Ann Mah is the author of the new food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love From a Year in Paris and the novel Kitchen Chinese. She is based in Paris and New York.
Q: Why did you decide to write a memoir about your time in Paris?
A: I’d always wanted to take a road trip through France, using Julia Child’s classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as a guide. When my husband and I moved to France for three years, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Unfortunately, he left for Baghdad shortly after our arrival in Paris, and my dream of living in France changed. But with his encouragement, I still traveled throughout the country – albeit, on my own.
The book grew from those travels, from my eating adventures, my fascination with the history I discovered, and my admiration for the home cooks and food artisans I met along the way. But, really, writing the book was just an excuse to tour around France and eat!
Q: Why is Julia Child a continuing object of fascination for so many people, and how did she inspire you?
A: I think those of us who love Julia are touched by her story for different reasons, whether you’re a late bloomer, kitchen unconfident, or professionally unsatisfied.
For me, I was – and am – inspired by the graceful manner with which she faced the challenges of life as a trailing spouse. I look at the loving teamwork of her marriage with Paul Child – unwavering despite personal and professional disappointments, and untimely overseas relocations – the success that bloomed from hard work and sheer will, despite the upheavals of diplomatic life. And I feel hopeful.
Q: What surprised you the most in the course of writing and researching the book?
A: It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I discovered a universal allegiance to grandma’s cooking: whether it was choucroute, boeuf bourguignon, cassoulet (or any of the other dishes in the book), Granny makes the best, of course.
Q: Among the various foods that you write about in the book, are there some that you like more than others?
A: It’s impossible to pick a favorite but some of my fondest memories are from my trip to Brittany, a region I loved as much for its buttery buckwheat galettes, as the warm welcome I received there. Being invited into people’s homes, cooking homemade crêpes, listening to their childhood stories – these were experiences that touched me very deeply.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: For several years, I've dreamt about writing a novel set in Burgundy -- a story that weaves together friendship, lost love, ambition -- and a wine mystery. Of course, the book is also an excuse to do lots of research (e.g. drink a lot of wine!).
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I hope people who read Mastering the Art of French Eating feel encouraged to travel and explore, to ask lots of questions, to embrace their curiosity and be flexible and open to new experiences – even when it means tucking into tripe sausage!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb