It doesn’t take long to understand how much cooking is part of Aurélie Saada’s body. From the first lines of the introductory text, the singer, director and author takes us into her childhood memories around the table. That of a Tunisian Jewish family in Paris in the 1980s, where meals were endless moments of life during which all generations crossed paths, musicians, psychoanalysts, philosophers, children. Sunday lunches, Jewish holidays, weddings, special occasions… there was always an excuse to sit down and spend time together around hot, cold, sophisticated, simple dishes, but always synonymous with fantasy and freedom . Like her. Examples ? “We made a lot of ganaouïa, a sort of beef stew, simmered with okra, I loved it. On Sunday evening, it was merguez pasta, with the merguez from the day before, an onion, a clove of garlic and a can of peeled tomatoes. » She also mentions the little butter shortbreads, totally outsiders in the Sephardic culinary repertoire, that her grandmother always made for kippur. We’re salivating over recipes for lamb shoulder, polpette, fattouch salad, harissa cake, honey cigars and killer cookies. Yes, that’s their name! We asked this Mediterranean mermaid a few questions about her relationship with this book and with cooking in general.
SHE at the table. Your book begins with “small, important recipes” (red onion pickles, tomato sauce, shkug, tahina, etc.) as basics in a wardrobe. Is tahina, shkug, tomato sauce your white t-shirt, your 501 and your little black dress?
Aurélie Saada. I really like the comparison. It’s a bit like that, yes. Once you have these basics, you can do anything. Trina (tahini) softens everything, whether meat, fish, vegetables and at the same time it brings bitterness and acidity. We can’t live without trina! Same for shkug, this little mixture of pepper, garlic and coriander is one of the essentials for a successful dish, it gives character. I’m not telling you the importance of knowing how to make a really good tomato sauce! It’s the base for so many awesome dishes like meatballs, pasta, lasagna, pizza. Please note, normally we do not add sugar. The one from caramelized onions is enough. Sugaring is cheating.
EAT. You specify that you did not follow the classic starter, main course, dessert model because you yourself do not follow these codes. When you receive, you put everything on the table: small salads, hot, cold, spicy… In Hebrew, there is a word for that: balagan, which means brothel. For you, is a successful meal a meal where there is necessarily a little balagan?
A.S.. I like to mix everything, flavors, spices, culinary cultures, generations, identities. At home, there are no rules, we sit wherever we want, we pass dishes around, we sit down again, it’s very lively. Maybe I get this from my Jewish origins, from the diaspora side which means that we find bridges between cultures, that it’s a bit of a mess but always joyful. Especially since organizing my table like this allows me to sit down and enjoy my guests without being stuck behind the stove.
EAT. Towards the end of the book, we come across the recipe for bomboloni, this famous Italian donut which is also the title of your new album. In the film you directed in 2022 “Rose”, there are many scenes at the table. Today, you are actually releasing a book with recipes. As if cooking never leaves you…
AS. It seems so, but I don’t do it on purpose. When I wrote my film, I didn’t realize that there were seven dinner scenes. It was my operational manager and my first assistant who opened my eyes. For me, the table is a place of life, we talk to each other, we listen to each other, we advise each other. It’s not just a place to eat. It was very natural and instinctive to write these meal scenes. Just like my way of cooking or singing: I do sincere things, which I like and which, I hope, touch people. I do what I can, with what I know, my desires, my desire and my limits too. Because know that when I fall in love, I no longer know how to cook, I fail at everything. Certainly a way of protecting myself from a potential role as a nurturing mother, a woman behind the stove. As if it was my subconscious feminist protecting me. But one thing is certain, I use cooking vocabulary in everything I do. Devouring, marinating, spicy, acidic… it evokes love, tenderness but also violence. It’s paradoxical, I like it, it’s like me.
EAT. The last pages are an autobiographical short story in which you talk about having difficulty getting pregnant the first time. To pass the time, you cooked a lot. You write: “No longer knowing how to fill my belly, I filled those of others. Can we say that cooking had a therapeutic function for you at that time?
AS. I wanted to slip intimate and important stories to me into this book. I didn’t want it to be a classic cooking manual with just recipes that I like. Because this work is much more than that. I put my favorite recipes there, of course, but also lots of photos of my world and anecdotes. Notably the time when Madame Bokobsa helped me make 300 bricks for my wedding, my registration on Tinder, my completely addictive relationship with bread and I end with this short story at the end which talks about my relationship with motherhood and the bitter taste . It’s true that at that time, cooking occupied a therapeutic place in my life. I no longer knew how to be a mother so I fed others to be some semblance of a mother. I don’t know if cooking saved me but in any case it was my pillar, it allowed me to stay on my feet.
EAT. What is your favorite recipe from the book and why?
AS. Each recipe is a special memory, I love them all, they are my babies. I love the tuna sandwich which is linked to a party weekend in Madrid with my best friend a few years ago. We had spent an evening dancing, drinking, meeting people. The next day, unsurprisingly, we wake up with a huge hangover and the desire to eat anything and everything. We enter a tapas bar, we order lots of things including this sandwich with a strange title. When you bite into it, it’s a shock for both of you. Even now, I can’t explain what I felt. Maybe we were starving and needed some protein, but something truly incredible happened. So I tried to reproduce this taste, just using my memories and this is what I propose (see: recipe below). I don’t know what the chef behind the Madrid tuna sandwich would think if he tasted mine, but in any case I like it that way.
EAT. Finally, five tit-for-tat questions.
1. If you opened a restaurant, what would it be like?
I love eating at the counter so surely a small place where people can sit at the counter and chat with me while I cook. I would do things that are simple, comforting and above all, something that can be shared.
2. Your favorite restaurant in the world?
In the world altogether? It’s too difficult a question, I should take the time to think about it. Spontaneously, I think of a pocket restaurant in Tokyo. It’s a very small shop in the Shibuya district that only serves yakitori. I went there with my two daughters and I remember eating the best chicken, cartilage and offal skewers.
3. A dish that has left a lasting impression on you?
At Bruno Verjus (Table, Paris 12th) I once ate a dish of raw lobster, drizzled with hot butter which ran all over the carcass. My description does not live up to this immense dish. In any case, it’s one of my fondest culinary memories.
4. The food you hate and why?
The andouillette. Besides, to be honest, I’ve never tasted it. The smell is beyond my strength. When someone eats it next to me, I have to leave.
5. A cooking scene in the cinema that left an impression on you?
Undeniably that of the “Freedmen”. When Scorsese’s mother plays the role of the real Italian mamma and prepares her son and his sidekick spaghetti with meatballs in the middle of the night. This scene is so cult.
© Zoé & Blaise
Crispy tuna sandwich recipe
Preparation: 15 mins
Cooking: 10 mins
For 2 people
1 sliced red tuna steak
2 slices of sandwich bread
1 mini cucumber
Kimchi or sriracha
1 beaten egg
1. In a salad bowl, mix the flour, water, beaten egg, salt and pepper.
2. Dip the tuna in this mixture, then in the panko.
3. In a hot oil bath, fry the tuna.
4. Toast two nice slices of white bread in a pan in oil and butter.
5. Prepare the kimchi mayonnaise: mix the kimchi and add it to the mayonnaise (you can replace the kimchi with sriracha sauce). Add the juice of a lime.
6. Cut the cucumbers into thin half-slices.
7. Spread the bread with the mayonnaise, add the cucumber, breaded tuna, dill and coriander, then cover with another slice of sandwich bread.
8. Cut the sandwich in half and add some trout roe on top with a splash of lime.
“Cooking the sun” photos by Zoé & Blaise and Thierry Lebraly, Hachette cuisine editions, €39.95.
In concert at the Casino de Paris on December 18.