Lunch with Linda
Sun 22 May 2011
The other day I was lucky enough to have breakfast with Linda Dannenberg. We had so much fun, I think we stayed until lunch. Linda is the author/coauthor of 14 books on French style and cooking, and she happens to live practically right next door to me in New York! It was such a surprise to be sitting down with the lady who has graced my shelves for nearly 20 years with her gorgeous picture cookbook Paris Bistro Cooking, as well as the coffee-table classics Pierre Deux’s Brittany and Pierre Deux’s Normandy. I was grateful that she brought her newer French Country Kitchens, which I wish I had had while I was redoing our place near Bordeaux. As we settled in with our eggs, Linda told me about her life in publishing—beginning with her start at CBS News—and traced the roots of her love affair with all things French.
When she was 5, her parents returned from a trip to France, presenting her with beautiful French dolls and a slide show of this magical place she’d never been. She was determined to get there, and so she began learning French at the tender age of 10.
Linda finally arrived in Paris after her sophomore year at Connecticut College. Traveling with a friend, she soaked in the café culture of the 1960s. After graduation she decided to apply for a job via an exchange group. She first tried for Italy but settled for what was available in Paris, working at a fabric company. There Linda became a stagiaire (similar to an apprentice) and was able to attend the fashion shows. At her young age, she didn’t know—and didn’t have the budget—to wear a Dior to the Dior shows, and so on, but she enjoyed them all the same in her simple Villager dresses (remember those?).
Unable to stay in Paris, Linda pursued a career in journalism that took her from CBS News to Family Circle to Working Woman. She had been a writer from early on, serving as editor of her high-school newspaper, writing for the town paper and later working for the Connecticut College press office. During her tenure at Family Circle, Linda took off three months to write her first book, The Paris Way of Beauty (1979). The project allowed her to enjoy more time in Paris, going from salon to spa and back, sampling their secrets—and spending more time with a French beau. Simon & Schuster published the book, and voilà, she became an author before the age of 30.
In New York, her objective was always to find a way to get back to France, a desire that required her to dream up another book that would take her to her adopted homeland. Linda’s first book had received a spread in Cosmo, which got her on the media’s radar. Her second book, published in 1984, was the huge best seller Pierre Deux’s French Country. Just the mere mention of it brings me back to my high school and college days, when this inspired sourcebook/appointment calendar was a must-have.
Linda had met the two Pierres—yes, there were actually two Pierres—one French and the other American. They were partners in business and in life for more than 50 years. In 1967 the duo opened a little antiques store on Bleecker Street in New York City and started showing Souleiado fabrics from Provençal, beginning with pillows. The Pierre Deux rage took hold, and Linda’s book brought it to a whole new level. I remember coveting everything Pierre Deux in the early ’80s.
To do the book, Linda and the Pierres set up shop in Provence to photograph and write about the homes, the lifestyle, the fabrics, the tiles and the pottery. Everything we now take for granted as the “Provençal look” they introduced in America (and then the world). This was essentially the first coffee table book on Provençal style in English, and it sold more than 500,000 copies and was translated into dozens of languages. Three books quickly followed: Pierre Deux’s Normandy, Brittany and Paris Country.
By this time Linda had married and had her son, Ben. When she went to France to write one of these volumes, she’d bring the baby and rent a cottage in the area she was covering, spending her time visiting, taking pictures, writing and babysitting. Hubby would pop over when he could, and the au pair made it that much easier. According to Mom, Ben grew up on langoustines and pâté.
My all-time favorite, Paris Bistro Cooking, came in 1991. And each year I look out for the French Country Diary, which Linda still produces for Pierre Deux. The datebook has been printed now for 23 years, and has become a treasured yearly purchase for many Francophiles.
What book did she love doing the best? The bistro book was a favorite. The recipes and photos are a testament to the old bistros of Paris; Linda got to know the owners as they shared their secret family recipes with her. The book captured a moment in history, all the more important now that some of these precious bistros have closed.
This year Linda published French Country Diary herself via her newly formed publishing company, Arts & Style Publishing, which she runs from her home in Katonah, New York. New French Country and the recent French Country Kitchens are wonderful keepsakes. I am cherishing them both and gave them as Christmas presents. Personally, I would like to see her do an updated Paris bistro book, the new versus the old wave. There’s so much to cover! But I think she has many exciting projects up her sleeve. In following her passions and writing about them, Linda opened up a whole corner of France to us. I hope she has 20 more books in her!
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