A love of food and France has led Diane Shaskin and Mark Craft to live life in pursuit of the next great culinary discovery.
Since 1998 the couple have been travelling to Paris and Provence, eating and drinking in as much of the gastronomic culture as they can.
On this blustery November day, the couple is tucked into their cozy kitchen in Oak Bay, as wind batters the windows and the smell of rustic French bread baking wafts through the warm space.
“My first memory of cooking is watching my mother and my grandmother cook, making Ukrainian foods,” says Shaskin. “Food in our house was talked about a lot — who made the best, what their specialities were — there was always a dialog about food, constantly.”
“Both my grandmothers were good cooks and each had a special chicken recipe,” Craft adds.
Shaskin and Craft are the authors of a new book, How to Cook Bouillabaisse in 37 Easy Steps, but you won’t find fried chicken or perogy recipes inside.
Part cookbook, part travelog, part diary, the book takes readers to the wineries, restaurants, patisseries and boulangeries of Paris and Provence, giving them an inside look at French cuisine.
Putting the ingredients for life in order: “it’s France, food, wine and travel. Those are the most important things to me in life,” she says with a laugh. “We go to France a lot but it’s not the museums or the monuments … every time we go to France, we explore the culinary tradition deeper and deeper.”
“We get in the kitchens of the Ritz and see how they’re cooking and take a private cooking class there. We go into a foie gras store where they close things down and show us what their products are like,” Craft says.
“We’ve gone truffle-hunting in Provence,” Shaskin adds. “We’ve gone to boulangeries, gone into the back and talked to the baker about the traditions of baking bread in France … it’s a métier, it’s a craft, you have to study for seven years.”
“It’s like being a doctor,” Craft pipes in.
Punctuated with Craft’s photographs and containing more than 50 recipes, the 298-page book gives readers cooking and tasting tips, wine pairing suggestions, restaurant recommendations and a list of shops and cooking classes available.
Even after a dozen years of twice-yearly visits, “there’s always something new to discover,” Shaskin says.
“There’s hundreds of years of history and there’s hundreds of years of traditions of foods to discover. The last time we were there we set up a tasting at a famous caviar shop. I didn’t know anything about it and it was fascinating to learn about the history of caviar, how to eat it. When you sample it they serve it to you right there on your hand,” she says, making a fist and pointing to the triangle of flesh above her thumb. “Even 12 years later caviar was something we hadn’t done.”
How to Cook Bouillabaisse in 37 Easy Steps is available on Amazon.ca, at Ivy’s Bookstore or at paristoprovence.ca.