this day, whenever I’m feeling nostalgic for France, I dig out my biggest soup pot and spend the afternoon whipping up Amable’s soupe au pistou. Immediately I am transported back to the spotless Provencal kitchen where I first came to love a great many things, including, of course, the food that started it all: avocado.

 

Traveling Foodie: Discovering My Passion for Food in the French Kitchen

About Rachel Romesburg Rice

Rachel Romesburg RiceRachel Romesburg Rice was inspired by her junior year abroad in France to go into international education. She currently works with college study abroad students, traveling for work and for fun as much as she can. She is based in NYC where she lives with her husband and two charming cats, who are known to go on hunger strikes when she is away (the cats, not the husband). You can follow her adventures with travel, food, and life on her blog, Simplicity's Sake.

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