INTERVIEW: David Lebovitz on the art of cocktail making, Paris’ top watering holes and where to find the city’s best sandwich
PUBLISHED: 12:03 16 March 2020
The best-selling author and professional chef has just released a new book, Drinking French
Q: This is your first cookbook dedicated to drinks; as a chef, do you find concocting drinks as exciting as making food?
David Lebovitz: Well, I've been a baker for most of my life but one day, I was in a cocktail bar and was watching somebody mix a drink, and I realised that bartenders do what bakers do; they take different ingredients and mix them together to create something else. You're creating an experience that comes in a glass, like a baker would do with a cookie or cake.
The other part of that was that being in France with all these liquors, everything has a history. I'm fascinated by French culture and I started realising that every bottle - Chartreuse, Cognac, rum - has a history, and tells the history and culture of France. So those two things came together for me in this book; these traditions, recipes and stories.
Q: What's your favourite recipe from the book?
DL: My favourite cocktail is the Boulevardier. It contains everything I like: whisky, red bitters and French vermouth. It's a wonderfully balanced drink and it checks all the boxes for me. There's another drink called the Yellow Cocktail made in a café over in the 16th arrondissement. There's just three ingredients: gin, Suze (a bitter gentian) and yellow chartreuse which adds some sweetness. It's wonderful. It's a very simple cocktail and a great example of just a few ingredients coming together perfectly in one glass.
Q: Where's your favourite coffee shop in Paris?
DL: There's two places I like for coffee: one is Holyberry, where they do really good drip coffee. I also like Café Mericourt; he has really good coffee. When I moved here 20 years ago, there were zero - if you wanted a good coffee, you went to the Illy shop! I remember I went to the Italian tourism office once and said, 'I don't drink coffee in France, I drink tea.' A lot of young French people have open minds and they see what's happening in other countries and they think, 'Oh, we have this coffee culture here, let's do something.' So you have Belleville Brûlerie, featured in the book; they really spearheaded the coffee movement in France.
Q: What is, for you, the perfect way to spend a day in Paris?
DL: I actually just like walking around. I don't get to do it enough anymore but one of my favourite things is to just wander and discover things. Paris is always changing. That was one of the delightful things when I started my blog; discovering things then writing about them. I just loved finding little chocolate shops and bakeries that people didn't really know about, because at the time the media was focused on famous places.
Q: Do you have a favourite food market?
DL: Generally, your favourite food market is the one closest to where you live. In Paris, you have a little over a hundred markets, so basically you just go to the one that's two blocks away from your house where they all know you and you can talk to them. It's a social thing as well. I usually go to a market near me. For visitors coming to Paris, I usually say the Marché d'Aligre. It's a great market, fun bustling, it still has a bit of multiculturalism. It's become a little more gentrified but it's still fun. There's a really interesting flea market in the middle of it. I have managed to source some good things there.
Q: What is the best meal you've ever eaten in Paris?
DL: It's hard to choose, but the last best thing I ate was a sandwich at a place called Mokoloco. It's by the couple who opened Mokonuts and they make everything from scratch including the bread and everything is delicious. It's very casual; you just go in and get a sandwich, a lot of people get them to go. I love it. It's a few months old and if you go, I'd recommend not going during the lunch rush, but go before or after instead because it gets really busy.
Q: Where are your favourite destinations outside of the capital?
DL: I love Lyon; great city, really easy to get to, great restaurants and a great energy there. I like Brittany because it's really beautiful and the windswept, desolate, rocky shores. And I like the Jura; it's very interesting. It's not heavily visited but I love the wine and the Comté cheese is delicious.
David's new book, Drinking French, is out now (£20, Ten Speed Press).
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