Precision- Comme les Français
Right off the bat I was very eager to help Madame Chic in the kitchen. I love to cook and I love French food so I wanted to take full advantage of learning her secrets. How was it that she managed to produce a delicious three-course dinner every single night without even so much as glancing into a cookbook? It was simple- she had been making these recipes for years and they came to her like second nature.
One of Madam Chic’s specialties was dessert- there was always dessert, and it was toujours delicious. My favorite of her desserts were her fruit tarts. They went from apple in the wintertime to strawberry as it neared summer. (Remember Famille Chic always ate seasonally. They would never dream of eating imported strawberries in the winter- not only for price and practicality purposes but because they were inferior to the sweet little local gems that arrived late spring).
So early one evening, she and I were in the kitchen- the window was open and the warm Parisian breeze accompanied us as we cooked. The dessert for that evening? A strawberry tart. Madame Chic made her pâtee sucrée from scratch and I helped her roll it out onto the tart pan (which had gotten unprecedented use over the years). Then came time for the strawberries- which Madame Chic instructed me to place in the lined tart pan. I had cut and hulled the tiny little berries and eagerly dumped them into the tart pan, rearranged them slightly and looked up at Madame Chic for the next step.
I was met, not with instructions on what to do next, but with a look of horror from Madame Chic.
“Jennifer,” she said (in French of course) “Non! You must arrange the strawberries artfully, symmetrically, all around the dish. Avec precision!”
“Oh,” I said, looking down at my tart. I thought it looked rather nice- artistic if one were being nice.
She proceeded to show me how it should be done and started to arrange the berries around the perimeter of the crust, spiraling in as she went. I finished it off and in the center we placed the nicest looking berry. Then we proceeded to drizzle on the glaze.
“Much better,” Madame Chic said with palpable satisfaction.
I’ll never forget that day in the kitchen with Madame Chic. She taught me that no occasion is too small to live well and have only the best. That perfect little strawberry tart wasn’t made for a party or to impress guests. It was made for her family- her husband, son and me, the lucky college student that got to experience life comme les Français for those few magical months…
The strawberry tart from Everyday Food is pictured above. You can get the recipe here.