David Santori is the mind behind Frenchie and the Yankee. I particularly love it because I am a huge Francophile. Apparently a lot of the FriendsEAT community is too, because they voted David in as number 4 on our Top Food Bloggers of 2011 poll. If you have not read his blog, you should. I think you will enjoy it as much as I. I chatted with David to get a better idea on why he started the blog and where he plans to be in the future.
FriendsEAT: David, when did you first hear that you were nominated? How did it feel?
David Santori: I first found out I was nominated on September 9. I think this is right when the list of bloggers was put together and published. One of my readers let me know she nominated me on FriendsEat. And then, an hour after, another reader told me the same thing. It happened very quickly.
I was truly honored – first because readers thought about FrenchieandtheYankee.com for this competition, which was completely unexpected, and second because the list included other blogs and people I regularly read and admire. Some of them have been blogging for a very long time. Participating in this competition was fun and exhilarating.
FE: You grew up in France; where exactly?
DS: I grew up in many different places along the years. Mainly, in the Loire Valley, in a city called Le Mans, and in Paris. Le Mans is famous for the rillettes – a type of meat pâté/spread – and for its hosting of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a yearly sports car race, since 1923. There is actually a movie with Steve McQueen from 1971 called Le Mans featuring the city and the car race. I then moved permanently to Paris when I was 15 years-old.
My family background stretches from Paris, Corsica, Brittany, the Loire Valley and Normandy. This makes for a very interesting mix with experiencing different regions, cuisines and landscapes while growing up.
FE: For those who are not familiar with your blog, how would you describe it?
DS: Frenchie and the Yankee is first and foremost a journal of my musings in the U.S, France and around the world. It allows me to be creative and to feature traveling stories, recipes and pictures. It’s a visual journey through the eyes of a Frenchman who has been living in the U.S. for 12 years now. Part travel blog, part food blog and part cultural blog, Frenchie and the Yankee not only includes some of my most favorite things such as cooking, traveling, photographing food and life but it also offers a humorous element on the French-American differences with several cultural pieces highlighting idiosyncrasies.
FE: When was the moment that you decided you would record your culinary life in a blog?
DS: I first decided to record cultural differences. I did not mean to include my culinary and visual musings at first. Frenchie and the Yankee is turning 1 on September 30 so most likely a week before September 30, 2010, the idea of a blog presenting Frenchies vs. Yankees started to form. It was born from 12 years of random questions about the French cultural heritage and habits and why must I be so French! It then naturally evolved into including my pictures, recipes and my newly found joy of photographing food to create a moment and a scene in relation to my memories. The goal is to convey these emotions and experiences through my words and pictures to the readers.
FE: What is a typical day in your life like?
DS: It always starts with a good breakfast. Very important meal for me. I work from home and for myself so I make sure I am always ready to start working by 7:45am or so everyday. I work between my office in the second bedroom and the dinning room table near the kitchen. Different light and scenery – it’s good to change throughout the day especially when you are by yourself… with two cats. There’s usually a gym break either at lunch or at the end of the day depending on what I have to do. I make lunch and dinner as well.
Nights are busy. I make a list of the food I want to prepare either for myself or for FrenchieandtheYankee.com so it’s easier during the work day to escape for 10 min and go to the local supermarket to buy things if necessary. I also decide how I want to photograph it, what I will use to style it, how it should look, the emotions I want to convey and the scene it will create. I choose other travel/personal photos to accompany the story, the food and the moment I want to capture. Baking can easily be done early in the morning. Cooking happens at night and on the weekends.
FE: What was your childhood kitchen like?
DS: I had many kitchens growing up either because we moved or because I was traveling between my mum’s, my dad’s and my grandparents’ kitchens. Words to describe them would be rustic, simple, plentiful, friendly and open. The common thing about all of them is that French kitchens are separated from the dinning/living area and we have both a kitchen table and a dinning room table. The kitchen table is used daily for breakfasts, lunches and dinners as a family in the kitchen. The dinning room table is when guests are invited and for special occasions. This is so hard to find in the U.S. when most of the new constructions feature an “open kitchen” concept where there are no walls/doors between the kitchen and dinning room. I used to live in an old 1918 building in Milwaukee, WI where the kitchen had its separate door, windows and walls. A dream come true!
The French in me firmly believes that a cook is like a magician creating wonderful dishes in the kitchen. In order to keep this magic alive and surprise guests, a kitchen should have its own walls as a separate entity where magical things happen in it.
However, the blooming American in me likes for everyone to participate and experience the cooking process as it happens. It’s a lot more convivial and lively.
FE: What is your kitchen like now?
DS: My kitchen has no walls nor door. It’s an open kitchen. It is very warm due to the color schemes but I find it a bit too dark for my taste. It’s a treasure box full of spices and exotic ingredients as well as way too many dishes, glasses and all sorts of tableware that I probably don’t need or forgot I had. Need organizing!
FE: What do you see as the main differences in the culinary scenes between the US and France?
DS: Americans seem to be a lot more willing to try new combinations of flavors when cooking. It’s interesting and exciting all at once. The French are very set in their ways when it comes to food and traditions.
However, when it comes to savoring meals as part of creating an experience in relations to food, wine, friends and family around a table dressed tastefully with well-presented dishes, Americans still have things to improve. There is a reason why it is called les arts de la table in French.
FE: Is there one thing you dearly miss about food in France?
DS: Affordable staple French food items such as good authentic bread, cheeses, crème fraîche, pâtés, mustards, wines etc. I can find all of them in the U.S. (very good ones too!) – it just takes going to more than one store and also more money than it would in France.
Things I miss that are hard or impossible to find in supermarkets or farmers’ markets: mirabelle plums and fresh cassis/blackcurrants in the summer, petits suisses, langoustines/Dublin Bay prawns, Corsican charcuterie, real rillettes from Le Mans and my biggest pet peeve… plain rhubarb jam and tarts/pies without strawberries.
FE: What do you think about when you hear the word “bacon”?
DS: 2 things: crispy and keeping the bacon grease for future use.
FE: What is your favorite restaurant in France and your favorite restaurant in the US?
DS: This is a tough one. There are so many elements such as the food, menu, ambiance, price etc. factoring and weighing in on the decision to choose a restaurant as a “favorite” one. I have been to a lot of good restaurants and I have so many favorites. Throughout the years and after many travels, I got to experience fantastic meals in many different regions of the U.S. and France. It’s difficult to only think about only two but on top of my head, I will go with what I am craving right now and would name the following two places:
Le Buisson Ardent in Paris, next the Jussieu University campus and the Botanical Garden. I always make it a point to go there for their food and atmosphere when I come to Paris. French cuisine with a modern but elegant and interesting twist. Quaint, chic but not too much, delicious, so Parisian, inviting, eclectic and a surprising experience all at once.
Toro in Boston’s South End. A loud, bustling, cramped, tasty, cosy and sultry tapas bar. I am always up for their food and needless to say, I want seconds as soon as the meal is over.
FE: What is your favorite food blog?
DS: It’s a difficult exercise to shorten a long list of great fantastic food blogs/bloggers I follow. To name a few, Béa from La Tartine Gourmande is very inspiring with her photos and her sensitivity in approaching recipes in relation to life and what she sees through her camera. She’s also French and she lives really close by. I’d love to cook with her one day. Mowie Kay is a fabulous photographer and I really enjoy his world. David Lebovitz makes me laugh and he’s a great resource for me for keeping up with all things Parisian. And Molly from Orangette always has very interesting photos and captivating writing.
FE: Where do you see your blog in ten years?
DS: I hope it would have evolved and grown both in the writing and photographs. I don’t consider myself a photographer and I learn things everyday when shooting around me or food more specifically. I don’t have a fancy professional equipment to shoot so it’s a learning experience and a slow progression. Already in 1 year, I find that the food pictures I used to take at the beginning are drastically different compared to what I know and can do now. I’m hopeful it will continue that way. So far, it’s a good natural evolution.
FE: Any chance you know where to get salicorne in the US?
DS: I can sense this is like a treasure hunt for you! I’m the same – when I have a food item in mind that I know will be hard to find in the U.S., I will literally leave no stone unturned to find it, whatever it may be. It’s becoming easier now to find rare and specialty food items especially in a big city and with the help of the internet. There’s always a solution – most of the time. I’m still hoping I can find chocolate hens for Easter like in France as I had mentioned in my Easter Brunch article. The closest I’ve gotten last year was a chocolate rooster. That’s my yearly treasure hunt.
Salicornia, for those who don’t know, are also referred to as sea beans or sea asparagus. You can find them between June and July on the Atlantic shores especially near salt marshes. Good news for you, I have heard some people found them at Whole Foods. I checked the one near my house and they don’t carry them. So I think it depends where you live and which Whole Foods you go to.
However, the site Les pieds sous la table sells salicornia, either plain or marinated for 6 Euros or so. It looks like they can ship products all over the world. If you prefer to order them and get them shipped to you from North America, this Canadian company in the Seattle/Vancouver area called West Coast Seaweed will ship them fresh in June-July or frozen year round. I hope this helps!
FE: Last question: What inspires you?
DS: This is a blog where words and photos are meant to complement each other. When putting photos together with some of the collages I have on the blog – I call them my puzzles – I am inspired by shapes and color patterns that either complement each other or clash. Memories, food, photos and places intertwined together like a Tetris game composed of life tetrominoes – simply visual sensory appeals that can provoke and evoke different emotions.