Patricia Wells is a culinary legend who has lived and cooked in France for more than 30 years. She is an award-winning journalist, author and teacher who runs a popular cooking school out of her homes in Paris and Provence, France.
Her most recent book is The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence. Reading it left me hungry, and with a great case of wanderlust. She was generous enough to share her holiday plans. She also left us with a French-inspired Christmas menu.
Jennifer Russell: Nothing sounds more romantic to me than spending Christmas in Paris or Provence. What’s it like?
Patricia Wells (Photo: Jeff Kauck)
Patricia Wells: It is so fabulous. The city is just gorgeous at holiday time. Christmas is really a family time in France, and New Year’s is the grown ups’ time. We often trade off Christmas in one location and New Year’s in the other, but this year we’ll be in Paris for both holidays. We’re going to stay put and just enjoy the lights.
JR: What is a typical Christmas dinner like in Paris?
PW: It’s beautiful. The French tend to be pretty traditional. For dinner there would usually be some kind of roast bird -- a turkey, a capon, a guinea fowl -- those are the traditional Christmas main dishes. Then of course you have to have some potatoes, lots of vegetables and a bûche de Noël, which I’ve actually never made in my life.
JR: How does tradition play for you in your menus? What will you have on your table this Christmas?
PW: I don’t have a lot of traditions that date back decades because I tend to gravitate to the latest recipes I’ve been working on the past couple of years. But I do think much of our food satisfaction and joy this time of year comes from our food memories.
This year I’ll be making a miniature onion and goat cheese tatin as a starter. I make these all the time -- I’m obsessed. We’ll have Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Toasted Pistachios. This is something I’ve been making for years, and it has become tradition for us. I also love to make a saffron and honey brioche, which is so beautiful and so elegant.
JR: Many of us are in the throes of planning our Christmas menus. What advice might you share?
PW: Even though I have a series of recipes I’ll turn to, I always think about seasonality. Just going to the market really inspires me. For instance, I’ve been on an artichoke kick lately. If I see artichokes at the market, which is very possible because they’re grown in in greenhouses in Brittany, then I would probably consider an artichoke salad. Artichoke, avocado and zucchini make a beautiful salad. Right now there are persimmons and pomegranates all over the place. I’ll definitely be making a Pomegranate and Buttermilk Sorbet for Christmas.
So I’d say don’t try to make a menu of everything new because it’s important to have some of those food memories on the table. I also think it’s important not to complicate life too much. Keep things simple, keep things beautiful!
Patricia Wells' French-inspired Christmas menu
Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.