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The sharing economy allows travelers to cook their way around the world in other people’s home kitchens. Here’s what happened when famed Paris author David Lebovitz borrowed a San Francisco loft belonging to blogger Pim Techamuanvivit.
David Lebovitz is one of the world’s great home cooks. The author of the beloved book My Paris Kitchen, which details how he lives and entertains in his adopted city, honed his baking and cooking skills as pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Fans around the globe follow his eponymous blog, which catalogs his alluring tarts, cakes and pastries as well as his inventive savory dishes.
Lebovitz also loves to travel. So F&W asked him to take part in a house swap: He’d exchange his Paris apartment for one in another food-obsessed city. Our goal was to find out how cooking in someone else’s home with ingredients from an unfamiliar kitchen would inspire him. Legions of people who use Airbnb and other sharing sites are familiar with the experience of being immersed in someone else’s world; this highlights the culinary side of it. We tapped San Francisco food blogger Pim Techamuanvivit of chezpim.com (who also owns the excellent Thai restaurant Kin Khao near Union Square) to lend Lebovitz her place for a weekend. He could explore her neighborhood, shop at her favorite markets and cook a mix of his dishes using local ingredients as well as those in her well-stocked Thai pantry.
Techamuanvivit recently moved into a loft in the revitalized industrial area Dogpatch, a neighborhood Lebovitz didn’t know much about despite having lived in San Francisco in the ’80s and ’90s when he worked at Chez Panisse. “Back then, Dogpatch was the neighborhood with the Esprit outlet,” he says, laughing. Lebovitz discovered just how much Dogpatch had changed when he saw the map his host had drawn for him on a giant chalkboard in her kitchen, pointing out her favorite spots. She also left him a welcome snack: a rich dip of chile-spiked pork and shrimp sautéed with coconut milk.
“How can I tell if people are bakers? I see how many spatulas and baking sheets they have. And, of course, they have to have a stand mixer.” —David Lebovitz
Following Techamuanvivit’s directions, Lebovitz made his way to Sutton Cellars, a small winery in a warehouse that also makes a terrific vermouth. “All these wine barrels in the middle of SF,” says Lebovitz, approvingly. He stopped at Olivier’s Butchery. “It’s a nice butcher shop,” he says. “Actually, it’s an amazing butcher shop. Olivier is a French butcher who used to be a bouncer. He gave me a piece of aged raw beef to taste; it was outstanding. But I wanted to braise, so I chose lamb shoulder.” In Techamuanvivit’s kitchen, Lebovitz found palm sugar, ginger and small tubs of funky, salty shrimp paste and red chile paste that her family had sent her from Thailand. He mixed them together to coat the lamb, then cooked the meat until it was well caramelized.
Lebovitz was also intrigued by a container of curry paste that he discovered. He used it to make sweet and spicy cashews. “I love to snack while I cook,” he says. “I can also put them in a bowl for guests. Maybe I should have asked some of my old San Francisco friends to come over.”