December 2, 2001
By Corby Kummer
Those given to breaking into sniffly choruses of ''The Last Time I Saw Paris'' can reach for THE PARIS COOKBOOK (HarperCollins, $30) along with a mouchoir. In this culinary postcard, Patricia Wells, long the voice of France for American home cooks, gives her usual ultraprofessional mixture of dernier-cri bistro and haute cuisine dishes, with briskly evocative descriptions of neighborhood shops and markets.
In the beginning: In an ideal world it would be caviar, but why upset your wallet when there are cheaper, equally delicious, ways to kick off Christmas
By Nigel Slater
....Patricia Wells's black olive tapenade
When you browse through my collection of cook books it is easy to spot the ones I cook from. Patricia Wells's first cookery book, Bistro (Kyle Cathie), is well-worn and grease-smudged. I think there is even a page or two stuck together. Her new book, The Paris Cookbook (pounds 19.99, Kyle Cathie), looks set to join it, and despite its ingredient lists being in unreadably small print, I have managed to master this stunning tapenade. Serve it with
fingers of hot, thin toast. Makes 325ml.
10 anchovy fillets
2 tbsps milk
300g French brine-cured black olives, pitted
1 tbsp capers, drained
1 tsp French Dijon mustard
1 plump, fresh clove of garlic, peeled and finely
1/4 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only
6 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
In a small, shallow bowl, combine the anchovies and milk. Set aside for 15 minutes to rid the anchovies of their salt and to soften and plump them. Drain and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic and thyme. Process to form a thick paste. With the food processor still running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until it is
thoroughly incorporated into the mixture. Season with black pepper.
Paris on your plate
By Patricia Unterman
Special to The Examiner
Patricia Wells changed the lives of culinary travelers when she published her groundbreaking "Food Lover's Guide to Paris" in 1984. Finally we had detailed information, in English, that got us to the places that discriminating Parisians (aren't they all?) actually frequented -- not just the bistros and restaurants, but cafés, bakeries, cheese shops, wine bars, tea salons, indoor and outdoor markets. Neighbhorhoods opened up their once-hidden treasures. With Wells' guide in hand, we walked from one arrondissement to the next, eating ourselves silly. As Walter Wells, Pat Wells' teddy bear of a husband and former editor of the International Herald Tribune, said at dim sum lunch the other day, " 'The Food Lover's Guide' was the book that cracked the code."
Patricia Wells, her husband, her photographer, Yank Sing owner Henry Chan and I were all eating dumplings as if there were no tomorrow. Maybe Wells was happy to get a reprieve from Parisian cooking, the subject of her latest book, "The Paris Cookbook" (HarperCollins, 2001, $30).
But what I believe is that she's an eater, an enjoyer, someone who gets enormous pleasure from being at the table. Put something well made (as long as it isn't dessert) in front of Wells, whether it be Japanese kaiseki, Shanghai dumplings or choucroute garni, and she digs in appreciatively. There is absolutely no distance between her and her subject. Sound, trustworthy opinion -- based on decades of critical eating and a God-given palate -- is her métier and exactly why you want to buy her books.
If Wells says something is good -- a recipe, a restaurant, a wine, a product -- you can believe her. More than that, she makes you excited about her discoveries. Her descriptions are sensuous yet finely honed. And when Wells writes about Parisian cooking, a subject she knows intimately from having covered it for over two decades, and from turning herself into a skilled home cook herself (she cooked with some of the greats like Joel Robuchon), she takes you way inside the culinary culture. Herein lies the beauty -- and some off the frustration -- of "The Paris Cookbook." Though she successfully adapted recipes from her favorite Parisian restaurant kitchens to the American home kitchen, many of the simplest and most appealing recipes depend on a quality-level of ingredient that is hard to find. (We have beautiful ingredients that cannot be found in Paris, but this cookbook is not about these.)
The meal I cooked from "The Paris Cookbook" could best be described as, well, Parisian. Fat is often celebrated and technique makes the dish. (I think the French stay slim because they eat basically the Atkins diet -- high fat and protein, low carbs -- with lots of red wine to keep the arteries clear.) For an experienced home cook in the Bay Area, the recipes break no new ground, but their French point of view makes them fresh.
I used raw chanterelles that a friend had collected for the green bean, mushroom and hazelnut salad, but I had a hard time finding really fresh hazelnuts. You must use free-range, generously fatted pork loin, not tasteless, unnaturally lean factory-raised pork for Four-Hour Roast Pork. (Next time I'd do the same recipe with a fat-laced piece of pork butt or shoulder for greater moisture.) After the long, slow braise you can eat the meat with a spoon. (It made sublime tacos the next day.)
Alain Passard's Turnip Gratin goes wonderfully with the pork. (But you need two ovens. I tried cooking the gratin long and slow along with the pork, and the turnips never became tender.) As for dessert, wait until our winter Chandler strawberries come in from Santa Maria in February and make the Strawberry-Orange Soup with blood-orange juice. It was a gorgeous and refreshing dish after rich salad, clams (see below), pork and turnips.
Not every recipe translates. For example, you need thick, resonant, tangy French cream, not our monochromatic stuff, to make The Bistrot du DÙme's Clams with Fresh Thyme really fly. This recipe calls for two pounds of rinsed clams in a skillet with 3/4 cup of cream and a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. Cover and cook over high heat for 2 or 3 minutes until the clams open. It worked but I didn't think the dish had enough complexity.
It did, however, take on a new demeanor with wine. Though I couldn't get my hands on the "lovely dry Vouvray from the house of Huet" that she drinks with this dish at the Bistro du Du DÙme, I did serve an old Mark West Riesling I happened to have, and the transformation was astounding. The wine completed the dish and the dish expanded the wine, a phenomenon that Walter Wells, a wine appreciator, describes as "2 plus 2 equals 5." If you want to understand all the brouhaha about wine-and-food pairing, follow Wells' recommendations in "The Paris Cookbook." The French invented the alchemy. The right wines really become a key ingredient in French cooking and no one covers this better than Patricia Wells in cookbooks and reviews.
(By the way, The Bistro du Dôme, the source of the clam recipe, is one of my Parisian favorites. I go for aperitif-hour oysters on the half shell at the glassed-in café in front of the mother ship, Le Dôme, on the rue Montparnasse, and then walk across rue Delambre to Le Dôme's affordable and sweet little bistro for grilled sardines and divinely crisp and buttery sole meunière. The fish and shellfish at both places are impeccable, as you can see for yourself at the handsomely tiled fish market that adjoins Le Dôme on the rue Delambre side.)
What excites me about Wells' book is how it evokes place. The recipe/restaurant format presents a way for her to update her brilliant "Food Lover's Guide" without taking on the almost insurmountable task of revisiting and checking all the old places and adding the new. No publisher these days is willing to support an updated guide of this scope, and Wells has had to come up with new ways of packaging the material that she knows best.
"The Paris Cookbook" draws on all her vocations -- as a restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, as an ardent food shopper in Paris and Provence where she has a second home, and as recipe writer and cooking teacher. If you never end up cooking from it, you can fruitfully use it as a guide to Wells' current favorite restaurants. Without actually writing about the restaurants you learn a great deal about them from the recipes and the contextual notes. Also laced throughout are tips about Parisian food shops and markets where Wells has found certain ingredients that have inspired recipes. Wells told me that she is working on a Provence cookbook that will be even more like a food-lovers' guide than "The Paris Cookbook."
Even if she is not contemplating a new edition of her "Food Lover's Guide to Paris," she still keeps you abreast of the best on her Web page -- www.PatriciaWells.com -- which apprises fans of her cooking classes in Paris and Provence, reprints restaurant reviews from the Herald Trib, and lists current Wells-approved restaurants in Paris.
What ties together "The Paris Cookbook" and every other piece of Wells' output is her eye for authenticity. She doesn't care for the trendy, international-style restaurants that have sprung up in Paris during the past decade. She supports the local, the small, the artistic. Whether we get information through cookbook, guide, Web page or newspaper column, it really doesn't matter. What we want to know are Patricia Wells' opinions and inside tips about the food and wine of France, however she lets us in on them.
Gallopin's Green Bean, Mushroom and Hazelnut Salad
(Le Salade de Haricots Verts, Champignons et Noisettes de Gallopin, from Gallopin)
2 servings as a main course; 4 servings as a first course
I last sampled this classic bistro salad at the colorful Gallopin, just across the street from the Paris bourse, or stock market. This is the sort of dish that depends upon freshness and care all around. It's hearty enough to serve as an entire luncheon meal, or as a first course as part of a major bistro feast.
4 tablespoons fine sea salt
8 ounces green beans, rinsed and trimmed at both ends
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
About 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons freshly toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (see Note)
1 tablespoon best-quality sherry wine vinegar (or best-quality red wine vinegar)
Fine sea salt to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons best-quality hazelnut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
A large pasta pot fitted with a colander
1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
2. Fill a large pasta pot, fitted with a colander, with 3 quarts water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the 4 tablespoons salt and the beans, and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. (The cooking time will vary according to the size and tenderness of the beans.) Immediately remove the colander from the water, allow the water to drain from the beans, and plunge the colander into the ice water so the beans cool down as quickly as possible. As soon as the beans are cool (no more than 1 to 2 minutes, or they will become soggy and begin to lose flavor), drain them and wrap them in a thick towel to dry. (The beans can be cooked up to 4 hours in advance. Keep them wrapped in the towel, refrigerated if desired.)
3. In a large bowl, combine the green beans, mushrooms, shallot, chives and toasted hazelnuts. Set aside.
4. Prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and sea salt. Whisk to blend. Add the oil, whisking to blend. Taste for seasoning.
5. At serving time, pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Toss gently to blend, and serve.
Note: Toasting nuts imparts a deep, rich flavor: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until fragrant and evenly browned, about 10 minutes.
Alain Passard's Turnip Gratin
(Gratin de Navets Alain Passard, from ArpËge)
4 to 6 servings
Each Saturday morning in Le Figaro, chef Alain Passard offers an incredible assortment of recipe ideas revolving around a particular ingredient. One day in February the subject was Cantal, the rich golden cheese of the Aubergne mountains. He suggested this preparation, which I promptly followed. This vegetable gratin is delicious on its own with a tossed green salad, or as a vegetable accompaniment to a roast chicken, roast pork or veal.
1 1/2 pounds round spring turnips, peeled and cut into thin rounds
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cow's-milk cheese, such as Cantal or Cheddar, coarsely grated
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
A 2-quart gratin dish
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Butter a 2-quart gratin dish, and in it layer half the turnips. Season well with sea salt and black pepper, and then layer half the cheese. Season that layer. Repeat with the remaining turnips and the remaining cheese, seasoning well after each layer. Add milk just to cover. Sprinkle with the thyme and more sea salt and pepper. Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until the turnips are soft and have absorbed most of the milk, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Serve immediately.
FrÈdÈric Anton's Four-Hour Roast Pork
(Le Roti de Porc de Quatre Heures de Frederic Anton, from Le Pre Catelan)
8 to 10 servings
Over the past several years, braised meats have become increasingly popular among Parisian chefs: Rare lamb, rosy pork, duck with a touch of pink all have their place, but the homey, wholesome flavors of meat and poultry cooked until meltingly tender and falling off the bone are once again in vogue. Here FrÈdÈric Anton, chef at the romantic restaurant PrÈ Catalan in the Bois de Boulogne, offers universally appealing roasted pork loin, flavored simply with thyme. This is delicious accompanied by sautÈed mushrooms or a potato gratin.
One 4-pound pork loin roast, bone in (do not trim off fat)
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh or dried thyme leaves
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
6 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 large bunches of fresh thyme sprigs
A large heavy casserole with a lid, or Dutch oven
1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
2. Season the pork all over with sea salt, white pepper and the 2 teaspoons thyme. In a large heavy-duty casserole that will hold lthe pork snugly, heat the oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and sear well on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the pork to a platter and discard the fat in the casserole. Wipe the casserole clean with paper towels. Return the pork to the casserole, bone side down. Set it aside.
3. In a large, heavy skillet, combine the butter, carrots, onions, garlic, celery and sea salt to taste. Sweat -- cook, covered, over low heat without coloring -- until the vegetables are soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Spoon the vegetables around and on top of the pork. Add the chicken stock to the casserole. Add the bunches of thyme, and cover.
4. Place the casserole in the center of the oven and braise, basting every 30 minutes, for about 4 hours, or until the pork is just about falling off the bone. Remove the casserole from the oven. Carefully transfer the meat to a carving board and season it generously with sea salt and white pepper. Cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
5. While the pork is resting, strain the cooking juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a gravy boat, pouring off the fat that rises to the top. Discard the vegetables and herbs.
6. The pork will be very soft and falling off the bone, so you may not actually be able to slice it. Rather, use a fork and spoon to tear the meat into serving pieces, and place them on warmed dinner plates or a warmed platter. Spoon the juices over the meat, and serve. Transfet any remaining juices to a gravy boat and pass at the table.
Strawberry-Orange Soup With Candied Lemon Zest
(Soupe de Fraises à l'Orange au Zeste de Citron Confit)
All it takes is an intelligent combination of fresh ingredients to create a dish with a sophisticated and pleasing dimension: The sweet, fruity flavor of strawberries reaches another realm, enlivened by a touch of vinegar, sweetened with the intensity of freshly squeezed orange juice, and brought to a crescendo topped with a touch of zesty, candied lemon peel. There are just a few days in March when blood oranges are still in the market and the first strawberries of the season make their debut: That's when this dessert is at its peak. The rest of the year, make this dish with the best juice oranges you can find.
1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed, stemmed and quartered lengthwise (or into sixths if very large)
1 tablespoon best-quality red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
The Candied Lemon Zest
Zest of 1 scrubbed lemon, cut into fine slivers
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice (about 5 oranges) or juice of top-quality juice oranges
1. In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, vinegar and sugar. Stir gently. Cover securely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the cnadied lemon zest: Place the zest in a medium-size saucepan, add 1 cup cold water, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and drain the zest in a small fine-mesh sieve. Rinse with cold water, and drain.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the blanched lemon zest, the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a simmer over very low heat and cook until the zest is transparent and just a thin veil of syrup remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the zest cool in the liquid.
4. At serving time, add the orange jiuce to the strawberry mixture. Mix gently. Pour the strawberry soup into shallow individual bowls or flat-bottomed champagne glasses, known as coupes. Garnish with the candied lemon zest, and serve.
Paris Cookbook Reviewed: All Things Considered, host Linda Wertheimer talks to Patricia Wells about her new Paris Cookbook, November 2001 click to view
Patricia Wells delivers true taste of Paris
December 5, 2001
By SHARON HUDGINS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
When an American in Paris writes about French food – and the French flock to buy her cookbook – then you can be sure she knows her stuff.
Patricia Wells was recently in Dallas to promote The Paris Cookbook (HarperCollins, $30), her latest work about the foods of France.
Published simultaneously in American, British, and French editions, this user-friendly cookbook is already selling briskly on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ms. Wells first moved from New York to France in 1980 with her husband, a journalist for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. They planned to work in France for only two years, but they were so seduced by France that they decided to stay.
Today, they divide their time between Paris (where Ms. Wells is also the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune) and their 18th-century farmhouse in Provence.
Since the mid-1980s, Ms. Wells has written six other books about food, five of them focusing on France.
The Paris Cookbook is the culmination of two decades of her cooking and eating in that city. She has scouted out the best neighborhood food markets in Paris, watched master chefs at work, savored the French version of comfort foods in local bistros, and collected recipes from French cooks, amateurs, and professionals.
"What I try to do in my book is show how people are eating in Paris today," says Ms. Wells, who also includes "a lot of dishes that are my favorite things to cook, too."
The result is a very personal compendium of 150 recipes, ranging from classics such as French Onion Soup and Tarte Tatin to contemporary fare such as Slow-Roasted Salmon With Sorrel Sauce and Tante Louise's Caramelized Cauliflower Soup With Foie Gras.
All the recipes are written in Ms. Wells' simple, straightforward style. Many American cooks might be surprised at how easily these French dishes can be made in American home kitchens. Yet they still capture the authentic flavor of French food.
Ms. Wells' enthusiasm for French food permeates The Paris Cookbook. Each recipe is introduced by an anecdote about where she first ate that particular dish, or how she got the recipe, or why she likes to serve it for guests at home.
Sidebars extol the virtues of goose fat, explain what confit (a food-preservation method) and onglet (flank steak) are, provide tips on cooking techniques, and suggest affordable wines to accompany many of the foods she so lovingly describes.
Ms. Wells says that at her own home in Paris she likes to make Clams in Vinaigrette, traditional Alsatian Choucroute [sauerkraut garnished with smoked pork and sausages], Flora's Polenta Fries, and The Apple Lady's Apple Cake, as well as "all the chicken recipes" in the book.
For a winter holiday menu, she suggests Parisian Roasted Turkey (with sausage stuffing), Carrots With Cumin and Orange, and "any of the chocolate or apple recipes for dessert," including La Maison du Chocolat's Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse.
Sharon Hudgins is a McKinney free-lance writer.
1 chicken (about 5 pounds)
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed, dried, and quartered lengthwise
Several sprigs fresh thyme
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Generously season the cavity of the chicken with sea salt and black pepper. Place the giblets, lemon quarters, and thyme inside. Truss. Rub the skin with the butter. Season all over with sea salt and black pepper.
Place the chicken on its side on a rack in a roasting pan. Place in the center of the oven and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken to the other side and roast for 20 minutes more. Turn the chicken breast-side up and roast for 20 minutes more, for a total of 1 hour roasting time. By this time the skin should be a deep golden color.
Reduce the heat to 375 F. Turn the chicken breast-side down, at an angle if at all possible, so its head end is down and its tail end is in the air. This heightens the flavor by allowing the juices to flow down through the breast meat. Roast until the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh with a skewer, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and season the chicken generously with sea salt and black pepper. Transfer the chicken to a platter and place it on an angle against the edge of an overturned plate, with its head down and tail in the air. Cover loosely with foil. Turn off the oven and place the platter in the oven with the door open. Let the chicken rest for a minimum of 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. It will continue to cook during this resting time.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Place the roasting pan over moderate heat and cook, scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom and stirring until the liquid is almost caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let it burn. Spoon off and discard any fat. Add several tablespoons of cold water to deglaze the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, remove the lemons from the cavity of the chicken. Carve the chicken into serving pieces and transfer them to a warmed platter. Squeeze the lemons all over the chicken pieces, extracting as much juice as possible. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve and pour it into a sauceboat. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Cookbook Author to Share a True Taste of Paris
November 21, 2001
By Annie Reilly
From its passionate history to its luscious vineyards, France is adiverse and beautiful country. So says journalist Patricia Wells, who lives there. She meant to stay in Paris for only two years. But two turned into four and four into eight, and so on. Now, 21 years and several books later, Wells still is living and writing in France. She'll visit Greensboro on Nov. 29 to share a taste of Paris through recipes from her new book, "The Paris Cookbook."
"Something was always happening next week or next year," she says of her extended stay in France. "I wasn't getting to the end of learning something. There wasn't any reason to leave."
Before going to Paris in 1980, Wells was a food reporter for The New York Times. She took off from America to get what she called her "Ph.D. in food" by exploring French restaurants, pastry shops and food markets. She found no
truth to the stereotypes about secretive chefs and rude Parisians.
"The chefs are always flattered when they're asked to contribute," she says.
"The Paris Cookbook" follows seven other cookbooks by Wells, including best-sellers, "The Food Lover's Guide to Paris," "The Food Lover's Guide to France," "Bistro Cooking" and "Patricia Wells at Home in Provence."
Wells, who helped the Green Valley Grill develop a French menu being featured through Dec. 4, will dine and sign books at a Parisian dinner there on Nov. 29.
Wells says she likes the variety and seasons of food in France, something she says is lacking in the United States. "Every month there is a new product out and, along with it, an enthusiasm and newness about it," she says.
"We're fortunate that food is something that gives us so much pleasure -three times a day - or more," Wells said.
Because she is a journalist, "The Paris Cookbook" is set apart from other French cookbooks by what Wells calls the "reporting aspect" of the work. "Each recipe has a story and a history behind it. You get my point of view as
well as others," she said.
Wells now works for the International Herald Tribune. She and her husband divide their time between their home in Paris and their restored farmhouse in Provence, in the south of France. The Wall Street Journal describes her as
"a genuine phenomenon," and she has been ranked next to Julia Child and James Beard by culinary experts.
She has studied food extensively in Provence.
"That is the center of where everything is growing," she said. "Things like apricots are so much better. The freshness makes you want to work with that product."
For two years, Wells traveled between France and Italy, studying Italian food. She said Italian food is similar to French bistro cooking. Wells, whose mother is Italian, says the climate in Provence is more like Italy's. The
food in Provence is more tomato-based than in Paris, and there are a lot of fresh fruits.
Wells says she enjoys French culture because of the set rules and traditions by which the French live. "In America, we have too much of a laissez-faire attitude," she says.
In Wells' book, she gives her readers insight to the French countryside that tourists would normally miss. When she describes the Chicken Fricassee With Two Vinegars, for example, Wells details the life of a pampered local chicken.
Some of Wells' personal favorites in the book include the chocolate mousse recipe, the Apple Ladies Apple Cake and the chicken recipes. She also includes wine suggestions for certain dishes.
Wells seems to find inspiration everywhere she turns. "I feel," she says, "like I am bathed in beauty every day."
A Foodie's Dream Life
November 19, 2001
By Susan Houston
As Paris restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, Patricia Wells has the job any foodie would die for. When she's not dining at some of the world's finest eateries, she's leading wine tours or teaching cooking classes at her 18th-century farmhouse in northern Provence. Along the way, she has managed to write several books, including "At Home in Provence," winner of the 1997 James Beard Award for Best European Cookbook, and "The Food Lover's Guide to Paris," considered the bible of dining in that city.
Not bad for a self-professed "cheesehead" who grew up in Wisconsin.
Back then, Wells says she couldn't have picked out France on a map. And even though she loved food, writing about the topic wasn't yet considered "what the French would call a profession noble."
So Wells got her master's degree in art criticism at the University of Wisconsin and reviewed art for The Washington Post from 1972 to 1976.
But the art critic had a dirty little secret. "I found art criticism boring," she confesses. "I was more interested in
making cassoulet at night when I got home."
In 1976, she left the Post to write about food for The New York Times. Then her husband, who was on the Times' national desk, was transferred to Paris. Wells went with him and began to free-lance. She has been the envy of foodies ever since.
Wells is promoting her new book, "The Paris Cookbook," on her current American tour, which includes a week in North Carolina. But the visit isn't just about books. She'll spend Thanksgiving with her mother, Vera Kleiber, and sister, Judy Jones, who live in Raleigh.
Here's what Wells had to say when we caught up with her in New York.
Q - How did you manage such a wonderful career?
A - I didn't apply for the job; I created it. It's a lot of things, a passion and a curiosity, trying to do the best job you
can every day. I'm doing what I've always been trained to do.
Q - Are you able to visit restaurants anonymously?
A - I still am, and I'll tell you why. It's a big place, with a lot of new restaurants, and I always reserve under another
name. I just had an incident last Friday at a restaurant in Paris where they were treating us like tourists and putting us in the worst possible spot. So I thought, "Read about it in the paper." Actually, I prefer getting the tourist treatment to being fawned over because that's more realistic for my readers.
Q - How would you describe your relationship with the chefs of Paris?
A - Very amicable. A lot of them I have known for over 20 years. Some we're almost exactly the same age, like Joel Robuchon [Jamin] and Guy Savoy [Cap Vernet], and we started our careers at exactly the same time. It's been interesting to follow the changes.
Q - You have written what many consider the bible to eating in Paris, "The Food Lover's Guide to Paris." What are your top three dining tips for Americans visiting Paris for the first time?
A - First of all, know what you like. Don't go to a game restaurant if you don't like game. Don't go to fish restaurant if
you don't like fish. Be selective. Be informed. That's more than three, isn't it? And don't be afraid to experiment.
Q - You once said, "Americans eat every meal as if it is their last."
A - "And the French know that there will be more tomorrow." We [Americans] are still not a food culture. We don't have the respect for food. We still have a fear of food. When we sit down to eat, we have too many negatives: no fat, can't have carbohydrates. It's just no, can't, no, can't. We forget what pleasure food can give us. It doesn't have to cost much and doesn't have to be complicated. Just going to the market and buying an apple can be a wonderful experience.
Q - Why do Americans have this bad experience with food?
A - We're so far removed from where the apple grows and where the apple is sold. Our only experience is the plate to the mouth.
Q - The French linger over their meals more than we do, don't they?
A - That's right. We do at my cooking classes, too. Sometimes our meals can go three hours. I had one woman tell me, "The only problem when I leave this class is how to make a tuna fish sandwich into a three-hour lunch."
Q - I suppose she could go catch the tuna first. What dining trends are you observing in France now?
A - It's more about the ingredients than the chef now. It used to be, "What is Andre's newest creation?" But now the menu might be potatoes cooked three different ways, so it's more, "Look what he's doing with potatoes."
Q - What foods do you miss most from America?
A - Corn on the cob, fresh crab meat and really good cottage cheese. The French have fromage blanc, which is almost as good.
Q - What foods do you miss most from France?
A - Great cheese. I'm from Wisconsin, so once a cheesehead, always a cheesehead.
Q - What is it like being the only American woman to write restaurant reviews for a French publication, L'Express?
A - At first I thought, "Oh, my God, how I am going to write for the French?" But it's not like I have 13 different writing
styles. So I just wrote the way I always write and had it translated into French."
Q - You don't write in French?
A - No, I can barely write a note to the concierge to tell him I'm going out. But I'm fluent in the spoken language. I've been on French TV, with my American [she flattens her voice on purpose] accent.
Q - What restaurants do you plan to visit while you're here?
A - Margaux's is one. I've really had some lovely meals there, and they have a lovely wine list. I'll also just be eating at
home. My mother and my sister are both really good cooks.
Q - They're not afraid to cook for a restaurant critic?
A - I'm not a restaurant critic to them. I'm just their daughter and their sister.