Every Friday for a year, the authors of “Paris Picnic Club” concocted delicious meals of picnic recipes for their friends. The idea grew into a pop-up restaurant, and now, it has become a cookbook featuring a unique culinary landscape of modern French flavors.
The sections of the book – small plates, sharing platters, tartines, desserts, and drinks, with a few recipes for basics and bread to boot – take their inspiration both from classic French ingredients and from more international Flavors. Seasonal spring asparagus and Valençay goat cheese tartines and caramelized onion, thyme, and marjoram tart coexist with coconut fish stew with spicy pirão or ancho and apple cider pork shoulder with pickled plums.
For years, it would have been strange to find these flavors on local tables. But "Paris Picnic Club" co-author Shaheen Peerbhai, a chef, teacher, and writer now based in London, notes that these recipes were well-received when she first introduced them to locals and expats alike.
“We found that they were incredibly receptive and really appreciated our unique take on something as traditionally French as a baguette sandwich,” she says. “Since Paris is so international and Parisians are adventurous in their exploration of exotic foods, they were accustomed to many of the flavors alone but had never had our specific combinations. The only thing we tried to stay away from is spice because we quickly learned that that is not very well appreciated!”
Despite its rather misleading title, the goal of the book is not necessarily to help readers achieve the perfect picnic.
“The title alludes to our little club,” explains Peerbhai. “The recipes from the book thus cover not only picnics, but meals that you could share on your kitchen counter or dining room table.”
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“For traditional picnics," she continues, "we prefer to pack the ingredients for a cheese plate with plenty of bread and fruit, and salads that can be easily transported.”
She notes that a corkscrew and a good knife are essential tools for such a meal.
The book does, however, include a few nods to the Club's roots, such as the authors' favorite Paris parks, as well as neighborhood-inspired menus of picnic recipes, perfect for a crowd.
“The menu names are based on the neighborhoods where we would buy the ingredients for those dishes, and in some cases were inspired by meals we had had in those areas of Paris,” Peerbhai says. “Couronnes, for example, was our go-to metro stop for all things Middle Eastern and for an evening of couscous and kebabs, so it inspired a menu centered on Mediterranean lamb.”
But more than a specific picnic how-to, the authors seek to highlight that elusive quality about French dining that has long made it so enticing: balanced, delicious meals featuring a handful of good-quality ingredients, enjoyed with people that you love.
“We really wanted to emphasize the multicultural aspect of Paris that many people may not otherwise discover on a week-long visit or even living in Paris,” she says. “Shopping for Gochujang, tahini, hibiscus flowers, cornmeal and Rocamadour cheese (among a myriad of other ingredients) all over the city has led us to discover neighborhoods and cultural pockets that we never knew before. We hope the book transports our readers to that Paris!”
Accompanied by beautiful illustrations from co-author chef and artist Jennie Levitt, this book's unique vision of Paris is one that will be appreciated by Francophiles looking for a new glimpse of the French capital.
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