Paris's Expat Chefs
The word restaurant is derived from the French word restaurer: “to restore”. In 18th century France, small roadside inns and established city restaurants would sell hearty, replenishing broths and consommes to tired travelers and city dwellers alike. From these humble, soup-y beginnings evolved today’s bombastic restaurant culture: Michelin-starred, lauded in magazines, and much-Instagrammed. And while the country that gave birth to the very first restaurants is still considered a gustatory mecca, its dominance as a culinary front-runner is on the wane. Yet, cooks and chefs the world over continue flock to Paris to hone their skill and get a taste of where it all started. In this two part series, Acorn tracked down some of the city’s expat chefs to find out what brought them to the city of berets, bonheur, and baguettes—and if it was everything they expected it to be.
TAKU SEKINE, 35 Kanagawa, Japan
Where do you work? Dersou
How long have you been in Paris? 9 years
Why did you decide to come to Paris? I had a chance to come here because of Alain Ducasse. I was working in one of his restaurants in Tokyo (Beige Tokyo) and he had a place for me at Plaza Athénée. I worked there for a year and then worked for Hélène Darrozze for three more years. Dersou was opened in November of 2014. It’s my first restaurant.
Do you still think Paris is still the world’s foremost culinary capital? Not really. I think the real capitals are Tokyo and New York because of the diversity and culinary curiosity in those cities.
What’s next for you? I’m making a book about Asian cuisine in Paris this year. It's a mix of stories about Asian food culture, along with some addresses and my own recipes.
Top eating out recommendations for anyone visiting Paris for a day? Clown bar!
One thing you’ve learned in Paris that has always stuck with you? Working efficiently. Compared to other cities we work fewer hours, so we have to learn how to work efficiently.
Theme song? Too young, Phoenix
LINDA GRANEBRING, 30 Sweden
Where do you work? The Broken Arm
How long have you been in Paris? 7 years
Why did you decide to come to Paris? A change of scenery. I was only supposed to stay here for 6 months. I had just graduated and didn't have a job when I came. I had studied nutrition and business.
Do you think Paris is still the world’s foremost culinary capital? No, I feel like there are other places. What's interesting about Paris is that the food scene is very young. A lot of young people are doing their own thing. Actually, maybe you could say that the bread is best here.
What’s next for you? Working on my first cookbook!
What’s one thing you learned in Paris that has always stuck with you? A lot of people say the French are too proud to speak English but I don't think it's true at all, they're really making an effort to communicate with visitors and tourists.
Do you have a theme song? Hanson’s MMMbop
MADS CHRISTENSEN, 30 Copenhagen, Denmark
Where do you work? Le Mary Celeste
How long have you been in Paris? I’ve been here just over 3 years now.
Why did you decide to come to Paris? I was offered the job as sous-chef when Le Mary Celeste first opened. At the time, I was working in Copenhagen but was looking to move abroad so the timing was perfect. A happy coincidence. Didn’t take much time to decide: a month later I arrived in Paris. This is one of the things I love about cooking: you have the opportunity to travel and learn in different countries. It’s a very rewarding experience.
Do you think Paris is still the world’s foremost culinary capital? It’s difficult to say. I definitely still think the food scene in Paris is at a top level. There’s an abundance of great restaurants in all categories, but so much is happening around the world, it’s hard to keep up. I think what’s interesting to follow is the shift in popularity from classic top restaurants to smaller, more affordable places that still maintain a high quality of food and service.
What’s next for you? It’s been less than a year since I took over as chef at Le Mary Celeste, so I’m focusing on this for now. I really enjoy the challenge, and I’m working with a great team, so there’s no rush on my part.
Top eating out recommendations for anyone visiting Paris for a day? I’m gonna be leaving out a lot of great places, but here’s at least a few options for a nice day of eating and drinking in Paris.
Start the day early with lots of pancakes and coffee at HollyBelly, perhaps the friendliest team in Paris. Always a pleasure. Miznon, is another one of my favourites. I used to live right around the corner and would go there weekly. They serve great Israeli food, like whole roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, or a selection of pitas. Very, very good. Wash it all down with a beer or two.
For a little pre-dinner action, pass by Le Verre Volé sur Mer. They specialize in all things seafood. Have some oysters and clams with a glass of white wine, which is sure to get the appetite going again. It’s only fitting to end the day with a nice French dinner. Go to La Bourse et La Vie, a tiny restaurant, with an updated version of classic French dishes (think: Pot-au-feu, duck a l’orange and really good chocolate mousse). Well executed comfort food—I highly recommend it.
What’s one thing you learned in Paris that has always stuck with you? I’m still learning the language. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s coming along. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in Paris is finding my own style of cooking. I’ve learned a lot being chef, and I owe a lot to my former chef and best friend Haan Palchu-Chang. He got me to Paris in the first place. I’ve learned so much from him over the years both professionally and personally.
Do you have a theme song? Cumbia Sobre el Mar by Quantic. The song was on the playlist at the restaurant for a long time, never gets old.