A common trope is given new life with “The Cook’s Atelier,” a beautiful cookbook inspired by the story of a mother-daughter pair who dropped everything and moved to a small town in France to open a cooking school.
Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini didn’t always dream of moving to France, but Franchini – then Smith – developed an interest in French language and culture early on. When her daughter began spending more and more time in France, Taylor decided to leave Phoenix as well, capitalizing on her love, passion, and knowledge of cooking to make a life for herself in Burgundy.
Beginning in 2008, the mother-daughter team (with help from Franchini’s husband) built The Cook’s Atelier from scratch: the cooking school in Beaune teaches its students not just technique and recipes but the cultural aspects of French culinary traditions that have attracted Americans to France for decades.
This story of passion and drive is the backdrop against which the recipes in this book are set: organized according to season, they range from the simplest spring combination of French radishes, butter, and salt, to more involved (but nevertheless accessible) dishes like homemade savory tarts or shortcakes. Throughout, the authors never fail to reinforce their overarching culinary philosophy: your cooking is only ever as good as the seasonal ingredients you use.
“We are big believers that less is more when it comes to good cooking,” write the authors. “When you use best-quality ingredients, even the simplest dish will shine.”
This is no truer than in the summer recipes in the book, which the authors note “aren’t cooked so much as they are assembled” and feature grilled meats, salads, and seasonal fruits.
This philosophy is also highlighted by the interviews scattered throughout the book, which profile local producers, farmers, and vendors.
“To us,” write the authors, “a true artisan food producer is someone who is growing, harvesting, and producing food, rather than just selling it at the market. We gain immense satisfaction in knowing that we are supporting small farmers and eating clean food.”
The authors have clearly embraced local Burgundian cuisine, but they bring their own touches to some classic recipes, as well. Their coq au vin, for example, is made with dry white wine instead of the classic red; the vegetables are just barely blanched and added at the end, for a lighter touch. It’s just one example of what these two have mastered: the perfect blend of truly traditional French dishes with a modern, contemporary flair.
This book is not immune to the romanticism so many Americans have of France: from the vintage appeal of their school to the oft-touted belief that all French people eat seasonally and well, Taylor and Franchini are catering, to some extent, to what Americans wish France was. The refreshing touch that this book brings is the lightest of reality checks: an exploration of the work and effort that continued attention to seasonality and quality products requires – no matter where you live.
“France, for the most part, still puts a significant value in the pleasure of eating well and supporting small farmers and artisan producers,” they write. “As the world gets more and more homogenized, we feel that traditions such as kitchen gardens, small farms, and charcuterie- and cheese-making, as well as artisanal baking should be protected. We do our best to help support these crafts by shopping locally and sharing these traditions with our guests as well.”
It’s the France that Americans want to see, for sure, but for once, it’s actually pretty close to the reality.
The Cook’s Atelier is available on Amazon.
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