Food & Wine
April 27, 2012

The first wine I ever tried was from Bordeaux. My father wasn't much of a drinker, but he always had a sense of what was best in any sphere, so he chose excellent French wines and put them in a little hideaway inside our linen closet. He brought them out for special occasions when I was growing up, serving them in cut-crystal glasses with wide, awkward mouths. To me, Bordeaux was exotic, hedonistic.

For a while I was a French wine snob, but over time, my palate broadened, and my relationship with French wine and food changed. First I was in love with them, then annoyed by their pretension, a feeling subsequently overshadowed by one of boredom (France was ossified, rule-bound), until finally I arrived at a renewed infatuation. How could I ever have been bored? Ignorant was more like it. In this issue, we showcase the best of French inspiration.

Jacques Pépin, my friend and hero and a longtime contributing editor to F'W (that's us in the photo at right), has introduced me to so many French food and wine classics. In his new book, Essential Pépin, he has compiled his best dishes. Our staff has chosen some favorites, among them the most delicious duck à l'orange ever. And his apple galette! So perfect for fall with its buttery crust.

To each Francophile, French cuisine means something different. In our Chef Recipes Made Easy column, master chef Alain Ducasse updates his best-loved dishes, like soufflé. In "The Radical French-Canadian Comfort Food of Joe Beef," the Montreal restaurant's chefs start with Quebecois basics, put them through a tamis and come up with their own more-is-more dishes, like a cheddar, cheese curd and bacon grilled cheese sandwich—perfect with a white Burgundy.

For even more wines to try, turn to Ray Isle's "25 Things You Need to Know About French Wine," an overview of the best the country has to offer. I only wish my father were still with us, so I could share the story with him. I know he'd have made room in the linen closet for a few more bottles.

Where I'm Coming From: My Chicago Expeditions

The Purple Pig

I ate almost the whole pig—from crispy fried ear to twisty tail braised in balsamic— at Jimmy Bannos, Jr.'s swine temple.

Girl & the Goat

Grilled baby octopus mellowing out in a pistachio-lemon vinaigrette was my top dish on Top Chef Stephanie Izard's menu.

GT Fish & Oyster

Giuseppe Tentori's special of Hawaiian emperor fish was dramatic and delicious. It was rolled like ram's horns and topped with a cluster of caviar and a sprig of shiso, made to look like grapes.

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