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Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs

Celebrating the Kitchen Gardens of the Ile-de-France
by Lyndsay and Patrick Mikanowski and Joël Thiébault

Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs

The farmers markets of Paris’ sixteenth arrondissement overflow with colorful, seasonal produce grown in the Ile-de-France, a historic farming region along the Seine just outside of the city. So-called “truck farmers” faithfully haul their precious cargo to market year round, rain or shine, and bring their expertise on storing and cooking vegetables to the home cooks and top chefs that regularly visit their stalls.

But truck farmers—like the highly respected Joël Thiébault—who supervise the entire journey of their vegetables from seedling to table are becoming a rarity. Much of the idyllic landscape of small farms in the Ile-de-France, captured by the Impressionists, has been replaced by factories and housing projects. Globalized production and distribution circuits that sell produce in bulk have encroached upon the sacred connection between farmers, the land and the fruits of their labors.

Vegetables by 40 Great French Chefs seeks to preserve this chain of unity by paying tribute to Joël, his farm in Carrières-sur-Seine and 36 of the new or newly rediscovered varieties of vegetables he grows. For each vegetable featured, Joël provides background on its origins and history and then “hands” the vegetable over to one of his favorite chefs—amateurs and professionals alike—for transformation into edible art.

The varieties run from the familiar, like summer sprouting broccoli, to the exotic, including Azur Star kohlrabi. Some vegetables are rendered simply, like chef François Brouilly’s scoop of Samos spinach sautéed with garlic and butter and topped with a soft boiled egg. Others are put through multiple variations on a theme; in the care of chef Jean-François Piège, French garden peas are the basis for both creamy French-style pea soup and garden pea ice cream. Organized by season, recipes cover the spectrum from starters and sauces, to main courses and side dishes, to breads, pastries and savory tarts.

Photos bursting with vibrant hues give these noble vegetables their due. The authors call Joël a true aristocrat of the kitchen garden, and this book allows you a brush with vegetable royalty.

Reviewed by Rachel Levin

(Updated: 01/16/09 SB)

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