In the summer of 1977, Brigitte Devroute, a native of France, visited Mobile and met a young local, David McDonald. The following year he vacationed in France for a few days and convinced Brigitte to come back to Alabama again the next year. She came. McDonald married his French bride shortly thereafter, and the pair has lived in Mobile ever since.
While delighted with her new husband, everything wasn’t immediately happily ever after here. Moving from Reims, in the Champagne region of France, to Mobile in the 1970s proved quite an adjustment. “I missed my family. The food, fashion, lifestyle, everything was so different, ” she says. Brigitte found solace in cooking. “When I came here at first I was so lonely, ” she says. “Cooking really became something that occupied my time.” Gradually, she made friends in her new country and found comfort and camaraderie cooking for them. However, back then she was often disappointed in the foods available. She sorely missed the baguettes, cheeses, wine and fresh produce of her homeland.
A lot has changed since her arrival. “Mobile has come a long way. There are so many more fresh vegetables and things I couldn’t find before – asparagus, artichokes, leeks and many more cheeses, ”
She still has a flair for French fare, but has incorporated several Southern specialties into her repertoire. “My friends and family love my chicken and dumplings and jambalaya.” (She and David now have two grown married daughters, Chloe Harkins and Chelsea Weishaar, and two young granddaughters, Camille and Mila.)
Some things, however, have stayed the same. “I do still go grocery shopping most every day (usually at Fresh Market or Sam’s Club). This is a habit I kept from living in France. It relaxes me at the end of the day to go to the grocery store thinking what I can cook that night.”
Brigitte, now a U.S. citizen, says, “I have been very lucky to find friends here who love to cook and drink wine.” The get-togethers remind her of her family in France, whom she visits at least once a year. “I’ve been in Mobile a long while; it feels like home.” Especially so when her cousin, Therese Dautreppe, visits. While together in the Port City, the two enjoy preparing meals as a team. Brigitte creates the savory dishes, while Therese, a former baker, tackles the desserts. The result is purely magnifique!
Asparagus with Garlic Sauce (Asperges Servies avec une Sauce a L’ail)
Brigitte adores cooking with fresh vegetables. She says this asparagus dish is a favorite among her friends and family.
2 bundles asparagus, trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
Garlic Sauce (see below)
1. Steam the asparagus for about 5 minutes. Drain.
2. Salt and pepper lightly. Sprinkle with cut parsley. Serve with garlic sauce. Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 – 4 big cloves of garlic finely chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients and serve alongside steamed asparagus. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.
Coquilles St. Jacques
This elegant, impressive, creamy French dish is a perfect way to showcase our fresh local seafood.
6 – 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 – 2 teaspoons vegetable oil (Brigitte uses canola)
2 – 3 tablespoons butter
2 – 3 tablespoons flour
2 – 3 cups milk
1 – 2 tablespoons white wine
2 pounds shrimp, peeled
1 pound crabmeat, picked over for shells
1 pound scallops
1 – 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Sauté mushrooms in oil until they are cooked and water from mushrooms has evaporated, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan, melt butter and slowly stir in flour until smooth, but not browned. Slowly whisk in milk over low heat until nice sauce-like consistency. Stir in wine. Stir in reserved mushrooms, shrimp, crabmeat and scallops.
4. Spoon seafood mixture into shells or ramekins. Top each with about a tablespoon of shredded Gruyere cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Serves 12 to 16.
This is a hearty, flavorful French vegetable dish; it can also be a delicious, filling vegetarian entrée. For added flair, scatter some shredded Gruyere or Parmesan cheese atop at the end of baking.
1 big sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 – 2 tablespoon olive oil
3 – 4 tomatoes, chopped in big pieces
3 – 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 – 5 zucchini, unpeeled and sliced into rounds
1 eggplant, unpeeled and sliced into rounds then in half again
handful of black olives
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
salt and pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Slowly cook onion in olive oil until transparent. Add tomatoes and garlic. Cook a couple more minutes.
2. Add zucchini, eggplant, black olives and green pepper on medium heat. Salt and pepper as desired. Cook for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serves 6 to 8.
(Mousse au Chocolat)
This classic French dessert is outrageously popular with Americans as well.
1 (8-ounce) bar of semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
fresh raspberries, for garnish
1. In the top of a double boiler, over medium heat, melt the chocolate. (Do not turn heat too high or keep on burner too long or the chocolate will dry out.) When chocolate is smooth and melted, remove from heat.
2. Stir 1 egg yolk at a time into chocolate until incorporated. Set aside. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.
3. Carefully fold egg white mixture into chocolate mixture until well combined. Pour into a serving bowl or ramekins. Refrigerate for several hours. Garnish with fresh raspberries. Serves 6 to 8.
Thin, delicate crepes make a marvelous dessert, but also easily double as dinner when served with a savory sauce or filling. Brigitte recommends crepes sprinkled with sugar and coupled with fruits, or served with a bechamel sauce and seafood or creamy spinach and chicken.
3 cups of flour
pinch of salt
4 cups milk, a little more if needed
1. Put flour in the bottom of a large mixing bowl with pinch of salt. Break eggs into the middle of the flour and mix well to combine.
2. Slowly add milk to mixture, while stirring to avoid clumping. (The batter will be runny.)
3. Grease the bottom of a crepes’ pan with a little vegetable oil. Turn heat to medium. Pour enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan, but not too much. (The crepes should be thin.)
4. After a couple of minutes, flip the crepe and cook the other side for a few minutes more until done. Repeat until all of the batter has been used. Makes about 16 crepes.
The Art of French Crepes
The famous pastries can be a little fickle. Here are some of Brigitte and Therese’s tips and tricks for making the process a little smoother. They also share a few insights into the traditions behind the delicacy.
• Make sure that in between cooking each crepe you put a little oil on a paper towel and grease the bottom of the pan.
• The first crepe always goes to the dog, because it’s never as good as the rest!
• February 2 is called la Chandeleur, or jour des crepes. Similar to Groundhog Day, it is a day to tell fortunes. The tradition says to hold a coin in your writing hand and the crepe pan in the other and to flip the crepe into the air. If you catch the crepe in the pan, your family will be prosperous the rest of the year.