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Posts from the ‘People’ Category

Roger Vergé and la cuisine du soleil


As you may or may not know, I am back in school this fall. I am 9 weeks into a 40-week French culinary program in Boulder, Colorado. I am going through a particularly rough patch at the moment—trying to figure out if this is the right school for me or if this is the time to reevaluated my situation and look for a school with better facilities and more dedicated, serious students. It has been an exhilarating, challenging, terrifying and frustrating 2 months.

Yesterday I stormed out of class early so completely frustrated with our tiny under-stocked and overcrowded kitchen and my unmotivated classmates. I couldn’t bring myself to go back today. The class has worn me down. I needed to take a day to breathe and get my bearings back.

I spent the day cooking things I wanted to cook: healthy vegetarian food—no clarified butter, heavy cream or “mother sauces”. Nothing deep-fried, shallow-fried, pan-fried, or even sautéed. No flourless chocolate cakes, crème brûlées, Swiss buttercreams, or chocolate ganache. I needed to remember why I like cooking and re-convince myself that I am actually good at it.

This program has shaken me to the core and made me question my culinary abilities. It has also made me ponder my “Francophilia” and frazzled my faith in this young, up-and-coming generation…but those are story for another day…

To compliment my day of healthy cooking and remind myself why I chose to turn my life upside down and attend a French culinary school, I decided to do a little research on one famous French chef: Roger Vergé—the chef who was brave enough to distance himself from the traditional cuisine classique and introduced the world to cuisine du soleil, a variation of Provençal cuisine favoring fresh, local ingredients and unpretentious preparation and presentation.

Vergé explained his nouvelle cuisine as “a lighthearted, healthy and natural way of cooking which combines the products of the earth like a bouquet of wild flowers from the garden.” Also know as cuisine heureuse’, Vergé saw his culinary style as the “antithesis of cooking to impress”. His “happy cooking” transformed French gastronomy, and changed and the way generations of French chefs have approached food and fine dining since.

Born in 1930, Vergé grew up in Commentry in the center of France. Perched on a “small wooden bench”, he learned to cook from his aunt Célestine and was inspired by his father, a blacksmith by day and farmer by night, who “in the evenings…tilled God’s earth and brought his mother flavorful, aromatic vegetable for the table.” At 17, he apprenticed to a local chef at Restaurant le Bourbonnais and then moved on to trained at several Michelin-starred restaurants including Tour d’Argent in Paris. He spent time in Morocco, Algeria and Kenya learning and working in the kitchen of the Mansour de Casablanca and L’Oasis which undoubtedly inspired and informed his cuisine of the sun. Upon returning to France he worked in the restaurants Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and Le Club de Cavaliere in Le Lavandou where he was exposed to the bright colors and fresh flavors of southern French food.

In 1969, Vergé opened his famous Michelin 3-star restaurant Moulin de Mougins near Cannes. Although French cuisine was still characterized by its heavy use of animal fat —butter, cream, and lard, Vergé’s cuisine of the sun — Mediterranean fare enhanced with vegetable essences and fruit reductions — elevated and celebrated lighter and healthier food, and quickly changed the landscape of French cookery.

He prided himself in serving Provençal dishes highlighted by the flavors of his travels and Moulin de Mougins quickly became one of France’s most well known restaurants. A kind and sincere man, the master chef was eager to share his knowledge with future generations of chefs. “He was one of the few chefs of that era who saw that sharing his skill set would benefit the cooking world as a whole.” To that end, Vergé trained up many of today’s great French chefs including Alain Ducasse, Jacques Maximin, Jacques Chibois, David Bouley and Daniel Boulud. Vergé once said, “the more knowledge we share, the more the cuisine is enriched; we succeed if we make what we love popular.”

By 1974, Moulin de Mougins had won three Michelin stars. A second restaurant, L’Amandier de Mougins, earned another two stars. By the mid-1970s, Vergé held the most number of Michelin stars of any single chef in France. To promote his cooking style, he founded l’École de Cuisine du Soleil Roger Vergé in Mougins. He was the collaborator and head of several other restaurants throughout France and in the US, and he also wrote dozens of cookbooks in both French and English making his ideas and cuisine accessible to home cooks.

Roger Vergé died this past June at his home in Mougins at the age of 85. Thankfully his legacy lives on.


So…as I contemplate my future journey from home cook to a trained professional cook, and the extreme ups and downs of culinary school, I am encouraged by the wisdom of Caroline Conran in her buoyant preface to the adaptation of Vergé’s Cuisine of the Sun:

“Roger Vergé never lost sight of the fact that cooking should be a pleasure – a celebration of wonderful ingredients, cooked in a simple and practical way that will not overtax the cook and leave her (or him) too exhausted to enjoy the meal.”

…and that is the goal of this whole “happy cooking” thing, isn’t it? Good ingredients, good food, good times…enjoying the process and to never forgetting to taste, smell and see that “bouquet of wild flowers from the garden.”

Happy Cooking

No. 278: les petites fêtes

Last night Superman and I were invited to une petite fête with a very international crowd. Being part of an international community in France is one of the things I love most about my life in France. After nearly three years in Paris, we have friends from all over the world, and it is wonderful…plus now I get to have things like this for dinner:

C'était délicieux! Era deliziosa! Estaba delicioso! Es war lecker! To je izvrsno! Det var lækkert! Ήταν πολύ νόστιμο! Ez finom volt! Bhí sé blasta! It was delicious! 美味しかった!To było pyszne! Bilo je veoma ukusno! มันอร่อยดี! Het was heerlijk!

C’était délicieux! Era deliziosa! Estaba delicioso! Es war lecker! To je izvrsno! Det var lækkert! Ήταν πολύ νόστιμο! Ez finom volt! Bhí sé blasta! It was delicious! 美味しかった!To było pyszne! Bilo je veoma ukusno! มันอร่อยดี! Het was heerlijk!



petite fête: close gathering, party

No. 275: Dîner en Blanc

diîner-en-blanc-paris.jpgOn my way home from the Eurostar last night I found myself smack dab in the middle of the twenty-sixth annual dîner en blanc. This pop-up dining event secretly planned and held al fresco in a predetermined place which is kept secret from attendees until a few moments before it begins, is definitely on my bucket list of things I hope some day to be invited to.

This year’s by-invitation-only-soirée took place over six bridges throughout Paris. Dressed in all white and eating only white food (no vin rouge allowed), over 12,000 people participated in this posh version of a flash mob.

From talking to friends who have been a guest at this feast in the past, dîner en blanc seems to be a highly codified event. There are “team leaders” who are responsible for the invitation, organization and behavior of each small group. In addition to the white dress code, white food, and white wine or champagne (beer and spirits are prohibited), you must also bring your own table and chairs (white, bien sûr), white tablecloths, and dishes. Some diners go as far as bringing white flowers in vases, candles, and center pieces. The most important rule is that everyone disappears before midnight and leaves their dining site undamaged and spotless—under threat of being blacklisted for the following year’s festivities.

Last night there were lots of extravagant white hats and pearl-buttoned gloves, and when the Eiffel Tower sparkled, the revelers did too—producing long sparklers lit up on cue like synchronized swimmers in an old MGM film.


It is an elegant affair, and possibly the one-and-only time of the year that you will encounter so many happy, smiling and relaxed Parisians. Furrowed brows, downturned lips and icy stares, all disappear for a joyous but respectful evening. It is also the only day of the year that Parisians stow away their all-black wardrobes and slip into something brighter, whiter and lighter.

It is a lovely change. Hmmm…maybe dîner en blanc ought to be a monthly event?



al fresco: in the open air

dîner en blanc: white dinner, dinner in white

vin rouge: red wine



No. 271-272: Normandie—A Soldier’s Letter Home & Giving Thanks


November 1944, France

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. We had the turkey and all the trimmings. Most of the doughboys had turkey also. It’s amazing when you think of all of us, so far from home, observing still in the midst of a battlefield, Thanksgiving. I’m sure there was many who gave thanks to God today. I was sure one of them.I recently was able to see some of the dead boys they had just taken off the battlefield. If some of the men back home, whom of personal ambition attempt to prolong the war, could see them–I’m sure the war would soon end. When you look at them you can’t help but think–why are they dead! Just a year or so ago they were either going to school-working-married, and now they’re dead. Many among them had ambition–all looked forward to the future–Now they’re dead. It keeps shooting thru your mind-again and again-why have these men died? I know why we fight-I know of the values we’re trying to secure. I hope these men have not given their lives for empty words. I’m sorry I went up on slight a philosophical side. But I had to air out some of my thoughts.

Love, Harold

Ryan-Hill-uniform-tallNovember 2006, Iraq

i try not to cry. i have never cried this much my entire life two great men got taken from us way too soon.i wonder why it was them in not me. i sit here right now wondering why did they go to the gates of heaven n not me? i try every night count my blessing that i made it another day but why are we in this hell over here? why? i cant stop askin why? the more i think the more i cry.why? i try n figure out the reasons that people die n i still don’t know why. all i can do is live my life to the fullest but i still don’t know why.

(From the journal of Pfc. Ryan J. Hill, 20, who was riding in a Humvee on Jan. 20, 2007, when an IED buried in the middle of the road detonated under his seat, killing him instantly.)


 Thanks little brother for everything you have sacrificed.


No. 269: James Thiérrée

My creative coiffeur just turned me on to James Thiérrée: part clown, poet trapeze artist, violinists, magician, mime and astonishing contemporary dancer and choreographer. The son of circus performers Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée and the grandson of Charlie Chaplin, and great-grandson of Eugene O’Neill, the apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree. I adore this type of theatre.

Take a look and tell me what you think.



No. 252: French Body Language Redo

After my semi-successful attempt in January to interpret French body language, my favorite virtual French teacher, Géraldine, has come to my rescue again with her helpful new lesson: 12 Common French Gestures.

Finally a clear explanation of j’ai du nez: tapping the side of your nose = I have a good instinct/idea; I have flair; and she offers up a few new ones that I have seen a lot of lately but had not quite understood correctly:

  • Je m’ennuie (making a sort of shaving motion along your jaw line with your fingertips curled in) = I’m bored
  • Cassé! (a sideways karate chop) = Gotcha! or I win!

Follow Géraldine weekly on Comme une française TV every Tuesday. Moi, j’adore.

No. 226: Wine 101

The ever perky Géraldine Lepère from Comme une Française TV lays out some important wine vocabulary, debunks a few myths about the French and wine, tells us how expats are easily identified at a café by the locals (Hint: Drinking wine without a meal? You clearly aren’t French, but possibly an alcoholic!), and gives us THE prickly wine phrase to use at a French dinner party to start an argument. Take a listen and consider subscribing to her weekly updates. She is adorable and spot on.

source: Comme une Française

source: Comme une Française