Passion Points: Food/Wine
To Francophiles and foodies, the name Patricia Wells has been synonymous with culinary Paris for decades. Wells, the food critic for the International Herald Tribune until 2007, first published The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris in 1984. The book, complete with a wealth of recommendations and know-how on everything from restaurants and cafés to bakeries and markets, became an instant must-read for anyone visiting the City of Light.
Today, Wells’s French savoir vivre is available to the next generation thanks to the new Food Lover’s Guide app for the iPhone and iPad. “For years people asked me when I was going to update the book,” says Wells. “My instant response was always an emphatic ‘never!’” But when the opportunity to turn it into an interactive app arose everything fell into place: “It was as if the book I dreamed up in the late seventies was made to be an app,” says the author who splits her time between Paris and Provence. “We could add maps, sortable lists and the ability to easily contact restaurants.”
She makes it sound easy but in reality, the app required revisiting the 350 restaurants, cafés and food shops listed, revision of the articles and adding new photos (shot by Wells and her team with, bien sûr, iPhones). Indagare spoke with Wells about her new discoveries in Paris, summer restaurants in Provence and about bringing such a beloved source into the 21st century.
The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris is still considered the definitive guide to Parisian dining. Is there anything you could do in the app version that was not possible in the book?
The app allowed us to create an interactive experience for our readers. They can now look up which restaurants are open on Monday, which serve steak tartare, find spots in specific arrondissements, and even call the restaurant or visit their website with a single tap of the screen. I also now have real-time control of the data so if a place closes or changes hours, or declines in quality, I can instantly change the information. Authors don’t have that same luxury with their published books.
As you were revisiting and testing the addresses to include in the app, what were your favorite new discoveries?
It’s been exciting to see the restaurant scene change in the past years, with chefs moving to out-of-the-way neighborhoods and opening small, casual spots with reasonable prices and simple menus featuring ultra-fresh ingredients. Paris has also recently seen restaurants staying open seven days a week, a whole new—and much appreciated—concept in this city.
If you had the power to keep a handful of Paris restaurants open for eternity, which would they be?
This is tough, so I am listing those that have stood the test of time, which I have known and loved for years:
Which Paris neighborhood do you find most exciting at the moment for its culinary offerings?
The 9th and 10th arrondissements are hopping with all sorts of new spots, and the Saint Germain area has also welcomed several new and wonderful restaurants. To my mind, the city has never been more alive and energetic with lots of youthful input and enthusiasm.
Le Fooding: Trendy fad or here to stay?
I actually don’t like the term Le Fooding and do believe it is a trendy fad. Too much is made of young chefs using “fresh” ingredients, as if they invented freshness. Chefs have been sourcing fresh local ingredients for ages; this is not a new concept. However there are a handful of places who approach this new wave with their own personality and point of view: Spring, Saturne (17, rue Notre-Dame des Victoires; 33(0)142 603190), Septime (80, rue de Charonne; 33(0)143 673829), Agapé Substance (66, rue Mazarine; 33(0)143 293383), Akrame (19, rue Lauriston; 33(0)140 671116), Chateaubriand (129, Avenue Parmentier; 33(0)143 57459), Le Dauphin, Frenchie and Vivant.
You are a passionate runner. What are some of your favorite jogging routes in Paris?
I used to say that if you ran five miles before 9am, nothing bad could happen to you the rest of the day. For our first 25 years in Paris, I had a ritual of running in Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement near our Right Bank apartment. For the past ten years we have lived on the Left Bank, a 15-minute walk from the Luxembourg Gardens, which I love for its grandeur, history, size, and the ability to get a post-run Perrier or coffee at one of the pavilions in the park.
Which restaurants would make your Top Five list for summer in Provence?
Le Pré du Moulin (Cours Joëlle Esteve, Route de Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes; 33(0)490 700558) in Serignan du Comtat in the Vaucluse; Le Grand Pré (Route de Vaison-la-Romaine, Roaix; 33(0)490 461812) and Les Abeilles (4, Route de Vaison, Sablet; 33(0)490 123896) outside of Vaison-la-Romaine, Le Bistrot du Paradou (57, Avenue Vallée des Baux, Paradou; 33(0)490 543270) near Les Baux, and lunch on the terrace at L’Oustau de Beaumanière (Les Baux de Provence; 33(0)490 543307), especially for their tomato menu.
What is your favorite French dining ritual?
The first sip of champagne and a toast with friends and family as we sit down at the table.
What are you currently working on?
After the research we completed for the app, we have photos and information on today’s best Paris restaurants. So I am now doing what I said I would never do: writing the newest installation of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, due in print in 2014.
Read Indagare’s destination report on Paris.
Read Indagare’s destination report on Provence.
Read Indagare’s Black Book destination guide on Paris with Families.
Read a Q&A with New Yorker writer, and foodie Francophile, Adam Gopnik.
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