Garden Grove-born, Huntington Beach-raised Ann Mah wrote “Mastering the Art of French Eating” (Pamela Dornan Books/Viking, 2013) as part memoir and part cookbook. The title invokes Julia Child’s groundbreaking first book very consciously—like Child was, Mah is a “trailing spouse” accompanying her diplomat husband to Paris. When he’s called away to a posting in Iraq where families cannot follow, what was to be a Parisian dream for two becomes a year alone for Mah.
Once she regains her footing—in the City of Light everyday life inexorably marches on—she embarks on a project to investigate classic regional French dishes at their points of origin, from steak frites to soupe au pistou to boeuf bourguignon. The story of each dish tracks nicely with Mah’s increasing comfort with her solo French sojourn, and forms a separate chapter in the book, with the relevant recipe at the end.
Mah visited her parents in Huntington Beach a couple of months ago with her new baby, and completely impressed her husband with a true California-girl talent: the ability to identify every See’s Candy by sight. Recently she was nice enough to answer some email questions from me—and I can vouch for her favorite O.C. French café, divulged here. Look for a recipe from Mah’s book in Taste of Orange County soon.
Do you live in Paris?
My family is based in New York, but we have an apartment in Paris where I spend chunks of time, for research trips and vacations. But we just welcomed a baby girl this fall, so recently my life has been more New York than Paris.
What French food do you miss?
A fresh baguette, breaking off the tip and eating it on the walk home. Also, cheese—the variety and discovery of new types, the sharp, moldy smell when you pass a fromagerie.
How will you introduce baby to French eating?
We wet her lips with Champagne the night she was born. And as soon as she's old enough, I plan to give her Roquefort, so she grows up knowing the flavor.
Have you found any French in O.C.?
I love a charming little café in Huntington Beach called La Petite Baguette. The owners are French and their sandwiches are named for some of my favorite places in France. And their homemade soups are excellent -- just like something you'd eat at Grandmère's house.
Are you working on a next book?
Before I started “Mastering the Art of French Eating,” I was halfway through writing a novel about a female sommelier and a family of winemakers in Burgundy. The story still calls to me... but I haven't answered yet!