I didn't mean to avoid southwest France for so long. But after I wrote The Cooking of Southwest France, published in 1983, I spent my time researching the foods of the Mediterranean. I finally returned to southwestern France in 2001 to update my book, which is being published this month. Sailing up the Gironde to the outskirts of Bordeaux, the regional capital, I remembered how good all the food here tasted, and how inspired the chefs were.
Back in the late '70s, when I began exploring the area, nouvelle cuisine was all the rage in France. There was no fruit or vegetable, it seemed, that could not be transformed into a terrine or mousse. Many chefs in the southwest were experimenting with nouvelle cuisine too, but there were others, like André Daguin and Lucien Vanel, who were intelligently updating the magnificent peasant cooking. Their food was modern yet honest and close to the earth—a true cuisine de terroir (of the soil). And the home cooking was wonderful. I was enraptured; I spent five years researching the region.
Related: Cassoulet Recipe