the new york diet

How Mireille Guiliano Doesn't Get Fat: Breakfast at Balthazar

"I made scallops, roasted potatoes that I cooked in duck fat, haricots verts, and an apple."Photo: Melissa Hom

When Mireille Guiliano first came to America as an exchange student, she gained weight for the first time in her life. Many years later, after becoming a CEO of Veuve Clicquot, she penned the buzzy No. 1 best-seller French Women Don’t Get Fat, now out in paperback. After 25 years of splitting her time between New York and Paris, Guiliano is still amazed by the large portions here, and by the New Yorker’s tendency to eat on the go. “To eat your bagel and your muffin with coffee on the subway is gross,” she says. “How can you do it with the smell and the noise and the moving? I’d rather starve.” She’s also still shocked when she sees people eating on the street or standing up. “For French people, you’re supposed to eat at the table. Besides the bed, it’s the most important piece of furniture in the house.” So what’s she been eating at the table this week?

Saturday, February 2
My husband and I had breakfast at a little French pastry shop on Ninth Avenue: a croissant and cappuccino. Breakfast is absolutely essential — that’s something I learned in America. In France, we just have bread, but I’ve found that if I just have bread, by 10:30 a.m. I’m starving.

I go to the Greenmarket religiously although right now it’s not a lot of fun because there’s not much there. For lunch I made a huge pot of butternut-squash soup with a mâche salad with pears and blue cheese.

For dinner I used some skate I bought at the market and made it with white wine and capers. With that we had caramelized endives and a glass of wine and a slice of pineapple. People have a bad conception about the French diet — we’re actually close to being vegetarians. Meat and fish are expensive. I love a good steak and good duck, but once or twice a week, not more.

Sunday, February 3
A friend sent us a box of this wonderful grapefruit from Florida, so we had half a grapefruit, a poached egg with toast, and an espresso. We often go to Balthazar for breakfast on Sunday because it’s very quiet then. French people don’t like to go to noisy places or places with harsh music. When my French friends step into a restaurant here, they say, “We’re not going to eat dinner here. We can’t have a conversation.” I go to places that are very quiet, like Annisa or August — places where it’s what’s on your plate that counts.

It was a ball-game day so my husband asked that we have a main meal at lunch which I always prefer. I made scallops, roasted potatoes that I cooked in duck fat, haricots verts, and an apple.

For dinner we had bowl of minestrone soup which I had in the freezer, and we splurged on L’Arte del Gelato — we shared a little jar of coffee and chocolate gelato. We eat soup at least three or four times a week. I go to Paris a week out of every five or six weeks and I often get invited to dinner. I tell my friends, “No, you have to work tomorrow, you’re busy,” and they say, “No come, we’ll just have a little soup…”

Monday, February 4
I had my cranberry chutney — my own cooking of cranberry mixed with a little honey, water, and orange juice. It’s a third of the sugar of a traditional recipe. I had that with a piece of toast and espresso. And I had a yogurt, the French secret to staying slim. We don’t drink milk the way Americans do. We get it from yogurt and cheese. It’s also the frugality of French women — it’s very inexpensive to make your own. You buy a quart of milk, and I use culture I buy at a store. You heat your milk with a machine, you add your culture, mix it, put it in a pot, and put it in the machine for six to eight hours and voilà: You have your yogurt for the week.

For lunch I had the leek vinaigrette. I had fresh goat cheese, a piece of bread, and another grapefruit for dessert. I need a little protein in every meal. A lot of people think of broccoli when they think green vegetables — in France it’s leeks. I always have some in the fridge. For lunch I’ll have the cold ones and make a little dressing with some herbs and put a chunk of Parmesan or fresh goat cheese.

For dinner I made poulet roti with some fettuccine and mushrooms, and I had some broccoli rabe and then I made an apple and pear compote, which I had with a shortbread cookie from Sarabeth’s in Chelsea.

Tuesday, February 5
Yogurt again with half a banana and an espresso.

Perry St is one of my favorites for lunch — you have two courses and dessert for $24, and it’s always good and very creative. There were three of us: I had the crab salad, another person had the hangar steak, and another had an omelette. They had a wonderful celery soup. And we all had the very sensual chocolate pudding.

For dinner it was salmon with a cauliflower gratin and a green salad and a kiwi. I buy a three- or four-ounce salmon, and I cook it with a little herbs and lemon juice and oil. Many New Yorkers don’t know how to cook — they’re intimidated. In France, my friends all work and have kids, and they still manage to find the time to sit down for dinner because it’s a priority. Cooking is an act of love, not a chore. We love to give pleasure by making a good dish. When I make panna cotta, my friends say, “You must have cooked all day to make this.” I tell them it takes three minutes, and they think I’m joking.

Wednesday, February 6
I had a cheese and prosciutto and had oatmeal with blueberry. My freezer is full of bags of blueberries I buy at the market in summer. I discovered in America I could have oatmeal every morning, but I also love variety.I can’t believe people who have a bowl of cereal every day. I love American food, and there are a lot of things we don’t eat — like ears of corn that we feed to animals — that I found delicious when I first tasted them here. I discovered the cranberry, which I never had in France.

I was with a friend, and we had a salad at Café Cluny. It was a big salad. She wanted to have dessert at Sant Ambroeus. We went there for dessert and shared a tiramisu — she’s French, and she couldn’t believe the portion. We shared that with an espresso.

Dinner was leftovers of the chicken we had Monday night. I braised some carrots and fennel. And an apple for dessert. And my husband had another cookie, but I didn’t. I try to make sure that I don’t have two rich desserts a day.

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