Profile: Freelance Translator Judith Paravonian & Tarte Tatin
Judith Paravonian is a very good cook. We met in a recent photography workshop and hit it off right away after I discovered she enjoys spending as much time in the kitchen as I do. She generously invited me over to her house in Santa Monica, where she demoed how to make traditional Moroccan couscous and shared her fantastic brisket recipe.
Born in Casablanca, Morocco, and raised in Paris, France, Judith grew up eating delicious French-Moroccan-Jewish dishes made by her clothing designer mother. Ironically, she didn’t start cooking until about 10 years ago.
“I was never interested, and my mom didn’t ask me to help her, either,” she says about her childhood. Even later on, she preferred to eat out rather than stand by the stove. “In Paris, I had an apartment near Place de la Madeleine, and all the chefs around there knew my food preferences. I never cooked—I was the Yellow Pages of Parisian restaurants.”
Things changed when her mother became seriously ill. Judith, who at the time lived in Belgium with her businessman husband, decided to leave her job and become a caretaker. “Mom got cancer and moved in with us,” she says. “Because she loved food so much, I suggested we cook together.” For the first time in her life, Judith attempted Moroccan-style couscous, chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons, and dates stuffed with almond paste—under her mother’s supervision.
“She would watch me, teach me and correct me,” she remembers. “It was healing for her, and she was so happy to share all her knowledge with me.” Sadly, her mother succumbed to cancer two and half years later, but Judith continues on her culinary journey, exploring all the recipes she learned from her mom and feeding friends and family along the way. “Luckily, my husband is a great eater and appreciates all my efforts,” adds Judith.
Age 57 — Hometown Paris, France — Where do you live? Santa Monica, CA — Occupation Freelance translator — Signature dish Tarte tatin — Who taught you how to cook? My mom — Favorite kitchen tool Food processor — Always in your pantry Spices, eggs, cilantro, crème fraiche — Go-to snack Dates — Favorite cuisine French, Moroccan, Indian — Do you diet? Not anymore — Food addictions Bread & butter — Food allergies None — Food fad pet peeve None — Who’s your sous chef? My husband — Drinking while cooking? No — What’s for dinner tonight? Stuffed artichokes — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? No — Best meal you ever had I love social, home-cooked meals from different countries.
“I make tarte tatin every time I have a dinner party at my home. It’s the best… and so easy to make,” Judith says. “A chef in a Parisian restaurant I used to frequent gave me the recipe.”
Basically a type of upside-down cake, tarte tatin is a classic French dessert made by placing apples in a pool of caramel, baking them with a layer of puff pastry on top, and then flipping the whole thing over to reveal an irresistible, sticky-sweet treat.
- Serves 4–6
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped
- 5–6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, quartered
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the puff pastry out into 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 9-inch plate as a guide, cut the pastry into a circle. Set aside.
- Mix the sugar and water in an ovenproof 8-inch skillet and heat over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat to medium and cook without stirring, until light golden, about 8 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and arrange the apples, round side down, in the caramel. Place the pastry on top of the apples, and fold the edges under. Make three small cuts in the center to allow steam to escape during baking.
- Bake in the oven until puffed and golden brown, about 35–40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 3 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife. Place a plate over the skillet and carefully flip over to release the tarte. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraiche, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.