Ring in 2021 with traditional French fare
Authors offer Burgundian favourites just in time for New Year's Eve celebrations at home
Raw, perhaps with a little mignonette, slurping back briny oysters on the half shell is a classic French way to ring in the new year.
For Victoria-based photographer Rebecca Wellman, “there will be oysters for sure” on New Year's Eve, preferably from Quadra Island.
For “the perfect lineup,” Wellman and Bisous & Brioche co-author Laura Bradbury recommend starting with their oysters on the shell with green apple mignonette, followed by beef bourguignon and poire belle-hélène — with a cheese platter in-between the main course and dessert.
Under normal circumstances, Bradbury divides her time between Victoria and Villers-la-faye in the Beaune district of France.
Inspired by her Grape Series memoirs, Bisous & Brioche gives readers a glimpse into her Burgundian kitchen.
In the name of research, Bradbury and Wellman travelled to the fabled wine region in the fall of 2019 — an experience they're even more grateful to have shared given current restrictions.
“It feels so carefree to look back on that trip,” says Bradbury. “Wine tasting and biking in the vineyards, going to markets — it was just that moment of innocence before the pandemic started.”
For Wellman, being able to see the places she had read about in Bradbury's memoirs — the village where she met her husband, Franck, and the three vacation properties they renovated — “was the cherry on top of the whole thing. It was just so magical.”
Bradbury began her writing career in 2012, immediately after being diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a degenerative disease of the bile ducts.
Her memoirs provided a lifeline as she waited for a liver transplant — a way for her to have a foot in France when she was too ill to travel.
Her friend Nyssa donated the right lobe of her liver in 2017 for Bradbury's life-saving transplant. Nine books in, she still feels the same drive to write as she did when awaiting the operation.
“For 10 years I started eight or nine books and didn't finish any of them because I was so worried about judgment, criticism and failure. Then, being diagnosed with a terminal illness — all of a sudden those fears just vanished.
“The one thing I was scared of was dying with my stories still inside me. And so for me, it was a way to assert the fact that I was still alive,” says Bradbury. “Creating anything, it doesn't matter what it is, is one of the most life-affirming things you can do.”
Starting with her accumulation of French recipes — passed down through Franck's family or shared by close friends — the authors added favourites Bradbury has eaten over the years in France, as well as originals Wellman created specifically for the book, which Bradbury has since woven into her repertoire.
Some, such as a Franco-canadian spin on Burgundian glazed carrots — which combines Dijon mustard and maple syrup — and salmon rillettes, swapping the customary duck, rabbit or pork, have a West Coast touch.
By her own admission, Bradbury is “certainly not a naturally born cook” — her mother banned her from the kitchen as a teen after an incendiary baking session — and the authors set out to create a book that was approachable above all else.
“The genesis of this cookbook is I found some recipes that were really easy to execute that I could handle, but that had results that were really disproportionately awesome,” says Bradbury.
“I tried to develop this repertoire of things that are no-fail — like my chocolate cake, tomato tart, a good quiche — and it helped give me confidence in the kitchen. So I'm hoping that it will do that for other people, as well.”
The author of First, We Brunch, Wellman specializes in recipe development, as well as food styling and photography.
As a cook, she prefers challenging, multi-day recipes, but for Bisous & Brioche it was all about paring back — fewer ingredients and less laborious steps. Instead of making duck confit for their cassoulet, for example, she incorporates a shortcut: chicken cooked in duck fat.
“It was a good challenge,” says Wellman. “It was fun.”
“France has their culinary tradition and … they're kind of rigid. But then there's Burgundy that's even more rigid,” adds Bradbury, laughing. “It's very grounded in the terroir. As much as the wine is, the food there is as well, which is one of the reasons why they don't like straying very far … But some of the recipes did stray a little bit in the best possible way.”