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Baker Profile: Rebekah Peppler

By Amber Wilson

Rebecca Pepperl
Photo courtesy of Joann Pai

Author and New York Times collaborator Rebecca Peppler shares her passion for French culture and delves deeply into her enchanting new cookbook, South.

Rebekah Peppler's love affair with the intimacy cultivated around food has significantly shaped her culinary journey, which began as a child in Wisconsin. “My love of cooking and baking began early and at home, in family kitchens. My grandmother in particular is a prolific baker. The Tarte à la Raspberry in South is loosely based on the raspberry dessert he made every year for my birthday. The first time I ate a raspberry in the south of France, tiny, sweet, warm as the sun, I was back to the summers of my childhood spent picking and immediately eating raspberries from the bramble bush in his immense garden.”

Her love for cooking and pastry-making grew when she earned a pastry degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York and decided to move to the glittering charm of Paris in 2015, pursuing her love of all things French and pursuing her career as a writer. Rebekah's first cookbook, Aperitifan excellent guide to the art of French the aperitifwas nominated for a James Beard Award and was recognized by the New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of 2018. Its success has sparked excitement for her second book, At the tablewhich provides a fuller reflection of French cuisine and food culture. And her third cookbook, SouthIt's a love letter to the country's southern cuisine.

“The South of France is obviously such a magical part of the world but, honestly, the journey to writing South it was pretty organic. In all my cookbooks—Aperitif, At the tableand now South—my work has been guided by a combination of curiosity and love for French culture as it manifests itself around the table and at the bar, my interest in writing from a research-based perspective, and my personal, lived experience in France.”

She continues: “Since I moved to Paris, I have taken the train from Gare de Lyon to Provence over and over again, for holidays [vacations]to visit friends and for work, including field research Aperitif and to photograph some of them At the tableThe search for South it started long before I decided to write the book and the process of creating it South it just meant I had to be there more and dig into the region in a deeper and more nuanced way. It's exactly the kind of work I love to do.”

SouthThe elegant yet informal recipes in her cookbook reflect Rebekah's personal cooking style and perspective on eating and drinking in the South of France. “All recipes in South are designed to reflect the tables of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur today. Some are classic, traditional dishes (tapenade, ratatouille, aïoli) and others are more modern interpretations using Provençal ingredients and techniques, such as Olive, Extra Spicy, Pastis Chicken or Greens with Tomato Vinaigrette. Many recipes also reflect my personal experience and connection to the South of France. My goal when I write a recipe is that, long after the text is on the page, I prepare it at home for friends and family.”

Rebekah describes the process of writing cookbooks as an exhilarating experience and one of her favorite aspects is creating the images. After spending hours at a desk and in the kitchen, translating written work and seeing it come to life through images is truly rewarding.

“I love the process of gathering inspiration, producing and styling the shots. My team, photographer Joann Pai, assistant photographer Kate Devine and research assistant Laila Said, and I shot South all over the south: in and around Marseille, in the Luberon Valley and around Julia Child's former holiday home near Grasse. Each location and season has a unique energy to draw from, and it was an inspiring book to shoot. Working with Joann is incredibly fun and collaborative: she has a way of handling light that is really special. We really played with it Southpictures.”

He continues, “Some of the images are direct food shots which are, of course, important for a cookbook, but many of them aim to tell the larger story and serve to transport the reader. Approach the narrative from all these different angles ( text, recipes, images, design) is, for me, what makes creating a cookbook so special. One of the reasons I write and photograph South the way I did it was in the hope that the book—and its recipes if I chose to make them—would feel transportive. Another way I’ve found to translate the feeling of a French meal to your table, wherever that may be, is to start with an aperitif. That quintessentially French ritual of ending the day and starting the evening with a few drinks (a cocktail, a glass of wine, or something non-alcoholic and special) and a snack is a sure way to get into the French mindset.”

Reine Claude clafoutis (or other minor plums).
Photo courtesy of Joann Pai

Rebekah shares her appetite for cooking and baking with inspiring techniques that she makes seem simple and accessible. When asked what his favorite recipe is Southit's no surprise to hear that its glorious plum clafoutis tops the list. “Reine Claude clafoutis (or other lesser plums) are one of my favorites when I need a dessert that's refined and I don't have a lot of time, but I also want something more than piling on chocolate bars, fresh fruit, in-shell nuts and vintage nutcracker on the table and call it. The custard, rich, creamy and slightly sweet, envelops the fruit in such a luxurious way. The recipe in the book uses Reine Claude plums, also known as green plums, which I love when they are in season , but you can use any stone fruit you like. It's also very good/almost better the next day for breakfast, which is something I love and appreciate in any dessert.”

Her recipes embody the vibrant and dynamic spirit of the South of France, bringing people together and creating intimate, sun-kissed moments that shine long after summer has passed. Through her dishes, she reminds us to embrace the joy of life and leaves us with some simple words of wisdom: “Be kind, practice letting go, and always keep a plate of flaked salt on the table.”

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