If I could put my loft on a magic carpet, fly it to New York and land it somewhere in Chelsea within walking distance of Union Square, I would do so in a heartbeat. I love the city. It is actually my favourite! And I love Union Square Farmers market and wish we had something similar in London. It is not that we don’t have enough farmers market. We have plenty. But what they don’t offer is the tremendous variety that you find in Union Square. Take the top photo for instance: beautiful, graceful hands picking okra from a selection of red and green ones. As some of you know, I was brought up in Lebanon and Syria where okra is a common vegetable but I had never seen red okra before. Nor for that matter fat okra as pretty as those with the reddish tops in the picture below. It is not my favourite vegetable but if I lived in New York, it would certainly become one. At least at this time of the year.
Every now and then I go to a restaurant which I adore. It happened at Noma last summer and at Dabbous this winter. And yesterday, it happened again at Agapé Substance. A tiny space decorated with perfect taste including the most beautiful bouquets of strips of wood from Vacherin boxes. As for the cooking, it is meticulous without being prissy with fabulous ingredients and perfect seasoning. Some have described the chef, David Toutain, as a culinary genius and I have to say I totally agree. He is exceptionally talented and supremely creative. If you are visiting Paris, you have to eat there. I am only sorry we didn’t take my group on the culinary weekend with Francois Simon but we had an amazing degustation dinner at le Comptoir and another cooked by the great critic himself. So, we didn’t do too badly.
I have always liked eating, from when I was a chubby little child, but I never carried food with me on my travels, that is not until I started writing about it. From that day on, I travelled like a peasant, stuffing spices and countless other ingredients into an extra bag that I carried empty with me to fill with my culinary purchases.
But on a recent trip to Paris, I decided to travel light and I took only one small bag, forgetting how irresistible Paris is, both for food and for clothes shopping; and of course, I stocked up at Yamamoto (my favourite designer) and at Desnoyer, the best butcher in Paris, who luckily was round the corner from where I was staying. Y obligingly provided me with a bag, although a simpler one than I would have expected, while Desnoyer suggested I get myself a sac isolant (with insulation) from Picard, the French Iceland, to protect my foies gras, boudin and faux filet until I got home. Two very different bags, not to mention the contents, that surprisingly looked quite harmonious next to each other.
The one thing that I would have loved to bring back, however, although I didn’t dare were sea urchins but I made sure I ate plenty while there, January being high season for urchins; and this I did thanks to my lovely friend Anne-Marie who you can see below in my old kitchen (the postcard picture of Anne-Marie was taken by June Newton).
The first night, we had them at her house and they were fabulous: very fleshy, and very fresh. Then we had them at the Bar à Huitres where Anne-Marie and I met the next day for a late lunch. The urchins there were just as good as those she had bought in the market although she had prepared them better, getting rid of all the liquid inside which they didn’t do at the Bar. I am now thinking of when I can go back to Paris before the season is over. And to think that I used to hate urchins when I lived in Beirut and could eat them on the beach straight out of the sea!