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Woman who 'taught France to cook' swept away by Irish food

17 march 2016, 15:31
0

Did you hear the one about the Irishwoman who taught the French how to cook?

It may sound like some sort of dubious Irish joke. But in the case of Trish Deseine there is more than a grain of truth to the tale.

The farmer's daughter from County Antrim is one of France's bestselling food writers, having sold more than a million copies of her cookbooks.

She is also credited with fundamentally changing the way millions of ordinary French people cook by taking away the fear of living up to one of the world's greatest culinary traditions, AFP reports.

With books like "Petits Plats entre Amis" (Little Dishes Between Friends) and "Je Veux du Chocolat!" (I Want Chocolate!), she taught a generation intimidated by long shadow of France's gastronomic greats to dare.

For Deborah Dupont-Daguet, the owner of  La Librarie Gourmande in Paris -- which claims to be the world's biggest culinary bookshop -- Deseine was nothing short of an inspiration with her clever, unashamedly simple takes on French classics and recipes from around the world

The first cookbook Dupont-Daguet ever bought was "Little Dishes Between Friends". 

"It's weird but I learned French cooking from that book. You would never see those types of tips in a French cookbook 15 years ago. It's completely crazy," she said, "but it took an Irishwoman to tell us these things."

Even Deseine is still slighty bemused by her success. "I have theories, but I really don't know why," she told AFP. "People felt liberated because I was taking the fuss out of cooking. I think maybe it was okay for an outsider to say you don't have to go through 50 complicated steps. My approach was very natural and direct and sensual." 

But having been France's Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson rolled into one, Deseine is now trying to crack an even harder nut. 

- 'Like a big hug' -

Her new book, "Mon Irlande", or "Home" in its English translation, is an attempt to bring the simple virtues of Irish cooking to the French and the rest of the world.

No easy task for a country more synonymous with a certain black liquid refreshment and a long history of famine and hunger than its food.

But Deseine, 51, is convinced its time has come.  

After 30 years in France, Deseine described returning to live part of the year in Ireland as like "getting a big hug". And the food was a big part of that. 

She rediscovered the simple joy of rustic wheaten bread and yellow salty butter, "one of the easiest breads you can make, that can be rustled up in half an hour".

In a world where restaurant plates are stacked with every kind of crossover cuisine, the book is a plea for plain food.

"No pistachios or pomegranates were harmed in the making of this book," Deseine wryly points out in the introduction, which she illustrated with a pot of floury potatoes, boiled in their jackets.

"So often now you come across too many tastes competing on the plate. There is no need for that. You just have to let the produce speak, and with Irish cooking at its best, you see this most in what people eat in their homes.

"Less is more every time," argued Deseine. "Rather than have this pile-up of flavours we need to get back to appreciating the local and learn how to really taste.

"You can get as much pleasure in one simple ingredient as you can have in having 50 all together, or in 15 varieties of tomatoes you might find in big markets in the south of France." 

 

- Plain and honest -
 

She concedes that Ireland's native Nordic-style cuisine is "very austere, very puritan in one way... but it is also full of comfort food -- plain, honest and satisfying."

Deseine has a particular weakness for the home baking of her native Ulster -- scones, bulging apple tarts and tray bakes. "I know women who are as skilled and particular about their soda bread or boiled cakes as any Michelin-starred chef," she said.

The book showcases some of the best chefs from the new wave of Irish cooking almost as much the traditional staples of bacon and cabbage, mackerel, pearl barley, seaweed, carrageen moss (another algae now much used and abused by the food and cosmetics industries) and oats -- the Irish almond.

It was only afterwards that Deseine realised that there was "no vanilla and only one clove of garlic" in the whole book... "which proves how well you can eat" without ever leaving your own patch of earth.

By Fiachra GIBBONS


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