The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

A Julia Child for our times: Expat author & French cookery expert Elizabeth Bard

Et voila. In a little less than a month, The Displaced Nation has gone from reminiscing over American expat in France Julia Child to engaging with American expat in France Elizabeth Bard.

Move over Julie Powell. At a pace rather like a simmering le Creuset pot of Child’s signature boeuf bourguignon, Bard is on the way to becoming the 21st-century’s answer to that towering figure of 20th-century cuisine Française.

The similarities between the two women are intriguing. Child went to France as a trailing spouse for an American diplomat. Bard went to France trailing a Frenchman.

Child was seduced by France. She found herself through French cuisine. Bard was seduced by France (after being seduced by a Frenchman). She found a way into French culture through the markets and cooking — and found herself in the process.

On this point, the line between the two women gets a little blurry. Which one, Child or Bard, said the following:

More than the museums, more than the ancient streets, these stalls of fruits and vegetables and spices were the Paris that inspired me.

As everyone knows, Child returned to the United States to launch a career in television. Whereas Bard has become a long-term resident of France — and has launched a brilliant writing career with the publication of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, a New York Times and international bestseller, a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick, and the recipient of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook. NOTE: We are giving away copies to two lucky DISPLACED DISPATCH subscribers. Sign up today!

Child inspired Julie Powell to make all of her recipes. Bard has inspired, among others, two Displaced Nation writers — myself and Anthony Windram — to try out her recipes.

But here the comparison ends. A key difference is that Bard’s recipes are nowhere near as difficult as Child’s — which is exactly what makes Bard so perfect for our times. She’s approachable, and her cooking suggestions are doable. She also has a rich life outside cooking — the life of a woman who has displaced herself into another culture — and enjoys sharing that part of her story as well.

Mesdames et Messieurs, I would now like to offer you the fruits (not to mention veggies) of my exchange with expat author, chef and lifestyle muse Elizabeth Bard.

Tell me a little more about your background.
I grew up in Northern New Jersey and spent weekends with my father in New York City. I studied English Lit as an undergrad at Cornell, then art history at Christie’s and the Courtauld Institute in London. My dream was to be the chief curator of the Pierpont Morgan Library in Manhattan. I was always convinced I’d been born in the wrong century. I love old objects, lost worlds, so, of course, I was instantly seduced by Paris (and of course, my French husband).

Over the years, I’ve written on art, travel and food, and digital culture for the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Harper’s Bazaar, Wired, Time Out and Huffington Post, among others. Lunch in Paris was my first book.

In July 2010, my husband and I and our baby son Augustin moved to a small village in Provence, to live in the wartime home of the famous poet and WWII Resistance leader René Char. At the time, we had no plans to leave Paris — it was a date with destiny. You can find the complete (completely crazy?) story of how we found the house on my blog.

How are you finding life in Provence as compared to Paris?
As a city girl, village life is a discovery for me. I’m still adjusting to hanging my undies in the sun, and learning the names of the local birds (they can’t all be pigeons…). I’m surrounded by wonderful cooks and gardeners; last week, I went on my first saffron harvest. The move has been a wonderful transition for us as a family — it has made me question many of the things I believe about work/life balance, health, and being close to nature. All things I hope to share (along with my neighbor’s recipe for Provençal soupe au pistou) in my next book.

Turning to Lunch in Paris: What made you decide to write a book telling the story of your transition to living in France?
I hope Lunch in Paris captures something real about what it means to build a life in another culture. As an American, I follow generations of women who all came from somewhere else. They learned to cook with new ingredients, speak a new language, manage in a new world. My Jewish grandmother learned to make spaghetti sauce with pork ribs from the Italian ladies she met on line at the butcher shop during the war; I’m simply another in a long line.

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead? I ask because in reading the book, I kept noticing your facility with dialogue and description.
It never occurred to me to write Lunch in Paris as a novel. Fantasy lives in France are easy to imagine — but I wanted to express some of the things I’d learned personally, about what it means to take risks, to put happiness first on your checklist. That’s not a fictional decision — that’s something we struggle with every day.

Why did you decide to include recipes in your book?
Almost as soon as I arrived in Paris, I knew that I wanted to write about the roller coaster of international living, and the richness of intercultural marriage. When I sat down to think about the moments that really helped me discover French life, I kept coming back to the dinner table, the markets, the recipes — so it seemed natural to structure Lunch in Paris around those experiences.

Do you still use the recipes from the book and which one is your favorite?
I’m always trying new recipes, which I share on the blog or Facebook page, but I do use my copy of Lunch in Paris as a cookbook — I keep it handy in the cabinet with the pasta. The recipes I go back to again and again: for summer, it’s the haricot verts with walnut oil, for winter, the lentils. The tagines are great for a party — and the molten chocolate cakes work anytime.

Which portion of your book — Paris, the love story, the recipes — have readers responded to most?
I’m so surprised, humbled, gratified by the fact that Lunch in Paris has found such a wide audience. I’m so pleased that the book has been a vivid piece of armchair (or bathtub) travel for those who love Paris — and a temptation for those who’d like to go. I’ve had many young readers say it inspired them hold on to their dream of living abroad, or simply doing something a bit outside the box with love or career.

I’m also thrilled that people are getting their books all greasy, using the recipes — and posting photos of their creations on the Lunch in Paris Facebook page. I’m a home cook; I tested all the recipes myself. I was determined that readers take as much pleasure (and as little stress) in preparing them as I did. Maybe the nicest thing anyone has said came from a friend in London:

“It’s nice for Augustin to have such a wonderful record of his parent’s romance.”

I’m proud to be passing that on.

The thing that has surprised me the most is the wonderful online community. Though the readers are all over the world, it really feels warm and personal to me. I love that social media allows people to share recipes and stories from all over the world. A few months ago, I got an email from a New Zealander living in Crete. I now follow her blog to learn about traditional Cretean cooking.

As I mentioned in my intro, Julia Child was the inspiration for TDN’s October theme — and you remind me of a 21st century version of her in some ways. I’m curious, do you have her Mastering the Art of French Cooking — and do you actually use it?
I have my mom’s copy of Mastering the Art, but at the moment – I’m too busy trying recipes from my French neighbors to actually use it!

What did you think of Julie Powell’s blogging about making all the recipes from that encyclopedic book?
I love a good project — especially one that gets a girl out of a rut — it was fun to read about how the random adventures we set for ourselves can change everything.

How about the film, Julie & Julia?
The film — well, it just proves that Meryl Streep can do ANYTHING.

We’ve been asking our Random Nomad interviewees this month if they identify with any of the following Julia Child quotes and why. Can we ask you as well?
I agree with the choice that both Mardi and Jennifer made:

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

I’d say this goes for goes for life in general — not just cooking. With all of our “Just-do-it” attitude, Americans are particularly prone to fear of failure: everything is possible, so everything we don’t accomplish is our fault. Fear is paralyzing. I work every day to get the hell out of my own way.

Quite a few of our readers are long-term expats who’ve entered cross-cultural marriages. What do you think is the biggest challenge about marrying someone of another culture?
The Franco-American combination is a very powerful one. I gave my husband a bit of the American can-do spirit, permission to pursue his dreams based on his own qualities, instead of family or class. He gave me a bit of the French joie de vivre — permission to live in the moment, to consider happiness, rather than some abstract (and culturally relative) notion of “success”, as my ultimate goal.

Was language an obstacle at all?
I speak fluent French now. It was a struggle at the beginning — you feel a bit invisible. That’s one reason cooking became so important to me. During the early days of our marriage, I used food to welcome people. My husband’s friends didn’t know if I was intelligent, charming, witty, or warm. What they did know is that I made a mean sweet potato puree. There were times when I used the kitchen to hide. French dinner parties are marathons of cuisine and conversation — 4 or 5 hours minimum. With the rapid-fire French buzzing in my ears, and my brain foggy from the wine, it was just easier to say, “I’m just going to check the roast” than “Dear God, I’m so bored and exhausted I’m considering sticking my head in the oven.”

Do you think you could fit back into living in American culture after a decade of living in France?
I’ve been away for a long time — and like many expats, I find myself in a no-man’s land, not quite one or the other. Honestly, I think the hardest thing about moving back to the States would be the portions — even with a great farmer’s market nearby I think it would be a struggle to maintain our very healthy French eating habits. That and the hyper-competitive attitude about raising kids. I’m not sure I’m ready for preschool applications.

As it happens, on October 13 Travelers Night In (#TNI) was French inspired, and everyone tweeted their answers to 10 questions about the best of the best in France. Could you do us — and the traveling community at large — the honor of providing your own short answers?
Q1. The best thing about French people is…
Food is not fuel.
Q2. France is famous for food, what dish is your favorite? Best food city?
Give me a perfect, flaky, buttery croissant.
Q3. Favorite French countryside escape?
The rolling hills of Burgundy — with a stop at the cathedral in Vézelay.
Q4. What is the most overrated thing about France?
April in Paris (it rains)
Q5. What defines Paris?
PDA (does that still mean public display of affection?)
Q6. French museum or monument that shouldn’t be missed?
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris
Q7. Perfect place to enjoy a glass of French wine? What varietal, region, winery?
People watching along the Canal Saint-Martin, any glass recommended at the Verre Vole (rue de Lancry)
Q8. Top way to spend a night out in Paris?
Walking along the banks of the Île Saint-Louis with a double scoop of Berthillon sorbet.
Q9. Best things to do on the French Riviera?
We avoid the French Riviera — over-crowded, over-priced, over.
Q10. Biggest misconception about the French?
French cooking is complicated.

Thank you so much for engaging in this tête-à-tête! Readers, do you have your own questions for this 21st-century answer to Julia Child? Hurry up, before she disappears into her kitchen or heads out to another saffron field!

Images: Head shot of Elizabeth Bard by Cindi de Channes (2008); book cover.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is taking seriously her friend’s advice to make time for herself, and enjoying her freedom while Jack is in nursery school. Someone had better remind her that small babies tend to put a damper on such wanton activities. (Speaking of which, Libs — isn’t it time you saw a doctor?) What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation, including seasonal recipes and book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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5 responses to “A Julia Child for our times: Expat author & French cookery expert Elizabeth Bard

  1. Justine Ickes October 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    What a wonderful interview! So much of what Elizabeth said resonated with me.And her take on how the American “just-do-it” attitude is so spot on – While it IS empowering at times, it can be paralyzing too. Thanks to for the links to the Taste of Crete blog. I look forward to following that one as well, although somewhat under cover from my Turkish husband. Because, you know in his min, everything Greek is really Turkish. 🙂 So, a question for Elizabeth, any fool-proof French recipes for getting kids to eat their veggies? We have an easier time of this when we visit Turkey and have access to fresh seasonal fruits and veggies but it’s much harder in the U.S.

    • Lunch in Paris October 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm

      Hi Justine – Thanks for your lovley comment. I think the key to getting kids to eat veggies is to start early and often. French kids often eat a bigger lunch and a light all veggie dinner, a veggie soup or puree (potato, carrot, or zucchini). I find this useful, because kids often like only one ingredient on their plate at a time. Instead of chicken with carrots on the side, try just a bowl of boiled carrots with a touch of honey. Sweet things like roasted sweet potato (I love them as well!), or plain things like boiled broccoli – these are two of my son’s favorites. My son also loves pesto, I often make him spinach pasta with bite-size pieces of broccoli, carrots or green bean mixed in. I think the most important thing is that they see you eat veggies – kids love to try what you’re eating! All of these ingredients should be available at your local supermarket. Let me know how it goes!

  2. louloufrance October 31, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I really enjoyed reading this interview and can totally relate to the phrase “roller coaster of international living.” I think that about sums it up. 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Julie Powell in Me | between the moon and Davao City

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