“When you cook at home, you know exactly what is going into the food you’re eating,” says David Lebovitz, who has been cooking and baking for most of his life — much of it in restaurants. He spent nearly thirteen years at Chez Panisse, working with Alice Waters and pastry chef Lindsey Shere, who became his mentor. He left the famed Berkeley restaurant in 1999 to coincide with the release of his first book, Room for Dessert. And five years later, he moved to Paris with little more than a cast-iron skillet and one French phrase: pain au chocolat.
“I figured that was enough,” he says. Once entrenched in croissants and cafe au lait, he began eating and writing, transforming his blog DavidLebovitz.com into a popular destination. Since then, he has written six books, including The Perfect Scoop, Ready for Dessert and a best-selling memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris.
His most recent book, My Paris Kitchen, covers the shift in French culinary culture over the past ten years as a new generation of chefs and home cooks — most notably in Paris — incorporates ingredients and techniques from around the world into traditional French dishes. The book contains 100 sweet and savory recipes that reflect the way modern Parisians eat today. It also explores the beauty of life in the France, including the often puzzling fact that, well, French people don’t get fat.
For Lebovitz, whose middle name may as well be dessert, the key to staying in shape while eating for a living is to feast on foods that are homemade. “You can control the amount of salt, butter and fat. All of those things are fine for you, but in moderation, of course.” When dining out, he recommends going to places that feature freshly made food from good ingredients. “You don’t need to pile on the butter and sugar, you can just let the ingredients shine,” he says.
“People often ask me about how French people stay in shape, and a lot of it is that they are not afraid to eat things like olive oil and nuts, which are both good for you,” Lebovitz says. His recipe for olive tapenade, from My Paris Kitchen, has both. Lebovitz serves this tapenade on toasted baguette or pita bread, but it also makes a fine accompaniment to grilled fish or poultry.
As for exercise, you won’t find Lebovitz signing up for the next Tough Mudder. He’s a walker. “It’s easy, you can do it anywhere, and you don’t need any special equipment,” he says. You can also do it while eating a croissant.
Green Olive, Basil and Almond Tapenade
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups green olives, pitted
1/3 cup whole untoasted almonds
1 small clove garlic, peeled and minced
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and squeezed dry
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt
Put the olives, almonds, garlic, lemon juice and capers in the bowl of a food processor.
Coarsely chop the basil leaves, add them to the processor and pulse the machine a few times to start breaking them down.
Add the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pulse the food processor until the mixture forms a coarse paste, one that still has a little texture provided by the not-entirely-broken-down almonds.
The tapenade will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work often appears in Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She’s probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Brooklyn with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.
Recipe reprinted with permission from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
Photos by Ed Anderson © 2014