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- Wednesday, 03 April 2013 05:18 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
In Early March 2013, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interview Edouard Cointreau at a small restaurant on Place des Vosges in Paris. Edouard is a highly experienced and truly international Gourmet. The following interview is a small part of the inspiring conversation we had during lunch:
1. Edouard, you are a member of a famous family but you are not in the spirits business - instead you have dedicated your life to gourmet food. Can you explain what you do?
Edouard: I’m the founder and owner of Gourmand International. We run an annual cookbook fair and the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Our last event took place in Paris with visitors from more than 150 countries.
I had the idea in 1995 to do something both with and for cookbooks because there was clearly a need for it. At the beginning it was more of a hobby to find the best cookbook. At that time books about cooking and wine were not very respected but thankfully this has changed over the last few years.
I’m very proud to see that our award has tremendous meaning to many people. Receiving the award has already changed many winners’ lives. Also, the award has helped to raise the reputation and awareness of some countries which makes me proud.
I receive more than 10,000 cookbooks every year. To find the best books is a challenge but to see the positive impact my award can have on authors, the country’s cuisine and the food community, makes me very happy.
2. You must have one of the largest cookbook collections in the world. Do you remember one book that most positively surprised you recently?
Edouard: Every year I find five to ten cookbooks that are really exceptional. A cookbook is like a novel. A good cookbook truly has a soul. Some books have nice text, some books have good images but should the author not give something of himself, the book lacks what I call the “soul of a book”. When a book has this “soul” it is possible to meet extraordinary people through a cookbook. I’m very impressed by the cookbooks by Marlena Spieler, for example. I really like her style of writing. Over the years she, like many other authors, has become part of my “Gourmand family”. We feel close and support each other. It was never intended. It just happened. When people become friends it describes in the best way what food is about and when this shines through in a cookbook it means a lot to me.
Another example of a book that had a deep impact for me is the book “Dusty Road” by Sarah Lilford. It describes farm life and living in Zimbabwe and has many insights into the local cuisine. I should also mention the cookbook “Jerusalem”. This book provides a better argument for peace through food than any politician has managed to do over the years.
3. As the founder of the Gourmand Cookbook Awards you have cuisine insights from very small countries all around the world. Which country’s cuisine has impressed you the most? Have you discovered culinary gems in a part of the world that you never expected?
Edouard: I would recommend Latin America to anybody who wants to discover culinary gems. Mexico and Peru, in particular, hold some unexpected treasures. Both countries have a great culture of both small and large cooking schools passing their culinary assets from generation to generation. Many recipes have centuries of tradition.
Another widely unknown fact is that Latin America produces a wide variety of amazing cheeses. Have you ever found Argentinean cheese in a restaurant in Europe or the US?
These countries really do have so many undiscovered culinary treasures.
Furthermore I should mention Africa as a cheese producing region, with Peuhl cheese an important part of the diet in the sub-Sahara region. This year we had the first cookbook from Lesotho. The book was introduced by the Queen of Lesotho. It shows how important food is to their culture and this very much impressed me.
4. What does “good food” mean to you?
Edouard: For me food means family and friends. Food has to be shared.
Whether food is good or not depends on who you eat it with. You could be in the most expensive restaurant but if the company is bad, it is difficult to fully enjoy the moment.
Equally if I eat food at a street stand, let's say in China or Malaysia with friends and family, it can become a food related memory I will never forget in my lifetime.
Food is about sharing!
Edouard, thank you very much for the interview and for sharing food with me!
Matthias Tesi Baur