Young Parisian puts her heart into a cordon-blog
Eric Wahlgren, Special to The Chronicle
Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Contrary to popular belief, most French aren’t born good cooks. Just ask Clotilde Dusoulier, creator of the popular food blog Chocolate & Zucchini.
Dusoulier, 25, freely admits to once being clueless in the kitchen. It was during a two-year stint in Silicon Valley, in a software job beginning in 2000, that the Paris native got serious about food.
“I was just out of college, so there was no cafeteria to go to and my mom was thousands of miles away,” she said. “For the first time, I had to decide what I was going to cook and eat.”
Dusoulier reacted with gusto. She spent entire weekends at South Bay grocery stores and farmers’ markets, discovering foods she’d never seen before. Seeking inspiration, Dusoulier checked out the area’s energetic ethnic restaurant scene. And for the rare splurge, she headed across the bay to Chez Panisse.
Back at her apartment in Mountain View, she began to make cross-cultural dishes such as sesame zucchini soup and Mexican chocolate chile cake.
“It turns out the Bay Area was a fantastic place for someone to discover cooking and food,” she says.
After returning to Paris for another software job, Dusoulier got on her computer and cooked up C&Z (chocolateandzucchini.com) in September 2003. The recipe was simple: chronicling her daily culinary adventures in Paris as an insider, without attitude and and in English. Now, C&Z is one of the Web’s hottest food blogs, drawing more than 200,000 visitors a month from both sides of the Atlantic.
Many come for her easy-to-follow recipes — for her tarte tatin with salted butter caramel, or warm Tarbais bean salad with walnut oil. But they end up sticking around to read her food musings, which carry playful titles like “Hello, Gorgeous!” for an entry on Hokkaido squash.
A recent post on corn on the cob is fluffier than what she typically serves up on her site, but lame entries and grammar mistakes are rare. Even skeptics, who usually write off blogs as self-indulgent blather, seem charmed.
“It is a real triumph,” says Darra Goldstein, editor of Gastronomica, a quarterly food and culture magazine published by The University of California Press. “You are getting a glimpse of Clotilde’s life, but you are also learning about food, which I think raises her blog above the level of most blogs, which are just chattering.”
Goldstein first happened upon C&Z after a Google search led her to Dusoulier’s entry on special chocolates — known as mendiants or beggars — from Provence.
“I think her blog fulfills the same function as do the best cookbooks,” she says. “We don’t necessarily cook everything from the cookbooks that we read, but we travel to different places and we imagine ourselves in a different life.”
Dusoulier lives the life of a typical Parisian, sharing a modest Montmartre apartment with her boyfriend.
“I give a view of the city that is not the one you see in the movies or guidebooks that can be a little out of touch,” she says. “I’m a real person, and I think that is something people like.”
Indeed, C&Z has been racking up the awards, including Web site honors from Yahoo and Feedster. Earlier this year, C&Z won “Best Overall Blog” as well as commendations for writing, recipes and design in the 2004 Food Blog Awards, begun by Kate Hopkins of the Accidental Hedonist Web site in Seattle. The mainstream press is also taking note, with the French daily Le Monde recently dubbing Dusoulier a “cordon-blog.”
All the exposure has helped Dusoulier, who has no formal culinary training, land food-related gigs as a restaurant consultant and conference speaker, among others. One Chocolate & Zucchini fan, an executive editor at a large New York publishing house, encouraged Dusoulier to get an agent. She’s now slogging away on a book proposal in hopes of writing a cookbook that will mimic the spirit of her blog, with previously unpublished recipes and the stories behind them.
Bemused and bewildered
As of yet, Dusoulier has no plans to leave her day job. And she seems a little bemused by the attention C&Z has drawn.
“I buy things, cook things and eat things and if I feel really strongly about them, I’ll write about them,” Dusoulier says.
Dusoulier’s time in the Bay Area has strongly influenced her cooking, instilling a bias for healthy ingredients and Asian dishes. On her blog, a classic French lamb stew recipe is internationalized with kumquats and pine nuts and accompanied by a polenta cake.
“I have a lot of French basics,” she says, “but the health and pan-Asian angles are very Californian.”
Erik Wahlgren is a freelance writer in Paris. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.