Today we interviewed Estelle, well known among French foodies living in the US, for whom she simplifies the life, literally! She shares her experience from cooking with the ingredients her new country has to offer, so her compatriots do not have to go through the same hassles of trials and errors.
KITnDO: To start, can you tell us about your cultural background, Estelle?
Estelle: I was born in France from Jewish parents born in Turkey. After growing up and studying in France, I came to work in the US in 2002. I now live an hour away from Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, with my American husband and two children.
KITnDO: What were your main motivations for moving to the US?
Estelle: I graduated a few weeks after 9/11. A lot of companies had hiring freezes. I applied to dozens and dozens of jobs and the only one I got was at a French oil company, a 16-month temporary position in Pennsylvania. I was supposed to return to France at the end of the period but met my now-husband at the work’s cafeteria. We made the quick decision to stay in the US and I’ve lived in this country since then.
KITnDO: What is your current activity?
Estelle: I am a food writer and chocolate educator. I write and publish a lot of content geared toward the French expat community. For instance, I am the author of several books for French expats in the US, such as Guide de survie alimentaire aux États-Unis and Recettes de survie aux États-Unis, as well as the creator of Bons plans gourmands aux États-Unis, a Facebook group where over 6,500 francophones share recipes and food finds in the US.
Closer to home, I also lead chocolate tastings to expose local food-lovers to the possibilities of chocolate. I give lectures and partner with Pennsylvania wineries on chocolate and wine pairings. I love to write but I crave the connection with an audience. Seeing faces lighting up after eating a chocolate I selected for them is very gratifying.
Ultimately, though, my goal is to show people how good food can be in the US. Both French and Americans get suspicious I get off the beaten path and showcase American chocolate. I tell them that there’s a lot of good chocolate in the US, you just need to know where to look.
KITnDO: Do you pay special attention on transmitting to your kids their cultural heritage? Can you give some examples?
Estelle: It’s difficult to pass all aspects of my culture because my husband isn’t French and my home country is far. However, I do my best to try. For instance, I take my youngest daughter to French storytime and meet-ups at the French bakery, we watch cartoons in my mother tongue (we love Ladybug Girl) and I speak French as much as I can. The most efficient way to pass the culture down though is to go back to France or Turkey. It’s the best way to learn the language and absorb the culture.
KITnDO: What is the most challenging French recipe to make in US and why?
Estelle: Bread. French and American flours are so different from one another, so you do need to tweak your French recipes.
KITnDO: Did you notice on your FB group new challenges Frenchies face nowadays and is there any topics that get people upset?
Estelle: People are still very confused when it comes to dairy, especially creams like “crème fraîche” or “crème fleurette.” That’s what I devoted the very first chapter of my food survival guide for French expats to that very topic.
Other that that, I realize that the group members have a hard time with baking powder. The attachment to the French pink packaging is very strong, so it’s really hard for them to adjust to the jar. Some still have baking powder shipped from France.
KITnDO: Do you follow any French food blogger or someone promoting French culture abroad?
Estelle: I don’t follow a lot of blogs these days but I like what Delphine Fortin does on Del’s Cooking Twist. Her food is colorful, bright, and veggie-centric. She blogs in French and English, her tone is very modern. I like it.
KITnDO: Which French and Turkish addresses are on your bucket list? And which you already visited and would recommend?
Estelle: On the French side, I’ve been curious about Dominique Ansel’s pastries in New York City and Dominique Crenn’s three-starred restaurant in San Francisco. On the Turkish side, I just dream of ever finding a coffee shop with Turkish vibes, kind of like Ibrik in Paris.
In West Chester, PA, I like going to La Baguette Magique, a French bakery run by Catherine Seisson, a detail-driven baker from Lyon. When I’m in the mood for a French meal, I go to La Belle Epoque, a classic crêpes place in Media, PA, or to Parc, a French bistrot in Philadelphia — the decor is beautiful, the food delicious, and their baguette is fantastic! There aren’t a lot of Turkish restaurants in my area, but I’m lucky to live 25-minutes away from a Turkish and Middle Eastern grocery store in Newark, Delaware. It’s called Zahra and I can find all kinds of bulgur, Turkish tea, Turkish delights, and linden tea bags at excellent prices. One of the employees is from Lebanon and I found out she’s a French teacher. It’s quite a treat to shop for Turkish groceries while speaking French!
KITnDO: What new traditions would you take with you from US, if you would need to move back to France or somewhere else?
Estelle: Definitely Thanksgiving. A day to pause, cook, and show gratitude is a good idea no matter where you are in the world.
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