Three years ago, my best friend and I went from London to Paris to meet my mum and stepfather who were renting an apartment there for a few days. There was a cute little kitchen where we prepared simple dishes from things we picked up at the market -just like you’re supposed to in France – and on the table was a little book: Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris. When I saw the picture on the cover, my interest was piqued and after I began reading, I devoured the entire thing – it was so charmingly written and useful, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to do even a hundredth of what was in there in the short time we had. I then promptly forgot about the holiday, and the book, as I prepared to move house for something like the 28th time.
When Clotilde started posting in 2003, I was vaguely aware of the existence of blogs but not particularly interested. I think I imagined them to be the online equivalent of snake-oil sellers for some reason, an impression likely formed by an unfortunate encounter with a marketing blog. I was so wrong! I stumbled across food blogs early last year and fell into a two-week long reverie, interrupted only by work. I read blog archives as I ate, as I brushed my teeth, as I pulled on socks. I felt as if I’d found my tribe.
Among the first blogs I came across was Chocolate and Zucchini. Something about the writing seemed slightly familiar although I couldn’t imagine why, until I clicked through to the About page and the adorable Clotilde herself looked up at me and I remembered. Clotilde endears herself to her readers without having to try – she’s knowledgeable about such a wide range of things and writes so engagingly. I’m certainly not the first to think so, she has a list of accolades as long as a giraffe’s neck.
Whenever I visit Chocolate and Zucchini I bookmark another five recipes. Clotilde either has a great memory or spends a lot of time researching, or both, because I learn something new whenever I visit her site – about the provenance of a recipe or about an ingredient I haven’t heard of – and she casts new light on familiar ones.
I was particularly delighted the first time I read about her love for Japan and Japanese food; I’ve been to a few gorgeous little Japanese-run French restaurants in Japan and I was interested to see a French take on Japanese food; I wasn’t disappointed. I learned about the three different types of warabi mochi ko and that matcha makes shortbread even better.
Last week, I happened to be glancing at the first comment on a Simply Recipes post from 2003 where the commenter claimed to be somewhat nervous about making chicken stock from scratch. The commenter was Clotilde and it made me smile to think of the baby-blogger she was then because now, close to ten years later, I’m pretty sure she could make stock sleepwalking: she has published two books and countless articles in magazines world-wide and does consulting work as well as developing recipes, taking pictures and communicating with her blog-readers. Despite having so many things on the go, Clotilde manages to make her readers feel they matter to her.
I chose this salt-crusted chicken recipe because anything that keeps breast meat moist is a good idea in my book. I’m strictly a thigh girl myself but I do occasionally consider the needs of others who (inexplicably) prefer light meat. She’s actually already posted Mark II of this recipe in which the crust is edible. As she says, it’s a fun meal – you get to crack the crust open with a hammer! – and like any roast chicken, it stretches well. We ate the thighs for dinner, had sandwiches with the breast meat and boiled the bones for soup.
If you aren’t already a little in love with Clotilde’s sweet personality and fascinating take on food, go forth and discover her fresh style.
Sweet, salty, sour or bitter or a combination, and if so which?
I used to be a clear-cut dessert girl, but over the years I realize I’ve gradually become more of a salty person, it feels like there is often more flavor complexity to be found in this realm. And I’ve always been a big fan of sour/acidic flavors, so that hasn’t changed.
Did you grow up in a food-centric household or did your interest in food develop independently of your upbringing? If the latter, do you remember why?
I grew up in a family where we all gathered around a tasty home-cooked dinner every night as a matter of fact, but I never really stopped to think about it until my early twenties, when I moved out of my parents’ house and left for California to work. That’s when I really started to get interested in food and cooking, because all of a sudden it was my responsibility, and I had all those wonderful choices to make. But my upbringing definitely provided me with a culinary culture to build on.
What’s your earliest food memory?
I remember that I only ever liked cold milk (which was handy for my parents when I woke them up in the middle of the night), and I remember quite distinctly when they made me switch from drinking milk in a bottle to drinking it from a cup (not a sippy cup, a real cup). I didn’t like that very much.
The knife you use most often; brand and type?
I have two: a Wüsthof paring knife and a Füri chef knife. I seem to have a thing for tremas in knife brands. :)
Are you a cook or baker? Why?
I’m really both, I think. Each speaks to a different appetite and set of skills, and I love that I’m able to prepare a complete meal, “from soup to nuts”.
Do you get hangry (dangerously irritable and irrational when hungry)?
I do, and it’s very unpleasant for all involved, so I know better than to let my hunger get to that stage.
Any tips you follow to avoid the dreaded hangrrr or try and stave it off in others?
I think being aware that hangrrr is the reason you’re so annoyed and irritated is half the battle. Stage two is to fix yourself a little snack to tide you over, even if you were “saving your appetite” for the next meal.
Where was your favourite country food-wise to travel to?
I went to Japan last spring, and I have never eaten so well and with such rapture in my life. Normally, when you travel, you’re bound to have a couple of so-so meals, but that wasn’t at all the case in Japan. It was paradise.
How many kitchens have you called your own and what was your favourite one like?
I’ve lived in two different apartments since I left my parents’ — one in California, one in Paris — and I loved both kitchens equally. My current one is small, but the space is rather cleverly arranged with lots of counter space, which is key. We’re about to remodel it, so hopefully we’ll make it even better.
Bedside table – cookbooks, novels or something else?
Now that food writing has become my main occupation, I admit I want to read about other things in my spare time, and I read a fair amount of novels. (I keep a list of books I read.)
What is one of the best things that has happened to you because of blogging?
My career change from software engineer to food writer is a big one, obviously, but I am perhaps even more grateful for the friends I’ve made through Chocolate & Zucchini — a lot of virtual ones, with whom I get to chat and swap ideas or advice over email, but also a number of real-life friends with whom I’ve become very close.
What was the biggest learning curve for you as you developed as a blogger (ie: using the software, photography, styling, writing etc.)?
When I started blogging in 2003, there were very few of us and we felt really free to make things up as we went along, so it has seemed like a continual learning experience, rather than a steep curve of any kind. But I’ve definitely grown — as a person and as a writer — over these seven and a half years, and I still learn new things every day, about food and about blogging, which feels fantastic.
How do you handle people saying “oh, I’m scared to cook for you because you must have such high standards”? Do you have high standards or are you just happy someone wants to cook for you?
I have high standards when I eat out and the people cooking my food are paid professionals, but when I’m invited at a friend’s house, I switch to being super appreciative of whatever they’ve made. I know the time, effort, and care involved in cooking dinner for someone, and I’m just happy to be on the receiving end.
Post squirrel, storing up posts for weeks (months!) to come or living on the edge and banging ‘em out as you go?
I usually have about a half-dozen future post ideas stacked up (with photos, and sometimes a draft of the recipe and a few basic notes), and each week I pick the one I most feel like writing. But once it’s written, I’m so excited I can’t wait to share it with the world, so it wouldn’t work for me to write them in advance.
Merci beaucoup Clotilde!
From Yves Cambeborde’s ”Un Dimanche en Famille” via Chocolate and Zucchini
This fed the two of us for two meals and made stock. I give the directions in the order below because I dislike kneading pastry after I’ve touched raw chicken for some reason, even if I’ve washed my hands and it’s about to be baked.
1 free-range chicken (mine was only 1.3 kg since it was for two)
Several handfuls of chopped herbs (I just used chives because that’s what was in the fridge and dried thyme because I didn’t read the instructions properly)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
A lemon, halved
500 grams (3 3/4 cups) plain flour
300 grams (1 1/3 cups yes, really, that’s not a typo – you can’t eat the crust) of salt, Clotilde calls for coarse but I just used fine sea salt and it was ok
3 tablespoons dried thyme
160 grams egg whites (from 5 eggs) or you can see Clotilde’s recipe where she uses flaxseeds instead
Remove the chicken from the fridge to come to temperature and preheat the oven to 200 celsius (400 fahrenheit) or not, if you plan just to prepare the chicken and leave it in the fridge until you want it. If you do this, remove it from the fridge an hour before you need it so it will come to temperature.
Grease a roasting dish that will hold the chicken plus the few extra centimetres the pastry will add.
Put the flour, salt, thyme and egg whites in a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together, then knead a few turns on an unfloured surface.
Flour the surface and roll the dough out in a rough circle about 50 cm or 20 inches across.
Put the chicken on a board with the neck towards you, breast up. Carefully, using the tips of your fingers to start, make a space between the meat and skin all over the breast and down over the thighs. Stuff the herbs inside.
Put the lemon and garlic in the cavity. Truss if you want (I didn’t have any butcher’s twine so I didn’t).
Place the chicken on the pastry and wrap from side to side and head to tail, I got some fairly large holes but I patched them with pastry from the bits I pinched from the parts with several layers, ie: the corners.
Bring the roasting dish right next to the wrapped chicken and here, I’ll quote Clotilde verbatim because it’s so apt “lift the whole thing, carefully but with determination and transfer to the baking dish.” Determination!
If you plan to eat much later, refrigerate now, otherwise bake for an hour or a bit longer if your chicken is larger. Since it’s wrapped up, a few more minutes won’t overcook it anyway so no panic.
Remove the chicken from the oven onto a board with a rim to catch the juices. The pastry will be really hard so whack it with a hammer or the butt of your knife. Please don’t get a steam burn.
With gloved hands, peel away the rest of the crust and discard.
Rest the meat for 10 minutes and carve.
I served it with a bastardised version of this green bean and almond salad and roast potatoes.