La food, à la française

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Four women in the culinary scene in four French cities give us a taste of the town: bread, cheese, wine and a treat.

Whether real or imagined, the mystique of the French woman is recognized far and wide: She’s chic, svelte and sensual – and savvy about fashion, food and wine. That enduring image may even be one of France’s biggest exports, alongside French cuisine. Yet as the latest male–dominated Michelin Guide attests, women remain vastly under–recognized in the national culinary scene. It’s time for the archetype and stereotype to get a much–needed rethink. “Parisian women, in particular, are the most fetishized women, the subject of so much mythmaking,” says author Lindsey Tramuta, whose The New Parisienne portrays a far more complex and powerful feminine energy reshaping restaurants and more in the nation’s capital. “White, tall, affluent, straight. Think Catherine Deneuve, Brigitte Bardot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jeanne Damas. It effaces a big chunk of the population. Can we stop doing that?” she asks. Yes, we can. We set out to speak to women in the food scenes in Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Nice about what makes them tick.

July 10, 2024

Paris

A rooftop view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower standing tall in the sky
A portrait of Khánh-Ly Huynh against a powder blue background
Photo: Shirley Garrier

Khánh–Ly Huynh

Creative director and co–owner,
The Hood and Nonette

“I grew up in a restaurateur family. For my parents, food was a way of showing love – that’s also true for me,” reflects chef Khánh–Ly Huynh. The creative mastermind behind two buzzy Paris restaurants, The Hood and Nonette, is redefining the standards of Singaporean and Vietnamese dishes in her native France. A MasterChef France winner and graduate of the Paul Bocuse Institute, Huynh says she couldn’t find a satisfying bánh mi in a country home to one of the world’s largest Vietnamese diaspora populations. With business partner Pearlyn Lee, she set out to provide fresh options using housemade condiments and charcuterie sourced from sustainable farms. “The road is just starting to really open up to people issued from immigration,” Huynh remarks. “For a long time, it was all just cuisine asiatique and now we’re seeing a change in perception.”

A tray of fresh baguettes on a stool from Bulle Boulangerie in Paris
Photo: Pépe Sion
  • Bulle Boulangerie —

    When I think of bread, I think of bánh mi and how it was shaped by the colonial history of France in Vietnam — and how I was super fussy about getting it right for our restaurant. I tend to seek out small, low–key, owner–run places in Paris, and this new bakery fits the bill. It has minimalist decor, the focaccia is amazing, and you can also grab a coffee.

A tray of square cut cheeses with a floral design painted on top from Taka & Vermo in Paris
  • Taka & Vermo —

    Growing up in a Vietnamese family, I came to cheese later in life. In the 10e arrondissement, this wonderful fromagerie is run by a couple, Laure Takahashi and Mathieu Vermorel. When you walk in you’re faced with cheese everywhere, all attractively displayed. One of my personal favorites is Langres, a strong, washed–rind cheese from Burgundy with an orange hue.

Shelves of wine bottles from Faussaire in Paris
  • Faussaire —

    This storefront in the 11e  arrondissement, an up–and–coming area known for its bars, featured natural and minimal intervention wines before they became trendy. I have to thank the owner, Dominique Tissier, for introducing me to what champagne could be: festive, crisp, bubbly. I love how different types of wine can create different moods.

Dorayaki from TOMA in Paris
Photo: Natasia Froloff
  • TOMO —

    Tomo is a bakery and tea salon that brought wagashi to Paris. They make traditional confections, including dorayaki, a pancake stuffed with red bean confit. On a nice day, get a treat to go with a matcha latte and sit in Place de l’Opéra. It’s a scene. I went in once and Jamiroquai was chilling at a table. That’s the kind of place it is.

Lyon

A street in Lyon is full of people enjoying a meal on the terraces
   Photo: Michael Mulkens/Alamy
Portrait of Jacotte Brazier against a powder blue background

Jacotte Brazier

President, Les Amis d’Eugénie Brazier

If there’s one figure in French culinary history who paved the path for female restaurateurs, it’s Eugénie Brazier. The legendary mother of French cooking was an unmarried farm girl with a baby son when she moved to Lyon in 1915. She went on to become one of the Mères Lyonnaises, matriarchal powerhouses who built the city’s culinary reputation in an era when the silk and auto industries were flourishing. Brazier was the only–ever recipient of six Michelin stars, until Alain Ducasse in 1998. “For women in the business, it’s a question of character. We are not power–hungry but we have strength,” muses her granddaughter Jacotte Brazier. The third–generation restaurateur of La Mère Brazier (which still serves regional haute cuisine on Rue Royale under Mathieu Viannay), she now oversees Les Amis d’Eugénie Brazier, an organization that gives scholarships to young women attending culinary school – and she does so with sparkling savoir–faire.

Pink praline tarts from Boulangerie Jocteur in Lyon
Photo: Travelstock44/Alamy
  • Boulangerie Jocteur —

    I admit that I’m a bad French citizen: The baguette is not really my thing. I prefer a nice nut bread or one with hearty grains. Jocteur has wonderful baking, including Lyon’s famous pink praline tart. The sugar coating is distinctive for its pink color, once made with cochineal. It’s a beautiful local specialty and they do it so well.

Round cheese disks in a wooden tray from La Mère Richard in Lyon
Photo: Hemis/Alamy
  • La Mère Richard —

    Second–generation cheesemonger Renée Richard owns this quaint fromagerie, which was previously owned by her mother, also Renée Richard. The shop is known for Saint–Marcellin, a soft raw cow’s milk cheese that they age on site. It’s located in Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, so you can go from there to Jocteur for bread and sit down with a coffee.

Palm trees and high ceilings decorate the interior of Hameau Dubœuf in Lyon
Photo: Greg Bellevrat
  • Hameau Dubœuf —

    Lyon is central to the most magical wine regions: Burgundy, Savoie, Haute–Savoie, Côtes–du–Rhône. Before those wines became famous, my father, Gaston, served them at our restaurant, as did Paul Bocuse, our longtime family friend. Less than an hour from town, Hameau Dubœuf is worth the drive for the museum and theme park about the heritage of viticulture in Europe.

A server setting up a table at Le Canut et les Gones in Lyon
Photo: Hemis/Alamy
  • Le Canut et les Gones —

    We all know the bouchon Lyonnais, the traditional local restaurant. This one, owned by Frank Blanc and run by Japanese chef Junzo Matsuno, is named for silk workers. Their tête de veau is delicate and so finely sliced, it’s almost like chiffonade. The ambiance is wonderful. One of my absolute favorite places to treat myself in Lyon.

Toulouse

Diners enjoying a meal underneath umbrellas by a river in Toulouse
   Photo: Rémi Deligeon
A portrait of Sophie Franco against a powder blue background
Photo: Anne-Sophie Morel

Sophie Franco

Co–founder, La Food Locale

“We kept meeting women who were doing incredible things related to food and agriculture, but we noticed that men kept getting the spotlight,” says Sophie Franco, who co–founded La Food Locale with former restaurateur Estelle Elias. Their business directory and Prix Femmes de Food awards promote women in the industry from Toulouse and the surrounding region, an area she feels is deserving of wider attention. “Sure, people talk more about Paris or Marseille as gastronomic destinations, but the scene here is evolving,” Franco says. She points out that Occitanie, an administrative region formed in 2016 to encompass rolling hills east to the Mediterranean and south to the Catalonian border of Spain, produces the most organic products in the country. “Now I can have a glass of wine with local oysters from the Bassin de Thau, while just 10 years ago that wasn’t possible,” she says.

Loaves of bread for sale at Terra Maïr in Toulouse
Photo: Atelier Agiteo
  • Terra Maïr —

    Terra Maïr is an entirely sustainable operation, all organic production. It’s in a lively area on the shores of the Garonne River, the rive droite of Toulouse. This is a cute little neighborhood shop but it also has a modern style. I like to try breads made from different types of grains, maybe corn or einkorn wheat. Definitely don’t skip the pastries.

A cheese wheel from Fromoccitanie being cut
Photo: @studio_nabelle
  • Fromoccitanie —

    Fromoccitanie has a huge selection of farm and artisanal cheeses in an ultramodern setting. Owner Mélanie Baby works with farmers from the region, and from all over France, so you will find Tomme des Pyrénées along with Rocamadour, a mild little round raw milk cheese that I grew up with. I’d pair it with nuts and Périgord black truffle.

A woman in a green dress holds two glasses filled with white wine in front of her eyes
Photo: @mathilde.delozier
  • La Contre–Cave —

    The experience at La Contre–Cave in the historic Saint–Cyprien district, is really about the owner, Perrine Laffitte, who offers a personal and sensory approach to wine. Her workshops, led against a backdrop of Toulousain red brick, make the wine world accessible. This is a nice place to discover our local grape, négrette, or try a bottle of Corbières.

Rows of bite sized desserts from Pâtisserie Georgette in Toulouse
Photo: Inès Morin Elias
  • Pâtisserie Georgette —

    Down the street from the Pont des Demoiselles is this classic pastry shop. Pâtisserie Georgette is run by a skilled pastry chef, Angélique Barrau, who is committed to local produce. Her fruit tarts are delicious, and she’s always changing them up, working with whatever is in season from the countryside. You won’t find strawberries here in the winter.

Nice

A bird's eye view of the orange rooftops that fill Nice
   Photo: Graham Hardy/Alamy
A portrait of Julia Sedefdjian against a powder blue background
Photo: Julien Mouffron-Gardner

Julia Sedefdjian

Chef and Co–founder, Baieta

Chef Julia Sedefdjian left her hometown for Paris as a teenager, and just a few years later, at the age of 21, she became the youngest woman to be awarded a Michelin star. No small feat in a field where only six percent of chefs etoilés are women. “Maybe women are less at the forefront commercially,” she notes. “But there are many more of us in schools now, and we are strong behind the scenes. I love the sense of community I feel when we meet at events.” Busy with her own Paris restaurant, Baieta (which means “kiss” in her native Nissart dialect), she still likes to get home to Provence to see family. “Nice is the most beautiful city in the world,” she says warmly. “What I adore is that you have the mountains in the background and scenery all around. You can go out into nature and access the landscape easily. When I get some sun, I come back to life.”

Three people sharing a pull away bread from Fournil Zielinska in Nice
Photo: LYK Studio
  • Fournil Zielinska —

    Baker Dominika Zielinska works with ancient grains and she uses a lot of sourdough. You can also ask her for pain à l’huile, which is like a fougasse. Zielinska is located in the old city, with its terracotta and ochre buildings, surrounded by little restaurants. There are big barrels of olives and the scent of lavender in the streets. It’s charming!

An assortment of cheeses from Délices & Crèmerie in Nice
  • Délices & Crèmerie —

    At this tiny little shop, you can try cheeses from the area. They have our local Tomme and lots of goat cheese, as well as charcuterie. The staff are very friendly. You may want to have the owner, Cathy Garavagno, put together a cheese plate for you. Personally, I love a good goat cheese marinated in oil and herbs.

Rows of different wine bottles line the wooden shelves at La Part des Anges in Nice
  • La Part des Anges —

    I have great memories of this place because this is where we went to celebrate my Michelin star. It’s both a wine boutique and wine bar. The room is surrounded by bottles on wooden shelves from France and farther afield. The color of the facade is aubergine, which I appreciate because I love eggplant. One cépage to look for is braquet, a red–wine grape that’s distinct to the region.
     

  • Chez Marie–Thé —

    At the large Cours Saleya flower market, there is a little food stall with specialties like socca and pissaladière, or maybe an octopus salad or pan bagnat. One thing I absolutely love is the tourte de blettes made with Swiss chard, egg, lots of sugar, and orange. It’s salty–sweet delicious, and you can eat right by the water.