"We had to remove a few outdated recipes, like one for a Mushroom and Banana Salad."
Je Sais Cuisiner by Ginette Mathiot, first published in the 1930s, is pretty much the bible of French cooking. You'll see it on kitchen shelves throughout France, usually faded with boeuf bourguignon-stained pages.
For the first time, the giant, super comprehensive text has been published in English thanks to translating help from Clotilde Dusoulier, the voice behind the now six-year-old food blog Chocolate & Zucchini. It's a doorstopper of a book (no beach read here) but filled with classic preparations, hand-holding instruction, and charming illustrations by Blexbolex. We caught up with Clotilde to talk about the editing process, her love of bagels, and who exactly this Ginette Mathiot woman was.
Wow, this book is big. A whole 975 pages. Yes, but many of the recipes get extra space in the margins for jotting down notes.
Is the original French version as big? It's actually 1,200 pages but in a smaller paperback form. But there are no illustrations or photographs, just a few meat diagrams. The original doesn't need to work as hard to grab your attention since it's so popular—it sells itself. Most copies are dog-eared with lots of scribbles.
So Je Sais Cuisiner is kind of the French cousin of Joy of Cooking? Yes, it's one of those books parents give children when they're moving out, about to live on their own. All the basics of cooking are in here.
Hmm, are recipes for aspics and calves brains considered basic? Well, food trends come and go. You never know when aspics will be back in. I'm really fond of aspics. They kind of have that retro 1960s thing happening with the molds. One of my favorite ways to enjoy aspic is with eggs—a soft boiled egg sitting in aspic, maybe with some dill and a fresh baguette. You can get it at just about any charcuterie in France.
And what about recipes for the non-aspic enthusiasts. What are some of your other favorite dishes? The Flemish Carbonade. It's like a beef bourguignon but slowly stewed with gingerbread and instead of using red wine, you use beer, very common in Northern France. My grandmother used to make this dish all the time and I have to say, this version is very classic.
What kind of beer do you recommend cooking with? Something that you wouldn't mind drinking on its own, but then again, not your best bottle—just like when cooking with wine. I like pale ales and brown ales, or anything from a local microbrewery.
Sounds like a good hearty winter meal. And for dessert? I love the apple meringue. You make a chunky applesauce and top it with a meringue that's browned in the oven. It's not super heavy, and it's not chocolate—my mother doesn't really eat chocolate so I'm always looking for chocolate alternatives.
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'I Know How to Cook' Recipes
What about holiday cookies? Almond macaroons are super easy and they're really great when dipped in chocolate too.
So who exactly was Ginette Mathiot? Did she have Julia Child fame? She was a household name but definitely not a celebrity. She wasn't the type to put herself out in the spotlight. You never see a photo of her in the book, or any book really. Even her bio doesn't give away much. She published the first edition of Je Sais Cuisiner when she was only 25 years old and continued to publish new editions of the book while working as a home economics teacher in France. She died in 1998. She never married and refused to marry anyone her parents wanted her to—she's always been a little mysterious.
So that's her on the cover? What exactly is that black ball she's putting in her mouth? A grape? Olive? Maybe her earring?
Did you have to edit out many outdated recipes? I cut back on the butter and oil in some recipes, especially in the soup chapter. Why use two ounces of fat when you can get away with one, you know? Fat is flavor of course, but sometimes it was just unnecessary. We had to remove a few outdated recipes, like one for a Mushroom and Banana Salad. You toss raw mushrooms and bananas with a lemony dressing. Um, yeah...
How long did it take you to edit from start to finish? A year and a half.
Did you translate the book too? Nope, there was actually a separate translator. I came in with three copy editors to clarify steps and break down the concepts. Sometimes the French language allows you to be brief so it needed cooking steps to be filled in.
Have you had much time to blog while studying aspics and mushroom-banana salads? Chocolate & Zucchini is the engine that keeps me going. I enjoy and need the interaction with my readers. It's where I feel the most like myself. When I was working on the book, I let my readers know but didn't blog too much about it—I like to keep the two projects separate.
Speaking of bloggers-turned-cookbook-authors, what do you think of The Pioneer Woman and all her success? She makes life on a ranch seem glamorous! I'm not feeding a family of five and rancher husband so it's not really my style but I definitely admire her. It's crazy—she'll write a post and instantly get 385 comments.
So, what's next for ya? Food is an endless field of exploration. I've only been doing this for six years so I have a lot to learn. I just made fresh bagels for the first time! Mine were New York-style but a little smaller than H&H Bagels.
How do you like your bagel? Actually, and this is going to sound weird, I like it with peanut butter and a tomato slice.
Yikes. That almost sounds like a mushroom and banana salad situation. I know, but you really have to try it. Really.