Cookbook and travel book: Provence of Alain Ducasse by Alain Ducasse and François Simon Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Provence of Alain Ducasse by Alain Ducasse and François Simon Heart

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Address: Provence

If ever there was a dangerous book for anyone planning to travel to Provence, this must be it. So be warned. Heavy, coffee-table sized and full of beautiful photographs, it is meant to be left at home. It's one thing to travel with a Lonely Planet or Time Out guide; it's quite another to pop a book like this into your suitcase.
But, that's the risk you'll take if you dare to buy and read this book before you leave home for the south of France. It's so densely-packed with good information, some of it in a frustratingly-difficult to read "hand-written" style that, no matter how hard we tried to take notes, copy individual pages, and memorise stories, it was not going to be possible to spend a couple of weeks food hunting in Provence without it.
So, with some foreboding, into the suitcase it went - and we never looked back.
One of the many reasons Alain Ducasse's restaurant food is so good is his almost obsessive determination to find and use the best very produce. This book is probably the outcome of the years of effort that have gone in to sourcing produce for Louis XV in Monte Carlo, the restaurant where Ducasse first achieved international fame, and his two Provence country inns - La Bastide de Moustiers in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and l'Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de La Celle in the Var.
Sections are devoted to olive oil, tomatoes, truffles, cheese, breads and pastries, wine, honey, confectionery, zucchini, figs, eggplants, Cavaillon melons, garlic, Sisteron lamb, anchovies, lemons, almonds, orange flower water, and tellinas, the small clams that are harvested in the waters beyond the Camargue. Then there are sections on famous dishes such as pissaladière, panisse, and socca.
There is a smattering of classic recipes throughout these sections and some fascinating observations - for example, the revelation that the key ingredient in pissaladière, and the one that gives it its name is pissalat, an anchovy condiment, not anchovies.
The real treasure for the traveller, though, is the sharing of his favourite addresses for each of these ingredients and dishes, for example his favoured olive oils, the best places to buy tomatoes, including the marvellous afternoon farmers' market in Velleron, Jean-Paul Veziano's bakery in Antibes for pissaladière, Carpentras and Richeranches markets for truffles, Solliès-Pont market for figs, cheese shops and farms that sell their own cheese, vineyards and wine shops such as Maison des Vins des Côtes-de-Provence, specialising in AOC Côtes-de-Provence wines, and Distilleries et Domaines de Provence in Forcalquier to buy the aromatic Pastis Henri Bourdouin. He also picks nine of the best markets and recommends particular stalls.
Then there are the best places to eat and drink - recommendations for where to go at aperitif time, recommended restaurants for famous dishes (we were delighted to fine La Merenda, our favourite restaurant in the south of France, recommended for several dishes), a few "famous" restaurants, not all of which are expensive (La Merenda is an example), and a selection of "good small restaurants" that are less well-known. These are two very good lists to have even if you're not intending to obsessively rush from one market or food shop to another during the day.
The recommended locations throughout the book include places in the Vaucluse, Var, Alpes-Maritimes, and Bouches-du-Rhone so it covers plenty of territory. It did seem that the majority of recommendations were in Vaucluse or Alpes-Maritimes but we haven't counted so we may be wrong - and we still found plenty of assistance from this book when we were staying in the middle of the Var.
Finally, to round out the book, there are some personal recommendations about places that are not directly related to food - including stories of seven beautiful villages, some special views, sites of special interest, places where you can follow the footsteps of the likes of Cézanne, Chagall, Matisse, and others, museums, and gardens
And, how to avoid having to lug a book like this from Australia to France and back? The solution's simple. We're now looking for the perfect village house to buy so that we can leave it behind and have a home to come back to, to explore more of the places in this book!
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