Wednesday, February 23, 2005
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Clotilde Dusoulier didn’t like cheese until she moved to the Silicon Valley. For someone who grew up in Paris, this is peculiar.
But Dusoulier wasn’t particularly interested in food before she relocated to California with her boyfriend, Maxence, to work as a computer programmer.
Now, five years later and back home in Paris, Dusoulier’s web log Chocolate & Zucchini (www.chocolateandzucchini.com) is receiving 7,000 visitors a day and she is whipping up a cookbook proposal with her newly acquired New York agent.
Dusoulier posts enthusiastic and poetic odes to beloved patisseries, instructions on how to open scallops and the occasional homage to fromage. (A recent entry sang the praises of Tomme Affinee au Marc de Raisin, a cow’s-milk cheese that has been aged under a thick blanket of grape marc.) The blog’s enthusiasm has gained the 25-year-old Parisienne mentions in Gourmet magazine, The New York Times Style Magazine and countless links from across the blogosphere. Today, Dusoulier says, she has a passion for all things food related.
Of course, it’s not unusual for a young person’s palate to develop after leaving the comforts of home. And Dusoulier’s two years in San Francisco marked her first extended departure from her mother’s cuisine.
“And this was my way of exploring the change of scenery,” she says of her food awakening over the phone from her home in Montmartre. “California, especially the San Francisco Bay area, has a really interesting food scene. Even the mainstream grocery stores have gourmet items and ethnic aisles and all these things were new to me. I guess my interest was in making a home for myself. Trying to recreate things from back home and discovering the American and ethnic ways of cooking was a way to create warmth and tame the elements.”
It helped that her tech job paid handsomely, which funded the exploration of some of the Bay area’s finer restaurants. Upon her return to Paris, Dusoulier began to explore her home in a way she never had before.
For example, she tried Brussels sprouts. “I had never tasted Brussels sprouts because everyone said they were nasty and you know, the smell is off, but then I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to buy Brussels sprouts and see for myself,’ she recalls. “When you start to get interested in food there is no end to it.” She soon moved on to foie gras.
In Paris, Dusoulier explains, people invite each other over for dinner more often than they go out to restaurants, which was her experience while in San Francisco. This gave her the opportunity to test her new cooking skills on people other than Maxence.
As the compliments for her dinners became more zealous, so did her interest. She was encouraged to attempt more difficult dishes. But at some point it occurred to her that while it was all very nice to prepare a beautiful meal and be lovingly complimented for it, it wasn’t enough.
“What frustrated me, is you spend time thinking about what you’re going to cook, you spend time making it and then, in a matter of minutes, there is nothing left,” Dusoulier explains. “It’s over.”
To prolong the experience, she began logging her culinary adventures in a cooking journal — what she served and to whom, suggestions as to what she would do differently the next time. This coincided with her discovery of the burgeoning world of food blogs; last September, a year after returning to Paris, Dusoulier launched Chocolate & Zucchini.
For the first time this year, the Annual Weblog Awards (a.k.a. the Bloggies) have a category to celebrate the best in food blogging, and last December fellow foodie Kate Hopkins of The Accidental Hedonist launched her own Food Blog Awards to acknowledge the high calibre of writing.
“The collective knowledge base of the food-blog community is equal to the editors of the major food magazines,” says Hopkins. “And we certainly have a better range of being able to talk about specific items that the magazines might not be able to,” she says, noting there are blogs dedicated solely to 18th-century cooking and the food scenes in such diverse locales as Seoul, Saigon and Panama.
Chocolate & Zucchini picked up four of Hopkins awards last month, including best overall food blog, best design, best writing and best recipes. Dusoulier has also been nominated in the 2005 Bloggies for Best European Weblog.
“It’s different than what other people are doing,” Dusoulier says of her site. “There are a lot of French people talking about food in French to the French. There are people in the U.S. talking about French food to Americans, but there aren’t that many French people living in Paris and talking to foreigners, at least in a language they can understand.”
Dusoulier goes to the market on Saturday mornings. She says Montmartre has much to offer and she visits specific little shops for specific items, but also picks some things up at the grocery store.
She doesn’t cook every night but often “picnics” on bread, cheese and salad. And she doesn’t set out to make a recipe just so she can post it on the blog. In fact, it’s the other way around.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago was La Chandeleur, a holiday that welcomes the first signs of Spring and is traditionally celebrated by making crepes. To mark the occasion on the blog, Dusoulier shared a crepe recipe given to her by Maxence’s mother.
She has also written about discovering a pick-your-own-plum farm while driving around the countryside, and stumbling upon a shop selling homemade jam while on vacation in the mountains.
And last week she wrote an ode to an apple, la pomme et le clochard, that has come into season. “There is this apple and I eat the apple and I think, ‘Well, this apple is damn good. I think this apple deserves a little spotlight,’ ” she explains. “It’s sort of a love declaration.”
Â© National Post 2005