Behind us is Le Puy-en-Velay, a medieval town of Auvergne, a volcanic region in the center of France, where we decided to move to when we heard that my French wife, Adélaïde, was accepted into one of the best pastry schools in France, run by Chef Alain Ducasse. For years, she’d been working with marketing and brand strategy in France, Sweden & Australia, and for years, she’d been wondering what was holding her back from sending it all away.
So in January 2015, with the help of family and friends, we packed all of our belongings from a tiny apartment in the middle of Paris and stuffed our furniture, our books, our records and quite a few boxes of shoes into a large truck to get all the way down to the hamlet of Verne. We’d been married for two days, and drove listening to Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen, Barbara, and also to a Ricky Martin single. “Un, dos, tres” was playing for the seventh-too-many-times when we arrived at the house under heavy snow, right after the truck almost tipped over on a sharp, icy turn. In a patois that was then incomprehensible to me, we were greeted by our landlords, an old couple living just a street away. They later confessed thinking we would leave the house the second we got there, considering how damn cold and isolated it was.
The next Monday, Adélaïde, as her 96 year-old grandmother wittily put it, “fell into a bag of flour” and started her first pastry class at 6am, after an epic drive to the château where the school is located. I have ever since been stuffing myself with entremets, viennoiseries, tartes and pâtes à choux puffs she’s been baking and bringing home for the past months (I believe very soon, I will be ready to make foie gras out of myself). Her great-great-grandparents owned the Thévenon bakery and pastry shop at 9, rue Corneille, at the corner of the Théâtre de l’Odéon and the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, winning a gold medal for best bakery in 1897.
My name is André, one of the most popular French names … in 1922. The only other André my wife knows is her great-great-uncle who likes to call her Elizabeth because he finds it funny. But I daresay, my grandpa name suits me well. When I try to explain to people where I’m from here, I’m usually asked to repeat a good six times. I’m American, but also Brazilian. My dad has Romanian parents and moved to São Paulo from Israel; my mom is Mexican but her mother was born in New York from Turkish parents and her father was Czech, yet spoke German and Hungarian. To top it off, my last name is Swiss. I have an unhealthy obsession with João Gilberto, Jorge Ben and Gilberto Gil. Do all those names sound the same to you? That’s okay, I won’t judge. But I made Adélaïde learn all of them, and told her if she couldn’t distinguish them, I wouldn’t marry her. Needless to say, she is now an expert in Brazilian music.
We currently live in a typical late 19th-century farmhouse filled to the brim with antiques that we’ve been treasure-hunting in local brocantes. We have
two three auvergnats-found cats, Gaston, Frida & Boris. One of them is three-pawed. My main occupation here, my raison de vivre, has been mushroom picking – or should I say, attempting it. I tried out many unsuccessful strategies, such as: going into the forest at 4am after a rainy day with my iPhone torch light and a wood cane to (gently) beat the snakes, candidly (and repeatedly) asking suspecting locals if they knew of any fungi Eldorado (I was once told by a sweet old lady that her own mother refused to reveal her mushroom spots, on her deathbed), I have even watched YouTube videos in order to identify the right surroundings and flora for ceps or morels. I recently found a bunch which turned out to be poisonous; some would argue that is better than no mushroom at all. Progress in my impossible quest.
Since mushroom foraging proved unfruitful (for now), I turned to cooking.
We hope you will enjoy the recipes posted here. We try to keep it simple but some cake and bread recipes are from Adélaïde’s pastry course (and therefore a little more challenging but high-quality), and the savory ones are either from lunches I prepare while she is away in class, or dishes we cook together on the weekends for friends and family. May they inspire you to cook, share, and revel in hearty meals!
All the styling and photographs, unless noted, are done and taken by us. The illustrations are drawn by Adélaïde and inspired by vintage cookery books.