A little French boy story...

My interest in the culinary field predates my culinary training and professional career, dating back to my childhood and many memorable hours passed in the kitchens and at the tables of my family and friends. Some may already be familiar with some of my background and personal history, perhaps gleamed from small snippets from my website and Youtube channel.

I grew up in France, a country often defined by the amazing quality of its cuisine and wine, and a culture that -like so many others- places food at the center of many important human interactions. There were no shortages of examples of excellence in my parents’ and relatives’ kitchens, or among the rare visits to local restaurants. Whenever possible, I avidly watched the adults in my life when they cooked, eventually joining them at their side. I passed countless meals enjoying the delicious results of my mom’s labors, my large family at my side.

These experiences had a profound impact, unconsciously inspiring my future professional path. In the fertile soil of my own youthful love of food, especially sweets, these experiences were like dropping a fragile seedling in fertile soil… initially, you don’t notice while it germinates, unbidden, slowly taking root and gaining strength beneath the surface. Thus, my interest in cooking grew and blossomed through the years, later reinforced by my culinary education and work experiences. Just as my culture is deeply entrenched in and defined by its distinctive cuisine, so too was my own identity and experience of the world.

But, perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, so I shall begin at the beginning – my beginning.

My Dad with his Mom & friends in the 60s in Cordes-Sur-Ciel, France.

My father was born in Noailles, a small French village near Cordes-Sur-Ciel, my mother, a native of Bordeaux, France. Both regions are renowned for their wineries and gastronomy. I was born in the German town of Speyer where my father was stationed in the French military.

I have many fond memories from the first chapter of my life. Among them, walking the streets to and from my kindergarten. Weekends spent playing with legos, gladly interrupted by my perhaps less than skillful attempts to steal into our kitchen to boldly emancipate the cookies, gateaux au yaourt or pies that were in the making. No kidding, I was so enamored of the amazing sweets my mom prepared, I eventually became the chubby one of my family, teased by my siblings.


Though, as my current subscribers know, this only encouraged me later in life to find a healthy food and exercise balance, one that always prioritizes health but still recognizes the importance of including sweets in my life. In moderation, of course. See what I did there? Healthy eating and desserts are not mutually exclusive.

When I was age four, my father was re-stationed and we moved back to France, settling in Saumur, a picturesque town in western France known for it’s grand Chateau overlooking the Loire river. Most notably, Saumur is home to the National Riding Equestrian School, École De Cavalerie Du Cadre Noir, and it’s tank museum. Every Bastille Day, our family would attend Carousel de Saumur, an impressive cavalerie show with displays of infantry and tanks divisions. As a young boy, inspired by these patriotic displays and pride for my father’s profession, my dream was to follow in my father’s footsteps by joining the military.

While my boyhood military-themed ambitions continued for some years, unbenonced to me, the seeds of an entirely different career path and calling in life slowly began to take root…when I was eight years old, my mom was pregnant with her seventh and last baby, while my dad had retired after 30 years of service in the French military. My dad settled into a managerial position at a nascent computer company, and meanwhile my five siblings became six with arrival of my baby sister. My parents planned to build their first home. They found their ideal land in Cestas, a town just outside Bordeaux, quaintly nestled among a forest of towering pines. Bordeaux, a port city in the Gironde department in southwestern France, is the world capital of wine. Our new life in Bordeaux had begun.

Along with our transition to life in a new city, I found I was also transitioning, entering a new stage in maturation where I gradually replaced my boyhood dreams of military heroics with an interest in cooking.

That seedling had taken root and begun to grow, my family and culture supportive in my interest in culinary arts. It began simply enough: as an early bird, awake before everyone else, I had sought something to keep myself busy. In short order, my mom assigned me the responsibility of breakfast preparation for my siblings. I sliced and toasted baguettes topped with confiture, our homemade jams. Before long, I assisted my mom and grandmother in making jellys and jams from scratch. Both women were so creative, screwing meters of large shelves into our home’s stone walls that were capable of holding fields of sterilized containers. They were filled with all kinds of preserved foods, from confitures of fig, green tomato, strawberry, quince, and prune to beaucoup de conserves of picked cornichon and tomatoes. Many of the items we preserved came from our own garden, where my Dad’s green thumb ensured a healthy and robust supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.

My mom cooked extremely lean, low sodium foods, mainly boiled and steamed meals finished with a drizzle of olive oil. This lesson in healthy eating was one I’ve carried into adulthood, enabling me to partake of the delights of richest pastry while still maintaining heart health and a healthy weight. Butter was rarely used, cream and sodas were simply banned, French fries -despite the name- were exceedingly rare, and fast food restaurants practically nonexistent in France during this time. Yogurts were a daily food in our family, made daily from scratch by my mom with our yogurt maker, a machine kept alive for twenty odd years by the clever fix-its of my dad. Among all these healthy meals, you may be asking “what about bread?”, the quintessential item that no French meal is without… at that time, we would consume 1500g of bread daily! And, of course, no meal is complete without dessert, often fresh local fruit, yogurt or every French child’s comfort food riz au lait, or rice pudding; all in moderation, of course.

My parents were keen to have healthy children, and outdoor activities and sports were and continue to be part of our lifestyle. We could try anything we wanted: hockey, martial arts, soccer, swimming, bicycling, etc. These activities not only bonded me with my siblings, they reinforced the importance of exercise to health. Given my own passion for sweets, and future career path, I will always place great value and have appreciation for the very French values of moderation combined with exercise. They allowed me to overcome my younger self’s weight challenges, as well as enjoy the pleasures of pastry, bread, or other rich foods without excessive concerns for health. After all, what chef can perfect any recipe without tasting?

As I had done with my mom and grandma when they cooked or preserved foods, I also embraced my role as sous chef for my Dad during his comparatively less frequent forays into cooking. The quality of his efforts did not suffer for his infrequency. I helped him to prepare the crust and peel the apples for his traditional Sunday dessert, a delicious two-tiered apple pie. My dad favored Golden delicious and pomme du Canada, picked fresh from our garden or the farmer’s market. My dad knew his ingredients well, and I contend that these two varieties still remain the best apples for this and similar desserts. Certainly, these times spent assisting my parents will always be especially meaningful, due in part to the rare opportunity they afforded for one-onone time with parents of seven children, myself included.

I vividly recall my first original recipe, made at age eight: cookie dough with nuts. I mixed together some flour, sugar, butter and eggs, then added some freshly cracked walnuts. After I scooped them out onto tray, my mom baked them. Fifteen minutes later, the smell hinted to everyone in range that something was up. I was waiting religiously, peering through the oven door. My anticipatory thrill was palpable despite the cookies less than appealing appearance. Nonetheless, we rushed to eat them shortly after being pulled from the oven. Perhaps as a sign of desserts to come in my future, they were quite good (excepting some forgotten pieces of walnut shells, but, hey, I was eight!).

Many of my best memories, and inspiring culinary experiences, occurred during the freedom of summer breaks. From my childhood thru my late teens, our family traveled annually to southern France to visit my paternal Grandma’s home in Cordes-Sur-Ciel, in the Tarn department, not far from my father’s birthplace of Noailles. With our large family, we packed together in our shining white, Volkswagen T2. Though we bore little resemblance to the hippies and surfers so often associated with the ironic vehicle, the younger children among us were doubtless just as raucous.

As memorable as our travels were in our iconic Volkswagen T2, the true highlight of our summer breaks was to be found not so much in the expedition, but in our destination, and the precious time passed with family while there. And, as is true of so many families across France and around the world, that time would revolve around the preparation and sharing of delicious food. Indeed, the very connection our family felt to our land was always grounded by what grew there: those fruits, vegetables, herbs and vines that to this day continue to define the unique cuisines of the different regions of France and beyond. Not surprisingly, the most astute viewers of my YouTube videos will have noticed the prevalence of my recipes that originate from the south of France.

Both I and my siblings will always cherish our summer memories, passed at our grandma’s aged stone house, located in the heart of Cordes-sur-Ciel. Like my parents, my grandma was an excellent cook. Her cooking was reflective of her generation -and perhaps more in fitting with American stereotypes of French cooking à la Julia Childusing much more fat. Similar to my parents and nearly all French cooks across the nation, she sought out and relied heavily upon local, fresh and high quality ingredients, primarily sourced at the nearby Farmer’s market. Her culinary successes hammered home the lesson for me that true excellence in cooking first and foremost requires the best ingredients.

As with my parents, I availed myself of every opportunity to learn more about cooking from my grandma. I relished the epic adventure of roasting meat in a 200 year old fire place. Fascinated and inspired by the intersection of food and history, I later returned to Cordes-sur-Ciel as an adult to bake bread in the village’s communal outdoor woodburning oven, just as my grandma and other generations had before me. I’ve no doubt my passion for pastry found its earliest roots in these summer visits, among my grandma’s delicious desserts. Favorite among them were her caramel crème anglaise, sablé Breton, butter cookies, and gâteau caramélisé à l’ananas, otherwise known as a pineapple upside cake.

During these summer holidays, we traveled on weekends to Roussayrolles, a nearby commune also located in the Tarn department. My grandma’s brother, John, and my cousins lived there. Uncle John was incredibly kind, and my siblings and I loved him dearly. He was a former professeur d’école, and had been elected mayor of Roussayrolles. Uncle John owned several properties -farmlands, often complete with picturesque barns- whose use he rented to local farmers for them to raise cattle, pigs, moutons, or sheep, and chickens. Playing there as a child left me with some of my most cherished and unforgettable memories, not least among them the enjoyment to be had in meals my family prepared with the recently harvested fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Given my familial connections to and positive memories of southern France, in particular Noailles and its surrounding environs, I think it’s poetically fitting that the experience that sealed my fate and set me firmly upon the culinary career path should have taken place in Cordes-sur-Ciel.

The following anecdote occurred while at my Grandma’s home in Cordes during my summer break, aged eleven… Just as the tanks at the École De Cavalerie Du Cadre Noir in Saumur had fired my boyhood imagination at age eight, so too did the bright cherry red sport convertible I spied as it passed under the main city gate and historical landmark, the Porte Des Ormeaux of Cordes-sur-Ciel. The engine’s noise was unusually captivating, inspiring no small degree of covetousness for the spectacular vehicle. It was a Ferrari, an exceedingly rare sight to behold in the sleepy French town. I thought that the 1980’s hero Magnum, PI must surely be behind the wheel, coming to visit our small French town. Indeed, the driver had a mustache worthy of Tom Selleck himself!

I was told that the owner of that gorgeous red convertible was none other than Yves Thuriès. He was a MOF, or Meilleurs Ouvriers de France pastry chef, a highly prestigious honor indicating recognition of the best craftsmanship of France in his field, pastry. He had published a remarkable encyclopedia of patisserie book, later followed by an additional eight books. Thuriès was the owner of the historic hotel, Le Grand Ecuyer, and also the dessert themed museum, Le Musée des Arts du Sucre et du Chocolat.

No less than three years after that fateful glimpse of the famous chef had captured my imagination, I began my apprenticeship in Bordeaux, my special focus in the pastry field. With my first savings, I purchased my first pastry book, fittingly written by Thuries. It became my bible. Although I loved cooking, I was ultimately seduced by the artistry involved in cake making. At age seventeen, I obtained my pastry diploma (CAP Pâtissier). With 19/20 in technology and 14.5/20 in practice, I was honored to be named as a semi-finalist for the best apprentice of France.

Immediately following graduation, I left for Reims, France where I completed my compulsory military duty, after which I returned to Bordeaux. I pursued my pastry career, working at the best patisseries for 8 years. I then decided to focus on bread, working at several MOF owned boulangeries, or bakeries, throughout France, perfecting valuable skills under the best chefs of France. Two years later in 1997, I was nominated for the regional selections for the MOF baker contest held near Toulouse. While I didn’t achieve the final prize, I wasn’t discouraged for it gave me the visibility and clout to find employment in and move to the French capital, Paris. There, I had the privilege to work at the Ritz Hôtel Place Vendôme and after that position, I became the head baker at the Plaza Athénée under the famous Alain Ducasse. In 2003, I joined Lenôtre culinary school. A year later, I had a job opportunity in Las Vegas. My journey in America commences…

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