What We’re Reading: We’ve Always Had Paris . . . and Provence

Who hasn’t dreamed of leaving everything behind and moving to Paris? For Patricia and Walter Wells, that dream became a reality when they packed up their lives in New York and moved to the City of Light more than 25 years ago. As the young couple negotiated their way through the initial loneliness, figured out a foreign language, and learned the Kafkaesque rules of French etiquette, they fell in love with the country and their temporary stint turned permanent. We’ve Always Had Paris . . . and Provence (HarperCollins, $26.95) is their joint account of their life together in France, an adventure enhanced by friends, engaging work, and above all, food.

In the 1970s, Wells wrote about food for The Washingtonian. She went on to become food critic for the International Herald Tribune and author of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris as well as several bestselling cookbooks, eating her way across France in the process. These meals form the backbone of this meandering memoir as she interviews brooding chefs and travels to restaurants both famous and infamous in search of great food. In alternating chapters, her husband, Walter—who retired as executive editor of the International Herald Tribune in 2005—adds his witty and perceptive observations about les Français and life as an expat. Though a “scrapbook” of reminiscences may sound like a recipe for pretension, the Wellses have a gentle, self-deprecating tone that prevents the book from lapsing into self-indulgence.

 

Sprinkled through the book are more than 30 recipes inspired by the Wellses’ memories. If you’ve ever wondered what a renowned food critic eats at home—or how she maintains her trim figure—the answer lies somewhere between Patricia’s lemon chicken with roasted onions and the five miles she runs every morning. Inspired by Patricia’s description of that “simple” yet “sublime” roast chicken, I prepared my own bird, stuffing it with lemons and thyme before popping it into the oven for an hour or so. I followed her detailed instructions carefully, flipping the bird from side to side to back—and the result was a crisp and golden chicken, the moist meat gently flavored by the herbs and citrus. The next day, I tossed the leftover meat into the suggested “celery, tarragon, spinach, and chicken salad,” a crunchy, bright mixture enlivened by the acidic bite of capers and pickles. My husband and I ate our simple meal accompanied by the recommended Sauvignon Blanc and flickering candlelight. It wasn’t quite Paris or Provence, yet somehow I still felt touched by the Wells’s joie de vivre.

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