What the cookbook is: An afterthought addition to a French themed gift basket full of wine and cheese.
What the cookbook is not: Sure of what it is.
Who this book is best suited for: A young woman looking for a light escape from university finals. Or the beginner cook.
Three words to sum it up: Médiocre at best.
The Review: Dinner Chez Moi
Over time, I’ve become a Francophile by reading literature and memoirs and cooking from French cookbooks. Naturally, receiving Elizabeth Bard‘s whimsically-illustrated Dinner Chez Moi held promise of a fun and light escape into her life as an American expat in Provence, living the dream–in some ways, living my dream.
Bard describes her past-self as a typical American (because we all love Kraft singles and General Tso’s chicken) who’s found a love for fresh, seasonal, and unfamiliar ingredients since moving to France. Though she speaks to writing a book for people in the states who are trying to find a similar love in their own lives and kitchens, it is soon apparent that the book’s purpose is not clear.
Is it meant to be a listicle?
Bard lists 50 ‘secrets’ for why French cooking and lifestyle is preferable to the American way. Each secret is an ingredient, piece of equipment, or cooking/serving suggestion. The written descriptions under each feel pretentiously bright and enthusiastic, and don’t seem to be contributing very much.
Although celery root may look like Frankenstein’s brain, it is among my favorite French discoveries.
I can’t help but wonder if the top 50 list is better suited for Buzzfeed.
Is it a memoir about living in France?
Throughout the book, Bard uses personal anecdotes and life lessons she’s learned from the people in France but offers little to no insight. She does the exact opposite by using insipid metaphors instead. Like this one:
…the butcher remains an important local figure. Mine is at once alluring and reassuring, like having a cute doctor. He gives me the confidence to try new things, like rabbit, which I would never buy under cellophane.
I’m not sure I understand what that even means. And then there’s this one:
Like a red bra under your business suit, [using cinnamon with meat and vegetables] changes everything, even though you might be the only one who knows it’s there.
Some might find these quips funny or endearing. I couldn’t help but find them distracting and they feel like, in some ways, desperate attempts by the author to relate to her readers.
Is it a diet book?
I got exhausted reading about eating habits, banished ingredients (snacks, condiments, sugar, etc), and small portions. To be honest, I felt a little like I was being chastised for occasionally wanting a little Duke’s mayonnaise spread on my turkey sandwich or wanting a Reese’s peanut butter cup after a bad day.
This is France, so of course you are entitled to your indulgences…invest in bars of 70 percent dark chocolate. But act your age and leave the candy for the kids.
I’m not saying American diets and food habits are not without their problems, but I think it would have better served Bard to do more guiding and less chiding. I’d like to have seen her describe why French food is better for its quality than for its benefit to one’s waistline.
Or is it a cookbook?
I tested the Crevettes et pois chiches aux épices, or Spiced Chickpeas with Garlic Ginger Shrimp. I tested it because it promised to be fast. And it was, which I appreciated. However, in this particular recipe, the directions are formatted as one big paragraph versus individual steps. I found myself hunting for what to do next.
The directions also puzzled me. The entire book is written for the beginner cook, as evidenced by its inclusion of directions defining that raw shrimp are gray rather than pink. The steps didn’t really jive with beginner-level instruction. Bard advises to cook the ‘chickpeas [until] they start to make a sound like popcorn.’ Mine didn’t make popping noises, so they burned. And her direction to cook frozen shrimp until they ‘are pink and just cooked through. (This should not take long)’ is very unclear. Perhaps this is Bard’s attempt to be more casual and conversational versus technical in her instruction. Burned chickpeas and semi-raw shrimp aside, the flavors of the recipe were lackluster and unexciting.
In the end, it’s safe to say Dinner Chez Moi doesn’t offer very much that is significant. Maybe Bard could have done more if she focused on just one idea for her book. I’m sure there are women out there (perhaps fans of her previous books) who this book will speak to, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them.
Disclosure: I received a copy in advance of the official release date for the purposes of an honest review.