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Monday, 16 April 2012

Hints and tips from the Paris Cookbook fair 2012

Between the 7th and 11th of March this year, Paris hosted its 3rd annual Gourmand International Cookbook fair at 104 centquatre, a cultural space, as a culmination of this year's international cookbook awards and as part of a larger 'See it, Eat it' festival. 



I knew I had to go as soon as I heard tweet of it in England earlier in the year, and go I did, on the last day when it was open to the public. I wish I could have made it to some of the other events in the festival, such as a dance/cook performance, an interactive installation where the audience is invited to dine with contorted cutlery, and a stop-motion film with cakes as stars. However, the cookbook fair in itself was a feast for the mind and ignited lots of ideas. The space is dedicated during the festival to publishing houses specialising in cookbooks, to talks and live demonstrations from prolific culinary figures and to the international winners of the cookbook awards. Categories include best printing, best first book, best world/vegetarian/childrens cuisine and best charity project. Past winners are a hall of fame of the big guns, and many appear on my Amazon Wishlist: Paul Bocuse, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, El Bulli 1983-2002, Pierre Hermé... 

I was pleased to see some books I own appear in the winner's catalogue (Lorraine Pascale, River Cottage Veg), as well as a healthy number of 'UK' talents (the McCartneys, Bocca and Galvin at Windows). I saw books I had never heard of before but really should have by now, such as the remarkable 'Modernist Cuisine', a snip at $625 for 6 volumes of incredibly beautiful photography and truly inspirational information from the intricacies of basic food preparation to the pinnacles of molecular gastronomy. If anyone wants to gift me a copy, I promise to treasure it forever. In the space of a couple of pages I learnt that french-style vegetables taste so sweetly delicious because of their final cooking in butter, which discourages osmosis of natural sugars out of the vegetable, whereas cooking in water means these sugars disappear into the cooking water. Similarly, potatoes should be cooked in water that has had a small amount of sugar added, so that the natural sugars do not escape.

There were some obvious signs of food trends amongst the books in the winner's room, such as street food and burgers, Peruvian cuisine, as predicted by Sara Edwards at a Stylist Magazine event I attended last year, and baked treats. There were stands about food apps and ebooks, live sugarwork demonstrations and most importantly, a cook-book free-for all where browsing was actively encouraged. 

I thought I'd share with you some nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from the day. In 'Lucky Peach', a quarterly magazine by Momofuku's David Chang, I learnt how to make ramen (hooray for my new pasta machine!). Recipe here. I also learnt a DIY version of slow-poached eggs: Set a large bowl in the biggest pot you have and invert a smaller bowl inside it, balancing the eggs between them so that they do not come into direct contact with the hot water. Using a cooking thermometer, cook the eggs for 50 minutes between 60-63 degrees C.

In the 'Mere de Famille' cookbook, I learnt how to confit fruits in sugar, such as orange, lemon and pineapple (which I had to find out having spotted this in the window of Pain de Sucre). Basically, use 1.2kg of sugar for 1 litre of water. Make a boiling syrup with half the sugar, pour over the fruit and cover overnight. the next day, remove the fruit, add 200g of sugar, bring to the boil and simmer with the fruit for three minutes. Repeat this step twice more, adding 200g sugar each time. Finally, leave to soak covered for a week before draining to enjoy - in moderation! 
I also read how to make the delicious dulche de leche - basically a spreadable  gooey mess brought into being by cooking a litre of whole milk, 400g of sugar, 50g of honey and a spilt, scraped vanilla pod. I noted how marshmallows are made, and will give this a try once I've bought myself a proper cook's thermometer, perhaps after the eggs above!

The genius Ferran Adrià has a book out at the moment called 'The Family Meal' which is along the same lines as Heston's similar oeuvre. I like that each recipe has an ingredients table ready adapted for differing portion numbers, more like a chef's recipe than a cookbook recipe. I sneaked the ingredients list of the mexican pulled pork recipe but will have to get my hands on a copy for the full proper method. Happily, I have found an amazing gourmet ingredients shop in the Marais called Izrael where I've already bought long-sought kampot peppercorns for a Rick Stein recipe and where I can also get hold of habanero chillies and, hopefully, achiote paste.  

My only criticism of the day was that some of the talks I was really looking forward to hearing had been rescheduled, but nobody could tell me when to, and the most interesting-looking talks in the guide had no name attached to them. But that did mean I got to sit in, albeit unexpectedly, on a talk given by Xavier Denamur, restauranteur and producer of a new documentary about how French food is going to the dogs and is no longer respectful of provenance or consumer. All in all, the day inspired me to carry on doing just what I'm doing - learning about food, immersing myself in recipes as often as possible and to keep on tasting with mouth as well as eyes. And, of course, sharing that with you!

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