An American chef cooks in Paris today as Southern Living Contributing Editor Virginia Willis makes her third trip to the Paris Cookbook Fair. Virginia, the author of two cookbooks herself, is a guest chef at the annual festival that celebrates the best cookbooks worldwide. Parisians will get to sample some of her pulled pork tenderloin with Georgia barbecue sauce and stoneground grits and greens. But this dish wasn’t her first choice.
After receiving her invitation, Virginia took to Twitter and wondered if she should make fried chicken or grits. Immediately the fair’s organizers replied that frying is forbidden at Le Carrousel du Louvre. She diplomatically responded that she’d pass on poultry since “I’ve no desire for an international fried chicken incident.” Frankly, we think France is missing out on some Southern goodness. “I’m certain that if the Mona Lisa smelled my chicken, she would get a big grin on her face, not her quirky little smile,” Virginia said.
But Virginia is happy to show the world that the South is more than fried chicken just as French food is not all snails and frog legs. In fact, she thinks the two cuisines have a lot in common. ”Chicken stew is coq au vin, beef stew is boeuf bourguignonne, and well, ham is ham. The food is not radically different,” she says. “They have baguettes and we have biscuits, they have cream sauce and we have gravy, but at the heart of both cuisines is a real simplicity.” Whether you’re eating in the South or the South of France, she says it’s apparent that chefs have a respect for fresh vegetables and relish using every part of an animal.
For Parisian-trained Virginia, the trip back is also chance to visit some of her favorite gourmet spots. She recommends the food shops Hediard and Fauchon for amazing goodies to bring back to the States. Another stop on her agenda is the Maille mustard boutique at Place de la Madeleine. (“Maille is real Dijon mustard that tastes incredible and they sell it on tap!”) Finally, Virginia never misses an opportunity to go to the famous cookware shop Dehillerin to buy a copper pot, something she did when she was a stagerie working in Paris. “It was an investment and they are expensive, but I would scrimp and save to buy a beautiful piece of copper cookware,” she says. Even today, Virginia limits herself to just one piece on each trip to Paris.