Autumn harvest from the market ~ potimarron, squash, pomegranates, persimmons and little green kiwai

How six months morphed into thirty months is more than my little brain can comprehend. When I set out on this culinary adventure with one duffel bag, three pairs of shoes (including my cooking clogs) and my precious set of knives, my goal was to survive six months then move to New York to cook in a kitchen there. I had no intention of staying and actually my biggest fear as I boarded the plane was whether or not I’d be able to make it the entire six months.

Arc de Triomphe, my first picture I took on my first day in Paris, 4 May 2004

I was in tears the day before I left at my friend M & B’s house. She said: “What are you afraid of?” I sniffled: “That I will fail and have to come home early.” Her response: “So what?” Sage advice in hindsight. At the time it was the worst outcome imaginable and I threw myself on the bed, inconsolable. Two and a half years later, much to my amazment, not only did I not have to come home early, I’ve managed, by the grace of God and some remarkable friends who championed my journey, to survive and thrive in this City of Lights. I can’t believe how much time I wasted worrying and agonizing over something that never came to fruition though I believe a healthy dose of humility is always beneficial to keep life in perspective.

So how to celebrate such a momentous and seemingly impossible accomplishment? With a big dinner of course, surrounded by some of those friends who cheered me along from the moment I landed. Friends I met my first week in Paris, friends that helped me find work, one as I was boarding the plane to move back to San Francisco, and new friends discovered in this wacky food blogging world.

I was so delighted with my last dinner of duck and figs that I thought I’d stick with it and try a recipe I found in the UK Food & Travel willed to me by a friend who moved back to Washington. So off I went to visit my blue-eyed butcher Serge for six beautiful duck magrets (breasts) and then to my little Place Monge market that has been a source of joy, inspiration and a feeling of belonging since I arrived.

First stop was Bernard and his bio produce stand for sweet potates (patates douces), persimmons, potimarrons (cross between a pumpkin – potiron – and chestnut – marron) and other funky squash for the centerpiece, along with herbs, tomatoes, and of course the supporting actress in tonight’s show, a flat of figs.

Next stop was Momo and some olives for apps, then Jean-Marie and his foie gras stand. Across the way to Philippe for some fabulous cheeses and then les fleurs automn for the mantle and table. Bernard also showed me some now treats he had – a kiwai (kee-why), which is the ancestor to the ubiquitous kiwi. These little kiwai were no bigger than the tip of my thumb and I was instructed by Bernard to just pop them in my mouth, skin and all. They have a smooth soft skin, not fuzzy, so easy to eat and not so surprisingly they tasted just like a…kiwi sans hassle and mess of peeling them! So I draped a few branches of these over my potimarron, squashes, persimmons et al and created an interactive centerpiece that everyone could nibble on throughout the meal.

So now it was time to cook. My friend Marleen had come down from England for the celebration and offered to help prep. I immediately took her up on it, tossed her an apron and we got chopping. About two hours before people showed up I put in a frantic call to my friend Jeff to come help as I was painfully far behind with visions of my guests falling asleep in the living room waiting for dinner. Thanks to four extra hands, we served dinner on time and everyone had a happy glow from the champagne and foie gras. Voila le menu…

Deux Ans et Demi en France!
Two and a Half Years in France!
Samedi, 4 November 2006
chez Laura

Pommery Champagne Brut Royal
Pate aux Armignac
Saumon Fumee sur Brioche avec Citron Creme Fraiche

Chateau Larcis Jaumat, St Emilion Grand Cru 2004
Magret de Canard “Laque” avec Sauce aux Figues
Patates Douces avec Sauge
Haricots-verts et Eschalots avec Sauce aux Creme-Noix Epicee

Sauterne de Chateau Haut Bommes 2002, Gironde
Assiette des Fromages

Chateau de la Dauphine 1989, Fronsac
Gateau Chocolat Moelloeux
Glace Vanille Fait Maison

Mignardises de Patisserie Pinaud

Et voila les recettes…

Lacquered Duck
* adapted from Food & Travel, UK Edition, October 2005
this recipe is for 4 people. I bought huge duck breasts that served two people easily so adjust your recipe accordingly

– 4 duck magrets (breasts)
– 2 T coriander seeds – crushed
– 2 T fennel seeds – crushed
– 200 ml light soy sauce
– 4 oranges – juice & zest (I used clementines for this and the fig sauce. They are sweeter and so beautiful and abundant right now)
– 4 cinnamon sticks (or a few shakes of cinnamon, forgot to buy the sticks)
– 8 star anise (I substituted a few shakes of quatre epices or allspice here since I was too lazy to trek across town in search of star anise.)
– 4 T honey
– 2 T brown sugar
– pinch cayenne (I put too much and it had a heck of a kick and though no one kindly pointed it out, quite a bit of water and wine was consumed 🙂 )

1. crush fennel and coriander seeds in a morter and pestle or a blender or mini cuisinart.

2. measure out the rest of the lacquer ingredients

3. zest and juice oranges

4. combine all the lacquer ingredients, simmer and reduce by half

5. while the lacquer is reducing, score and render duck fat in medium heat saute pan, pouring off the fat as it accumulates

3. place duck breasts on rack, skin side up, in roasting pan

4. pour the lacquer reduction over duck

5. repeat about 8-10 times until it is glazed

6. if the lacquer gets too thick, add 200 ml water + 1 tbsp sugar and continue glazing

7. place in a 425F oven (no. 7) and cook for approximately 15 minutes (depending on size of the magrets)

The fig sauce was the same recipe from my Vendee figs recipe here.

The sweet potatoes I tossed in the duck fat that I’d reserved from the last time I’d make duck and sage chiffonade (cut in ribbons) and roasted for about 45 minutes at 400F.

I decided to try a variation on my standard green beans with lardons (bacon), spiced nuts and roquefort. I didn’t want flavors to compete with the duck so I leaned a little lighter in flavor this time. I blanched the green beans, and finished cooking them in a saute pan with chopped shallots. In a separate pan I added 250 ml of cream and my spiced nuts (nuts tossed with salt, pepper, cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric and roasted) and let those flavors meld. When the beans were done i poured the spiced nut cream sauce over the mound of green beans and tossed. It sounds heavy but there wasn’t a lot of sauce and it just lightly coated the green beans and accompanied the duck perfectly.

The salmon-brioche apps I learned when I worked at Farallon. It is simply toasted brioche with smoked salmon laid on top, cut into bite sized squares served with a tiny dollop of creme fraiche mixed with lemon zest and lemon juice.

The chocolate fondant recipe is highlighted in my Chocolate Conundrum post. I wanted pure flavors to serve with a stunning Bordeaux I’d received as a gift on my 2-year anniversary in Paris (any excuse to have a dinner party!) so pure chocolate, pure vanilla, and pure fabulous red cabernet sauvignon.

The chocolate fondant cake was a bit more fondant than cake but I nestled it with a scoop of home made vanilla ice creamand served with the 1989 Chateau de la Dauphine Bordeaux. It was quite a crescendo to an evening of convivialite. Here’s to two and a half more!

Bon appetit!


If you’re interested in reading more about this delicious journey, please check out my recently published book, My Keyboard for a Cutting Board – Life in a French Kitchen v1.0.

Part luscious food-porn and part letter home from abroad, Laura’s first book is both engaging and compelling, telling the story of her initial experiences cooking in France after leaving a corporate cubicle job in Silicon Valley. Culled from her blog, and letters she actually wrote to friends and family, it shares her story – including descriptions of food that make the mouth water, and far less appetizing descriptions of things like the shoebox apartment she rents, that could fit inside one room of her former residence in the Bay Area.” –Melissa Bartell, Bibliotopia

Deux Ans et Demi en France! 11 November,2006Cucina Testa Rossa

  • Alhya

    joyeux anniversaire!! happy birthday!! two years, wouaaahhh! congratulations!! and your post was very good to read!

  • cucina testa rossa

    merci beaucoup alhya! je ne peux pas le croire! j’aime ce pays 🙂

  • LPC

    Hey Laura! That was one delicious dinner! You are such a great cook. Everything was wonderful – you can cook for me anytime. 🙂
    I’m reading your book and love the stories and kitchen tales. You are one living example of someone who has a dream and has gone out to realise that dream.
    DH and I are happy to celebrate with you. Bz, G

  • cucina testa rossa

    thanks so much ginny – it was really fun having you both here. merci pour tes mots gentils. so glad you are enjoying mon petit livre. gb, laura

  • Corine

    Joyeux Anniversaire. France is lucky to have you!


Cucina Testa Rossa

After a decade in Silicon Valley, Laura traded her keyboard for a cutting board and moved to New York City to immerse herself in food and wine studies and restaurant operations. She graduated from the French Culinary Institute where she studied under Master Chefs Jacques PĂ©pin, AndrĂ© Soltner, Alain Sailhac, and Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. While in New York, Laura cooked with some of the world’s most highly acclaimed chefs including Mario Lohninger (Danube), Morimoto, Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti (Farallon), Michael Romano (Union Square CafĂ©), Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan, Jonathan Cartwright (White Barn Inn), Martin Heierling (Bellagio), Dave Pasternack (Esca), Richard Reddington (Redd, Auberge du Soleil), and the legendary Alice Waters (Chez Panisse).

After working as the Back Kitchen Chef of Jacques PĂ©pin’s PBS cooking show, “Fast Food, My Way”, Laura moved to France to cook her way around the country. She cooked at the Cannes Film Festival, then to the northwest corner of France, to Britanny, to cook on a lobster boat, then east to Paris to the world famous Pierre HermĂ© Patisserie where she made thousands of his macarons every day! Laura cooked for the fabulous Olivia de Havilland and interned at 3 Michelin Star Le Cinq under Chef Philippe Legendre and Pastry Chef Fabrice Lecleir. Laura was the executive chef and cooking instructor at the DaVinci Code chateau outside of Paris where she was on set during the filming of the movie.

In Fall 2007, Laura worked on Jacques Pepin’s most recent PBS television series as prop and food stylist. “More Fast Food, My Way” should air in the Spring of 2008. “My Keyboard for a Cutting Board ~ Adventures in a French kitchen v1.0”, Laura’s first book highlights her first three months cooking in France, was published in Summer 2006. ConvivialitĂ© is her second book and will hopefully be published in the fall.

Laura now splits her time between Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area doing private chefing, teaching cooking classes and leading market tours when in Paris. Bon Appetit!

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