It’s an odd time to be thinking about travel, let alone anything outside the four walls of our homes.
While we may not be able to travel, I've been finding solace in distraction: in words and images from distant places. Like that of the bartender at Le Mary Celeste stashing wine for La Buvette chef-owner Camille Fourmont; or Fourmont herself, tinkering with tubs of panna cotta, as a student in her tiny Parisian kitchen; or fellow chef and friend Lee Desrosier poking a cabbage in a fire years ago, and what he might be planning for dinner tonight.
Co-authored with writer Kate Leahy, La Buvette shares the food and scenes of Fourmont’s Parisian cave à manger (wine shop with food). Released earlier this month, the book is filled with heartrendingly beautiful (almost smellable) recipes and snapshots—of food and other beloved local bistros and restaurants—to escape into.
Fourmont, Leahy, and I spoke about the sweet and wonderful world of La Buvette, the solidarity and persisting hope within the hospitality industry in Paris, and the traveling we do inside of our heads and kitchens.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Coral Lee: What have you two been cooking at home lately? Any dishes on repeat?
Camille Fourmont: During the lockdown my boyfriend and I spent much more time than usual in the kitchen. Now that I’m pregnant, we've gone back to "comfort food" classics like croque monsieur, or Cordon Bleu... some very simple things that remind us of our childhood. One time he asked, "Do you remember at school back in the days, when we had the same weekly lunch, like Monday was lasagna, Tuesday was hachis Parmentier (in English this is shepherd's pie)?" So I suggested we do the same, and now every Wednesday is Cordon Bleu—just like when we were kids.
Kate Leahy: I have been getting a farm box nearly weekly and cooking my way through what's in there. Lately it's been a lot of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and I've been adding capers to nearly everything—capers crisped in olive oil is probably a desert-island flavor for me. I also have to say that I make the simple vinaigrette from the La Buvette book every week and have it with salad nearly every day for lunch.
CL: What does “buvette” mean in French, and where did the idea to open a space like this come from?
CF: A buvette is a refreshment stand. It can be something as simple as a lemonade stand at a school event. It’s really a simple thing. I had it in my mind to do something on my own when I worked at Le Dauphin, a wine bar next door to Le Chateaubriand. While working at Le Dauphin, I became more confident in my ability to welcome people and make them feel at home, and I became interested in having a place where I made the decisions on what to serve.
I started filling a notebook with wines I wanted to pour, the baker I wanted to buy bread from, and so on, and each time I wrote in the notebook my idea of opening a shop became more precise. But, from the very beginning, I knew I wanted to call the shop “La Buvette.” (I had ripped out the definition of a buvette from the dictionary and put it in the notebook!) As for why I wanted to open it, that is a good question, since I'm not a trained chef or even a cook. But I felt confident enough to feed people with good and simple things, the kinds of dishes that make people think, "Oh, I never thought about doing this at home before, but it looks easy and I'll try it." That is probably what makes La Buvette charming.
CL: Camille—you talk about having a bec à sucré (sugar beak), and your very dreamy afternoon snack of baguette smeared with chocolate mousse. How did that snack first come to be?
CF: Le goûter is a very ordinary thing in France, an afternoon snack, usually for kids, that’s nearly always something sweet and meant to tide you over until dinner. My mum would make jam, and after school my brother Valentin and I would sometimes have her jam with bread, or bread with a couple of chocolate squares. But sometimes, my mum made chocolate mousse for a simple dessert, and if there was any extra the next day, we’d smear it onto baguette for our snack. Baguette and mousse is still something that I naturally combine when I have a bit of mousse left, as it reminds me of the taste of my childhood goûters.
CL: La Buvette offers not only an intimate peek into the food and scenes of the wine shop, but of other surrounding establishments. Has the energy shifted around you? How are restaurateurs, bakers, sommeliers around you creating despite, or perhaps in spite, of the pandemic?
CF: I think what it has shown us is the solidarity in the hospitality industry. Even if we already had deep, friendly connections with our friends and neighbors who had restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and so on, I've been really impressed to see how people have reinvented themselves through solidarity and mutual assistance. I hope that one day the pandemic will be a very distant souvenir, but I also hope that this new way of working together will last.
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CL: You two talk about the kind of traveling, exploration, and self-education that can be found at the market. With our stimuli limited to our homes, and for most of us—our local grocery stores and kitchens—how do you hope readers will use this book?
KL: This book is a celebration of making the most of everyday pleasures. One example that really fits today's reality of making do with what you have is Camille’s recipe for Anchovy and Egg Yolk Pasta. The idea came about because she came home and really wanted pasta carbonara but didn't have the ingredients to make it. So she turned to what she did have on hand and made this beautiful dish. Plating the pasta on a nice plate helps elevate the experience, even when it's just you alone in your kitchen.
CF: We hope that these very casual kinds of recipes will help people feel confident to open their cupboards and cook up their own inspirations. It's not about following a recipe precisely or being frustrated when you are missing an ingredient. It's about adapting and making the most of it—and maybe you'll discover new ways to think about cooking.