In patented Paris fashion or perhaps typical Terrance style I met Chef Diane Anthonissen, par hasard at Le Nemrod.
In patented Paris fashion or perhaps typical Terrance style I met Chef Diane Anthonissen, par hasard at Le Nemrod.
She was in conversation with a pastry chef and I detected a slight American accent. I introduced myself and asked if she was in the restaurant business. She was and she had been meaning to call me at the suggestion of a client.
I’m delighted that that serendipitous encounter has blossomed into a friendship and collaboration.
Every month we will produce a Sunday evening dinner salon-Diane dazzling you with her culinary chops and me doing what I do best-–talking-with an accomplished author.
This brief introduction will give you a glimpse of the heart and spirit that informs Diane’s cooking but you’ll have to join us to truly appreciate her talent and generosity.
TG: When did you first come to Paris?
DA: My first trip to Paris was in high school….a long time ago! My family was living in England at the time; I studied French as my foreign language, and then did a brief student exchange. That experience made a great impression on me.
TG: When and why did you come back (to stay?
DA: I didn’t come back to Paris until something like 20 years later – as a pass through on our way to other parts of France. It wasn’t until we moved here about 4 ½ years ago that I started to really understand this city – its charms and frustrations! I’m still very charmed by it. (As for the frustrations, they’re not really that…..they’re only the cultural differences in disguise which I still run into & still try to understand!)
TG: Talk about what inspired you to change careers and start cooking?
DA: There are at least three factors, maybe four.
I’ve always loved food. From a very young age, my parents encouraged me & my sisters to help in the kitchen. My mom is the daughter of a baker – my grandparents started up a bakery out of their home & it grew into a successful business, even to this day. So, I’ve been exposed to sweets all my life! On top of that, my parents always took the time to cook a family meal – we ate together every night, even with activities & such.
The next big factor is my husband, Eric, who was born in Brussels. He helped introduce me to the European food culture when we first met over ten years ago. I was living in Richmond at the time – he was in Brussels. He brought over treats & delicacies with each trip he made! I tasted my first foie gras with him, my first Sauterne….I tried my first wonderfully aromatic, unpasteurized cheeses (that he hand carried on his luggage….with a few funny stories to tell when he opened up the overhead bin…!). He introduced me to the European style of dining – which is to say, long & relaxed pace, with newly discovered “aperitifs”, with a salad course at the end of the main course….all of that kind of thing.
The biggest factor, however, was our move to Paris. Suddenly, I had no barriers. Paris seemed to liberate me in that way. I had thought about changing careers in Chicago, but couldn’t justify it for several logical reasons. In Paris, those reasons no longer existed. Plus, I discovered so many new things once we lived here – the outdoor markets, the French cuisine, the seasonal rhythms, the epiceries fines, the pastries, the wines….all of it attracted me like a magnet.
I found myself less motivated to update my resume & look for a job in the corporate world. Instead, I decided to change careers & go back to school for a 3rd time! This time to follow a passion – food. I’m so glad I did – it’s extremely satisfying, challenging & rewarding.
TG: Discuss your culinary schooling and apprenticeship
DA: I attended Ecole Ferrandi (a Paris Chamber of Commerce school) which offers training in 13 different professions such as bread making, patisserie, cuisine, charcuterie, wood working, interior design, etc. It’s not nearly as well known as Le Cordon Bleu, but it’s a highly regarded school in the French culinary world. I attended their cuisine program with a class size of up to 12 students & it was English based.
At the time, it was full-time Mon-Fri (8am – 5pm) for 9 months followed by a 3 month internship at a restaurant…so 1 year of solid training in total. In addition to the kitchen skills, we had regular classes in pastry, wine & cheese, food pairing & had some classroom learning about hygiene, protocols, etc. We also worked in the production kitchen (meaning we ran the kitchen for the school’s restaurant) which enabled us to see first-hand how a restaurant kitchen works.
Another interesting aspect of the program was the “regional menus” that we prepared which gave us an opportunity to prepare a 6-7 course tasting menus focused on a different region of France. This gave us a chance to learn about the specialty dishes & products that come from the markedly different regions of France.
On top of that, we went on a few “field trips” to such places as Rungis (one of the world’s biggest markets), to the Champagne region, Brittany, etc. There was an exam at the end of the program and I earned a certificate from the school. I also voluntarily took the national exam & I earned the national certificate as well (Certificat d’Aptitude Professionelle.)
After that experience, I attended a 2nd program at Ecole Ferrandi. This time it was all in French. At the time, my goal was to improve my kitchen skills, so I only attended the kitchen part. It lasted 6 months full time for me, Mon – Fri from 7am until about 7 or 8pm most nights. This program was a more advanced program – you couldn’t just sign up and join it without any prior experience (as in the other program I attended.)
The unique thing about this program is that it’s the students who create their own recipes, and then produce them in the production kitchen of the school’s restaurant. It was a turnkey approach to learning. We created the recipes, estimated the costs, ordered the raw materials, organized the workflow and then went into production in the school’s restaurant kitchen.
Afterwards, we debriefed, reviewed actual vs. proposed costs and assessed what worked well and didn’t. We rotated amongst all of the food stations as “chef de partie” and we also worked with the servers to try to provide a seamless service to the customers in the restaurant. On top of that, we had personal demos from great chefs from all over France – at least 2 times per week. Like I said, it’s a really unique and rich program.
As for my internships, I worked at Helen Darroze for three months as an intern followed by a three month employment contract (before attending the 2nd program at Ferrandi). I worked as demi-chef de partie of the fish station & then also had a chance to work in the tapas bar to also see that style of cooking. I also did as many mini internships as I could – at Au Fin Gourmet (in Pau), Storher, Flora Mikula, Atelier du Robuchon. Then I worked with a temp agency, specializing in restaurant work, for about 6 months. My goal there was to see as many different types & styles of restaurants as possible. To see how their kitchens are run, how they organize themselves, to see what works well & what doesn’t. It was a great learning experience for me. After that, I decided to create my own business & that’s what I’ve been doing for the past year.
TG: Who were the cooks who inspired you?
DA: First and foremost, the chefs who taught at Ecole Ferrandi – Chef Sebastian De Massard (Cuisine), Chef Thierry Jamard (Pastry), Chef Benoit Nicolas (Cuisine), Chef Eric Robert (MOF 2000, Cuisine), and Chef Philippe Salomon (Pastry).
After that, it is 2nd in command Raphael Francois of Helene Darroze for the day-in and day-out on-the-job training and opportunities he gave me during my time there. There are other chefs who influence me through their work & personal ethics such as Pascal Barbot & Regis Marcon, whom I had the chance to meet during demos at Ecole Ferrandi.
TG: Where do you live (arrondissement?
It was a fluke. We had 1 week to find an apartment in Paris. At the time we were not so familiar with the city and its neighborhoods. We were trying to find a place close to my husband’s work. We saw something like 6 or 7 apartments in a day – at the end of the day we couldn’t even remember the first ones we saw (despite all of our note taking!) All of them were EXTREMELY small and the choice was limited at the time.
We chose the best of what was available and planned on eliminating most of our furniture back home to fit the new space. Three weeks before my husband was about to start his new job in Paris, he got a phone call from the agency, full of apologies….saying that the apartment we had signed the lease for was actually not available to us.
It had been rented to someone else!!! (An example of the frustrations we have run into here!!!) However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it led us to the beautiful apartment where we live today.
It was actually my husband who found this apartment! I was still in Chicago selling our house, and he was apartment hunting during his lunch hour and after work. He came across the apartment where we are today and signed the lease on the spot because yes, it’s centrally located, but mostly because it has a great space and charm.
It dates back to the 1800s – it has original wood floors, high ceilings, original stained glass, the chimneys….all of that. Plus, it’s been totally renovated already. So, it has old world charm plus modern day conveniences….he signed right away! This time the lease held up!
TG: What’s your favorite café?
DA: I like going to Le Fumoir, just down the street from us. Great ambiance, especially in between services. You can sit there, read a newspaper all afternoon if you like or it’s a great place to meet up with a friend.
TG: What’s your favorite starred restaurant?
DA: Honestly, I don’t frequent the starred restaurants often enough to be able to adequately answer this question! I only go on extremely special occasions….I’m still waiting to go to Le Meurice, L’Astrance, Arpege, Guy Savoy, etc….I’ve tried Taillevent, Jean, and L’Atelier de Robuchon – these are all different styles & I like them each for what they are. I also tried Le Tour d’Argent but was not a big fan.
TG: What’s your favorite bistro du coin?
DA: Being a cook, you can perhaps imagine that we don’t go out too often! I love cooking & trying new things….so we’ll tend to eat in a lot of the time. I’m still waiting to try Yam’ Tcha, and am looking forward to Daniel Rose’s new restaurant. When we do go out, however, I like Chez Denise.
TG: What’s your favorite market?
DA: I love President Wilson because Joel Thiebault is there and it’s so big. I also love Raspail because it has everything you need in a market, and I like the local vegetable seller who is there (they bring their produce straight from their farm just outside of Paris.) And then I have to mention Marche Saint Eustache because that’s where I pick up my everyday things on Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings. I’ve gotten to know the vendors there and they feel like good neighbors to me! Plus, they are selling great cheeses, meats, charcuteries, and vegetables. I love that little market!
TG: What’s your favorite time of the year?
DA: Tough question!!! I love them all. I grew up with 4 seasons…can’t live without them. They each offer something unique & different. I love waiting for the next season so that I can enjoy whatever it will be offering next. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Spring and am glad it’s finally arrived! So, to answer your question, I’m living in the moment & I’d have to say Spring!! Can’t wait to enjoy all the petit pois and fava beans!
TG: How has Paris affected your life?
DA: I no longer drive a car….I walk more than I ever have in my life, just for everyday living. My lifestyle is extremely active – because of city living but also because of my profession! We downsized when we moved here which was a bit of a challenge at the time…..however, living in Paris has made me less attached to “things”. I’m ready to downsize even more – to simplify things – to get by with less. I no longer have the luxury of a walk-in closet, etc, etc, so I’ve learned how to do more with less. That’s one example, but it applies to all sorts of things, even kitchen utensils. I have my equipment which is necessary, but I definitely have no room for “gadgets” – no matter how nice I used to find them!
Also, a big impact that Paris has had on me is how I shop for food. I used to go to grocery stores once a week (maybe every couple of weeks for a “big shop”.) Now I buy only what I need for the next day or so. I buy things absolutely fresh and in quantities that I need – not more if I can help it. I can do this because this is what Paris offers – great little food shops and markets in the neighborhood. And now, some are even open on Sundays!!
Finally, a more personal impact….Paris has humbled me. No one can experience the difficulty of trying to learn a foreign language and culture without being humbled by it. All of the corrections we go through, all of our attempts to be understood, all of the odd looks we get when we try to say one thing and it comes out another (for example, I’ll never forget the day I was explaining to my French colleagues what the dress code was for an event…apparently I asked them to bring their black “crevettes”(shrimp) instead of their cravats(ties)…that’s my wonderful pronunciation for you! We got a good laugh at that one!)
Beyond the language, however, is the beauty of the city. Everywhere I look, I see history. I see beautiful architecture. I see grace. This humbles me in a different way – makes me more appreciative and grateful that I can see these luxuries each day.