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French Connections

The river Seine in Paris on a Saturday afternoon

LOUISIANA COOKING…TALK ABOUT GOOD!

I admit to being a “media whore.” When a journalist from Arte called and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about growing up in Louisiana and what that means to my relationship with food and France, immediately I said “Yes!,” in spite of my insanely busy life. How could I say no? I couldn’t.

Arte is an acronym for Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne—a Franco-German public service channel with a European remit, created in 1991 and based in Strasbourg. Arte’s programs are available free of charge from six months to infinite availability on the website and the ARTE TV application for smartphones, tablets and connected televisions, as well as on their YouTube channels. Arte also offers a replay service dedicated to live performances (ARTE Concert), a web radio station (Arte radio), and educational partnerships (ARTE Education). Since 2015, some online programs have been subtitled in English, Spanish, Polish and Italian. Like PBS in the U.S., Arte is very well respected and widely popular.

They’re doing a new show about travel and food that will launch sometime within the next six months and they wanted more than just an interview. They wanted to know if I cook Louisiana cuisine while living in France. I lied and said “Yes!” and then proceeded to agree to cooking a meal for friends from New Orleans while they filmed the preparation of the dishes and the meal.

Oy vey! The truth is I almost never cook and didn’t have a clue how to make Louisiana specialties except for the Marinated Artichokes I make every year on February 2nd to celebrate my liberation from wedded not-so-bliss. But, that wasn’t going to stop me from making the most of this important media coverage. Sheepishly I informed the journalist that being on camera wasn’t new to me and this would be “du gâteau” (a piece of cake).

Adrian Leeds' marinated artichokes

Finding time to prepare the meal and then take an entire day for the recording was a challenge. Still, I returned from Nice just in time to shop, cook up the dishes (with the help of an assistant), set the table and prepare for an all day affair, which lasted 9.5 hours from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. last Thursday.

Arte sent one lone journalist equipped with an iPhone on a tripod and some other technical equipment. She (a lovely young French woman named Alara) managed to get a lot of material. She interviewed me for 3.5 hours without a break about my life in France and my relationship with food. She allowed me to speak in English and let me know that it would likely have a voice-over with a French translation when it airs. I didn’t feel comfortable answering the questions in French—not in a way that true emotion would allow, at any rate.

Alara learned a lot about our point of view as she asked all the right questions, and I was impressed with her as a journalist. Three-and-a-half hours felt like a mere 35 minutes as the time flew by, yet the segment will last only about five minutes, even after recording for 9.5 hours! It gave me the opportunity to talk about my theory that our cultural clashes stem from the differences in our legal systems and how Americans must be able to cross the cultural divide to survive in France. I found myself talking about my mother who made the best gumbo ever, but refused to pass-on the recipe claiming she was taking it with her to her grave. That elicited both a laugh and a tear. I related how our Friday night Shabbat dinners were less than kosher as my mother spread the newspaper on the table and laid out mounds of fresh boiled crabs, crawfish, shrimp, raw oysters on the half-shell and bowls of hot gumbo. It was traditional to eat seafood on Friday as per the Catholic tradition in this very Catholic town, hence our adoption of it, in spite of our Orthodox Jewish upbringing. She would feel guilty, and make some remark to make us all feel as bad as she did, then we would tell her to just shut up and eat!

In my kitchen cabinet just happened to be an array of Louisiana spices and specialties by such well-known producers as “Zatarain’s,” “Slap Ya Mama,” and a few others. They have been sitting there just waiting for the right occasion to be opened and here it was.

A selection of seasonings and spices used in New Orleans cooking

Alara recorded me in the kitchen, stirring the pre-prepared Jambalaya on the stove top and basting the artichokes with its dressing using a turkey baster. They had been marinating all night long. In the fridge was a bucket of boiled shrimp with their heads on and the bananas were in a Pyrex dish ready to go into the oven. I was wearing an apron that had a recipe for Gumbo on it that seemed fitting and I had taken out two trays that have a New Orleans motif on them to add to the atmosphere.

Mardi Gras beads had been dragged out of the closet for each of us to wear during the dinner. My daughter has been begging me to toss them for years and I had refused for sentimental reasons. Now was the perfect moment to make use of them.

My friends arrived with a few goodies to add to the meal, such as the fixin’s for a Sazerac. A Sazerac is a New Orleans cocktail variation of cognac or whiskey, named after the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac, which was its original main ingredient. Traditionally, the drink consists of cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, and sugar, although bourbon can sometimes replace rye whiskey, and Herbsaint can substitute absinthe. Some believe the Sazerac is the oldest known American cocktail, originating in antebellum New Orleans, but this claim is disputed by drink historian David Wondrich.

Our friend, Michael, demonstrated how to make it and then we passed it around to taste it. We all agreed it was delicious. Then we sat down to devour the artichokes, leaf by leaf and fill a big bowl with the discarded leaves. Each person was given two napkins—one for protecting their clothing and the other for wiping their hands. This was a meal where you must use your hands and you can expect the juices to run down your arms. Alara as getting a lesson on how Americans love to eat with their hands, whether it be artichokes or hamburgers.

Once we cleaned our plates and happily downed the hearts (the grand prize of a good artichoke), next came the Jambalaya. Jambalaya is a typical Louisiana spicy rice dish from with African, Spanish, and French influences. It primarily consists of meat or seafood (or both), vegetables, rice, and spices. The word “jambalaya” is also used on Louisiana to describe something that is made up of a lot of different parts or ingredients.

I chose to cook it using chicken and sausage. Because “andouille” sausage (a coarse-grained smoked meat made using pork, pepper, onions, and seasonings of French origin, but brought to Louisiana by French and German immigrants) wasn’t available, I chose a chorizo for its spiciness. There are many different versions, but primarily there is one version that is Cajun and another that is Creole (where tomatoes are added). Both have the base of the “Holy Trinity”—onion, celery, and green bell pepper (I used both green and red peppers). It was very spicy and very delicious, so very little was left—just barely enough for my assistant who helped me cook.

Adrian Leeds' jambalaya, nearly all gone

The shrimp were there to peel and dip into a cocktail sauce made with ketchup, horse radish, lemon and Louisiana hot sauce. This is a regular dinner for me—so easy to buy them cooked, make up the sauce and pretend I’m in New Orleans. Then came the Baked Bananas Glacé from the Talk About Good Cookbook published by the Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana. My copy is clearly battered and well used; the bananas dessert recipe having gotten the most attention as I used to make them quite often. We served them up piping hot with vanilla ice cream melting on top.

Cover of the Talk About Good cookbook

To end it all with a bang, I made a big French press pot of New Orleans Café du Monde coffee and chicory that I keep in stock. By the end of the day, we had “bien mangé” (eaten well) and relived our Louisiana roots through food and conversation.

I’ll be curious to see how all those hours of dining and conversation boils down to about five minutes, but rest assured that when it airs, we’ll to let you know!

Meanwhile, my sister had celebrated her June 4th birthday at Galatoire’s Restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans just two days earlier. She and her daughter had been sending me pictures of their meal to torture me, which she loves to do. In fact, she loves to send me photos of my favorite New Orleans dishes at every opportunity, knowing that I dream about eating them.

The cover of a menu from Galatoire's in New Orleans

Lunch items at Galatroire's in New Orleans

As I told Alara, as did all of my friends sitting around the table, there is no where better in the world to eat than New Orleans…no offense to France!

J’AIME FILMING J’AIME

I went from the frying pan into the fire…first filming all day Thursday for Arte, then filming three solid days from Saturday through today for House Hunters International.

The “contributors” are a young Franco-American couple who had no choice but to move to Paris from Los Angeles because his (Thomas’) U.S. visa couldn’t be issued. Her name is “J’aime,” meaning “I love,” and she lives up to it—I found her very loving, not to mention very beautiful. Thomas grew up in Le Vesinet, just outside of Paris, while J’aime grew up in Oahu, Hawaii—two very different places—but when they met, they connected immediately. Three weddings later (one in Hawaii, one in France and one in L.A.), they are faced with moving their lives to Paris. How “terrible?!,” I jokingly asked her.

House Hunters International contributors Thomas and J'Aime

Thomas and J’aime along the Seine

This filming was scheduled for only three days. Normally the shoots take four to five days, so we really had to work long hard hours to make it happen. Even after all that time with the camera rolling, the shows that air are only about 22 minutes once edited down. The crew was made-up of the same technicians I work with regularly. That always makes it easy and fun, in spite of the long days. We filmed in many seriously beautiful parts of Paris, particularly along the River Seine and the Bassin de l’Arsenal, on the Ile Saint-Louis and in the 11th near Place Léon Blum.

The Bassin de l'Arsenal in Paris

The Bassin de l’Arsenal

No doubt, this episode will be total eye-candy, so stay tuned for when it airs sometime within the next few months. We’ll be sure to let you know!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds serving Jambalya in her apartment in ParisAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian serving jambalaya to Michael

P.S. Did you know we have filmed over 55 episodes of House Hunters International?! Newer episodes frequently re-air, so we work to keep you informed when they’ll air. You can also review all the episodes and see if they’ll be shown again by going to our HHI page.

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