This post was originally published in French on December 19, 2012 (see post below). We spoke French during the interview and I translated my questions and Clotilde's answers afterwards.
If you don’t know Clotilde Dusoulier’s food blog, you’ve obviously been living in gastronomic purgatory. That’s what the Sunday Times wrote back in February 2009 when it featured Chocolate & Zucchini in 50 of the World's Best Food Blogs. Clotilde launched her blog back in September 2003 when the food blogosphere was in its early stages and she was getting back from two years spent in the Silicon Valley.
The first French food blogger also writes books. Her first book, published in 2007 and entitled Chocolate & Zucchini, Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen includes 75 appealing recipes. In her second book, Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, she shares her favorite food experiences in her native city and her advice as a food shopper.
Clotilde was also part of the team that translated the French homecook's bible by Ginette Mathiot, Je sais cuisiner, into English : I Know How to Cook was published in 2009. Last but not least, Clotilde writes regular food columns for prestigious magazines, French or American, be it Elle a Table, Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Bon Appétit or the Los Angeles Times. Her third book, on seasonal vegetables, is scheduled for North-American release in the spring of 2013.
During the 9 years that she has been writing her blog, Ms. Dusoulier has had the chance to give many an interview (see my selection at the bottom of this post). I personally admire her work and English level a great deal and thought I would ask this native Parisian what kind of relationship she has with the language of Julia Child. Interview of a passionate language speaker, live from her Montmartre apartment.
How significant was the English language in your life when you were a child ?
I grew up in an anglophile household from my earliest days. My parents were both bilingual and very interested in the Anglo-saxon culture. English was everywhere in our house, through my parents’ British friends, the movies they watched in original version or the books they read in English. We shopped regularly at Marks and Spencer’s and ate a lot of shortbread, among other English products. My father, who became an English translator after he retired, often read English bedtime stories to my sister and me. That is how we discovered The Wizard of Oz, which he would translate for us as he read it.
How difficult was it for you to learn English when you started secondary school in France ?
I was already familiar with the sounds of English and I was eager to learn the language. I also went away on language stays abroad starting at an early age, on the first year of secondary school. It helped me strenghten my knowledge of the language basic structures. I soon had enough competence to express myself fluently. It wasn’t always easy staying by myself in a foreign family as a young student, but those full immersions helped me improve my English a great deal, particularly when it came to having an intuitive feel for the English grammar. I traveled to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and also to the United States, which I was thrilled to discover when I turned 15.
You lived in the USA for two years as a young adult. That must have had an impact on your English proficiency.
I moved to the Silicon Valley with my partner Maxence when I was 20 years old, after getting my M.S. in Computer Science. I was completing my end-of-degree internship there, which turned into a working contract. Those two years spent in the U.S. jumpstarted my English level. I have an auditory memory and was thus able to rack up a wide range of vocabulary and colloquialisms. This acquired knowledge allowed me to develop a playful relationship to the English language.
How do you consider English in your current life ?
My relationship to English was radically changed by this two-year immersion in the U.S. I cannot call the English language my mother tongue because I only have one mother and she’s French, but I clearly consider it as a favorite language of expression of mine. Especially since I have been writing in English for 9 years, since I came back to Paris and started Chocolate and Zucchini.
What kind of advice would you give to non-English speakers willing to write in English ?
I don’t know what kind of advice I could give. I would just like to remind your readers that, when I started out, I only wrote to be read by a few people – mostly my friends and family. My main goal was to keep regularly practising a language I had grown very attached to. I think it’s very important to read a lot in English and practice writing it on a regular basis. I also believe one should be well-meaning toward oneself. I sometimes rewrite old posts of mine because I find that a phrase or syntactic structure could be improved. I see my writing practice as an ongoing process, a way of learning rather than an end in and of itself. Practising English gives me the joy of learning new things constantly. It enriches both my thoughts and my cultural universe.
Thanks to Clotilde for granting me this interview where she appeared to me both humble and self-confident. Setting a good example as a blogger - for all bloggers, multilingual or not.
Want to know more about Clotilde ?
* She was interviewed by the French website Des Elles in November 2012.
* No Country for Young Women featured several videos of her in July 2010.
* She talked to Publishers Weekly about translating Ginette Mathiot's cookbook on December 2009.