The second I step into Béatrice Peltre's kitchen, I'm hit with two thoughts. First, my kitchen, with its lack of dishwasher and consequent neverending pile of dishes, splashes of unidentified oils, and cooking debris splattered on the stove, sucks. Second, I must have been here before.
SIMPLE JOYS "Food doesn't need to be complicated, if you start with beautiful ingredients," says Peltre, at home in her Arlington kitchen.
But of course, I haven't been here before. I've only been scrolling through pictures of it on foodie-favorite blog La Tartine Gourmande for years, and it's no wonder — everything in here practically begs to be photographed. The just-washed greens resting in the sink, the scribbled grocery list on a chalkboard wall, the cheery mismatched mugs and flatware lined up on shelves are all so overwhelmingly twee that it's hard for me not to emit geeky little squeaks of joy as I walk around. Soft morning light pours in through big, wide windows, and plays off of the blond hardwood floors and white countertops.
Yeah. All that stuff about my kitchen is still true.
Peltre, the petite brunette behind the award-winning blog, is flitting around the room preparing tomato tartlets tatin for lunch, a savory twist on the classic French inverted apple pie, tarte tatin. The recipe, from her recently released cookbook of the same name, is classic Béatrice: simple, aesthetically stunning, and the kind of delicious where you have to close your eyes for a moment while you chew.
"One of my favorite things," she says as she pulls out a pan of roasted cherry tomatoes and begins to arrange them into mini tart molds, "and I'm so French in this way, is I always have to have a sit-down lunch, even when I'm by myself."
It's a clear Thursday in Arlington, and I feel miles away from the grimy and illogical bike/car tango of Allston. Peltre's three-year-old daughter, Lulu, is at school down the road, and all is comfortably silent around the kitchen island. The soft licorice smell of chopped tarragon hovers over the proceedings.
Watching her quietly compose lunch, it's clear that Peltre is a sort of foodie quadruple threat. A cook by nature, a food stylist by preference, a photographer by interest, and a blogger by passion, she works mainly from her home studio, and freelances for a range of publications from the Boston Globe to Food & Wine. Not a bad gig.
"I definitely have a vision, when I make something," she says, and arranges a few leaves of watercress atop the tarts before sprinkling a dash of flaky Maldon salt. "I always loved to present food at the table, but I never knew I had this food-styling and photographing call inside me, until I started. I'm completely self-taught, so the 'styling' is really just me thinking of something I like and trying to reproduce it."
As a rule — here she gestures to the beams of sun lighting up the room — Peltre only shoots in natural light, so she has to start early. Though her portfolio is a colorful mix of landscapes, portraits, and finished dishes, she favors raw ingredients as her subjects. This makes sense, after you've spent a good 10 minutes gazing at one of her photos, wondering how you never noticed radishes were so devastatingly attractive. La Tartine Gourmande began in 2005 as a lark, and according to Peltre, didn't always feature the brightly rustic food shots her fans adore.