La Cuisine Paris — An Epicurean Exchange

Episode Summary

Go behind the pastry counter and into the kitchen with La Cuisine Paris! This English-language cooking school seeks to immerse Francophiles in the French savoir-faire with curated, hands-on cultural experiences. Founded by small-business supporter, Jane Bertch and her staff have curated a fine selection of classes covering everything from savory to sweet, taught by French chefs for a variety of skill levels. La Cuisine Paris even takes to the streets to teach newcomers how to appreciate and navigate outdoor markets, participate in food tours, all while supporting small businesses and artisans! Explore with FrancoFiles and Jane Bertch the meaning of building a business based on the exchange of culinary experiences and French culture through la cuisine.

Episode Transcription

Andrea Fort  0:00   Today we are going behind the pastry counter and into the kitchen with Jane Burch, founder of La Cuisine Paris, an English language cooking school based in the heart of Paris, seeking to immerse Francophiles in the French savoir faire with curated hands on cultural experiences. Jane's desire to combine the comforts of cooking at home with the excitement of discovering French cuisine have molded into a fine selection of classes covering everything from savory to sweet, taught by French chefs for a variety of skill levels. Listen as I chat with Jane on the meaning of leading a business built on food and culture, and making clients feel at home with shared culinary experiences. So, Jane, you are speaking to us all the way from Paris. Happy to have you on Francophiles. How are you?

Jane Bertch  0:07  
I'm very well, Andrea, I'm really, really pleased to be here. So happy to chat with you today.

Andrea Fort  0:13  
Oh, so am I. And Jane, I wanted to say, I've been reading your bio, I've been reading research about your business. And I just am always impressed by stories of people who end up specializing their careers in something just completely different from their predetermine paths, and you're one of those people. You went from Chicago to London then Paris as a banker. And note for the audience, I said, banker, not Baker. So then in Paris, you had this like epiphany. And then poof, today you're the founder of like cuisine party. So a cooking school that greets up to 10,000 visitors and guests or clients per year. How did that happen?

Jane Bertch  1:05  
Oh, my goodness, Andrea. So I'm going to try to distill that into something very short, which is arguably much better discussed over wine. But so it would be a disservice for me not to touch on something I think is so important for people to hear is the concept that I really love to share is dreams versus snowflakes. And if somebody said to me, 20 years ago, Jane, is it your dream to have a cooking school in Paris, I would have looked at them as though they were growing two heads. So it wasn't a lifelong dream that I had intended to happen upon. La cuisine is what I call a snowflake. And I like to share that story. Because so many times we put pressure on ourselves to have an end goal or a purpose or a passion. And we put so much emphasis on trying to find that journey, it gets very heavy, and we don't allow ourselves to have things come to us. So I was working in banking, and I had a fabulous career in banking, and I loved it. There was a time where I thought I wanted to do something different. And I felt a little unfulfilled and ready for a change. And then you add on to that kind of personal dimensions that come in. And I knew that I wanted to move on. And the concept of setting up a cooking school floated down from the universe like a snowflake. And we know all snowflakes are very unique. We've we've looked at them in science books, apparently, no matter how many snowflakes have ever existed, they're also very different. So I took this little snowflake, and I played with it, which meant just taking time to observe what this interest was of mine. And I turned it into a little snowball. And then I turned it into a snowman and now a snow palace.

Andrea Fort  3:08  
But you're not the ice queen.

Jane Bertch  3:10  
Yes, exactly. I was thinking I'm gonna be careful with that story. People are gonna think I'm suggesting something else. But I think when you allow yourself to be open, the universe will put you in the direction of where you need to be at that point in your journey. And that might change one day again in the future. Who knows? But I am quite lucky. You know, I have a business where I've got wonderful clients, and we have a dinner party every day. So that's that's not a bad thing.

Andrea Fort  3:39  
No, it's not. And can you tell us a bit about also La Cuisine Paris? Tell us, you know, what is this place?

Jane Bertch  3:48  
Okay, so la Cuisine Paris is a cooking school. And that's kind of the generic of what you would see on paper. But what I like to emphasize is because we're welcoming the visiting market, who are really enthusiastic and so excited about learning about France, we've got a way to share it with them through food. So La Cuisine Paris on paper, it looks like a cooking school. But what I like to say our businesses is memories and culture. And again, we've got this fabulous vehicle, which is French food that is magical. And that's what our our experiences and time is crafted around with our visitors.

Andrea Fort  4:31  
Right. And what is it that that sets it apart from other culinary schools? I mean, you have talked about the experience, but you know, we're talking about owning a food related business in the capital of gastronomy. How do you do it? What's so different?

Jane Bertch  4:47  
So, Oh, my goodness. Well, the short answer is every day is different. But one thing that's always been important to us is creating a sense of community with our visitors. You know, this is a very unique look into culture, through food. And we love that our community is really engaged in there even before they get here. So I think that's what has been slightly different about us, we love to create a food community. And that community is now more than 10 years old. And I'm so grateful for that we still have people that engage and visit when they can or chat with us on social media. So I think that's one thing. I think the other thing that has set La Cuisine Paris apart is I learned early on as a business person that the smartest people who have the best ideas are our clients. And I listened to them. And I think this is one thing small businesses or businesses don't always do. You know, we're very proud of our ideas and our initiatives. But sometimes when you step back and realize that actually the best ideas are the people that are using my product, and listen to what they say engage them. It's amazing what you can create.

Andrea Fort  6:10  
And When you started the business, from the start, Were you set on making it an English cooking school? I mean, did you have any trepidation about you know, were you going to have the clientele? I'm sure you did, you know, a study of the market. But we are talking about 10 years ago, too, right?

Jane Bertch  6:33  

Andrea Fort  6:33  
So Why did you make that decision?

Jane Bertch  6:38  
This is a juicy question. Thank you. So when we first started, we started doing classes in French. And, you know, because the markets that I was looking at was really, I consider my peer groups to be our to lay the chef or to lay the songs. And I thought, you know, it would be nice to have a French food again, still sharing culture, but in French, and just through my natural interest, I thought, well, what if we also offer classes in English, maybe people who are visiting the city would also find this very enthusiastic. And so that's how la cuisine as she is known today, was actually created just through sheer evolution.

Andrea Fort  7:24  
And your clients today? They are American or North American? Are they made up of tourists? I mean, when I say today, you know, it's a little different. But traditionally, you know, what is your clientele look like? Who are they? Are they also French citizens, for example, they want to learn English and are just kind of using this as a medium?

Jane Bertch  7:48  
So we have, I would say predominantly, and we all know there's the like, asterisk under normal circumstances. Our business is really primarily our clients are about 80% North American. Because we're doing classes in English, we do get visitors from all over the world, that are very enthusiastic about France and French food, but certainly very heavy North American. We do on the weekends, get a number of French visitors. Again, it's all depends on their schedule and their availability. But you know what, Andrea, we're doing things that are not necessarily seen as exciting or exotic to the average French palate. And we're doing things that either their grandmother did for them on Sunday afternoon lunch, or that they would buy at a belong jury and think why on earth would I spend, you know, hours in the kitchen trying to make a croissant because I can get a the best croissant from an artisan. And we know in France, we really love and respect the work of our teas and all craftsmen.

Andrea Fort  9:14  
There's something interesting that I read about La Cuisine Paris is that the kitchens are modeled to be to look like home kitchens. So not only are the recipes, you know, something kind of homey, but even the army has itself is supposed to replicate that so that way people can kind of take that experience that exact same experience and just, you know, shift it and take it home.

Jane Bertch  9:39  
Yes, yes, absolutely. And  that was certainly a very big decision. When you're deciding to create a business and you think about how you're going to welcome clients we, you know, really thought carefully about what do I want them to feel when they're here and already when you're visiting, it can be such an intimidating experience. And you know, Paris should not be like Jurassic Park where you're looking in to see the fun, but you never get to engage in it. So, you know, I thought about that with the kitchens, and I wanted people to feel at home. And that already gave them a sense of comfort, and I belong here. And this, you know, applies to me, and I can do this as well. So that was very, very much a focus of, you know, kind of the aesthetics of, I guess, just making people feel at home and let them know that this is their space as well. It's a home kitchen, and they and they belong in it, too.

Andrea Fort  10:37  
And then apart from having these home experiences, I saw that you've started to establish these tours, I believe there's like a little bit of a travel aspect to just, you know, going from like cuisine to other regions, and France. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Jane Bertch  10:55  
So that's something we're slowly starting to get into. Because again, in the effort of sharing French culture, people, not people that, you know, it's often that Paris seems to represent France for so many visitors. And France is such a diverse as we know, I don't have to tell you this, but French is so very diverse in the products and the peoples and the terroir. So, we want to really try to expose people to this beautiful mosaic of France.

Andrea Fort  11:32  
Yeah, there's a there's a wide array of heritage, if we're just talking about food, just recipes, influences. And like you said that you brought up, you know, artisans are really important to France, agriculture, farmers, producers, and they all just have so many things to offer from different regions, right?

Jane Bertch  11:54  
Absolutely. And then you learn so much about the different people in those regions, you know, we've got I'm thinking of two chefs in particular one is from the south. One is from the north. One will constantly pull out butters, the other one will constantly pull out olive oil. And, you know, it's it's fun, just even, you know, again, through cooking, you can travel to these areas, through through people's families.

Andrea Fort  12:19  
Yes, exactly. And so what are your clients favorite classes? What is your favorite class?

Jane Bertch  12:25  
Oh, my heavens. So okay, it can be very seasonally, but going to the market, if you're not comfortable with that experience, where it's the first time that's really a favorite for clients, because we spend a lot of time decoding the market experience. You know, helping them to understand how you shop on the market, what the products are. You know, we're also in a country that's very seasonal. And it's fun to see that, yes, sometimes during some parts of the year, you cannot get strawberries. Well, from our visitors from North America, that's, you know, sometimes it's the you get what you want, when you want it. And here, you know, we make them excited to see that strawberries are here on the market. Because, you know, it's a special time of year. So that's, that's a fun experience for people. And I love to see them do it. And I love to see them get their confidence, which again, as a traveler, sometimes you feel a bit insecure about interacting in the local market. And they certainly come away from they're feeling like they can go back again, themselves and they know what to do. And that's fabulous. The other class I'd say is a real hit for people as croissant. People love to make croissants. And it's probably overtaken macaroon in importance, quote, unquote, I would say.

Andrea Fort  13:50  
How interesting. Yeah, and what you said about the market experience, I can totally relate to that, that sort of intimidating, especially when you're coming into a new market, or you've just moved or. And there is something special about knowing that strawberries only come out this time of the year and you just look forward to them. And when they arrive. It's just it's just something really thrilling. As part of your day. I really do appreciate the market experiences in France.

Jane Bertch  14:21  
Yeah. And you know what, on the market, you also get an you know, it's not just the food, you get another really beautiful, beautiful glimpse into culture, and how people interact here. You know, we've been going to some of the same purveyors, the same markets, the same boutiques for years. So when we get there, there is this warmth of experience that you have with the people that you're used to interacting with, that visitors love to see. It's a view into the relationships that are so very important. In French culture, absolutely. And I think that's, that's quite unique to, to enjoy and watch, you know, and it can be frustrating if you're behind us because we were talking to the vendor about the vacation and how the kids are. And you know, so if you're in a rush behind, it's frustrating, but when you watch it, it's just wonderful to see those human relationships, it's really, really special.

Andrea Fort  15:23  
Yeah, and I think most people that go to the market have at least one person that they always go to, and then over time, you just formed this natural relationship. And it takes a little bit of time sometimes, but just seeing that same person. It's really comforting. You know, it's just the same as you know, having your, your hairdresser or your favorite barista, that kind of the same relationship, except this person actually might be behind the, even the cultivation of these products that are being offered to you.

Jane Bertch  15:55  
Oh, sure. And you know what, they take such interest in and care in helping you. And that's one thing we always tell our visitors, it's, you know, you just don't buy a peach, you ask the experts for peaches. And they should ask you, what are you doing with them? Are you going to eat it now? Are you going to eat it? In two days? Are you going to cook with it? Because this allows them to pick out the best product for your needs. And you won't get there if you're not willing to engage and talk and get to know the people, you know, behind the stall so to speak.

Andrea Fort  16:33  
Yeah, that's true. That's it's a really curated experience. And, you know, I have to say this conversation. And I think our listeners are going to laugh when I say this. But this conversation reminds me of the quote, anyone can cook, you know, and I don't know if you recognize that. But it's the quote from the fabled character, Chef Cousteau, from the Pixar movie Ratatouille. But I really do believe in that and all joking aside, there really is truth to that quote, and I also think about Julia Child, she was an American, from a very unconventional background ended up in France. And then through her journey, she simplified French cooking and brought this magic to American homes worldwide. So I want to say or I want to ask, would you say that through like using blackberries, or through your business, your chefs and your staff? Are you all playing a role of cultural mediators?

Jane Bertch  17:33  
You know, I think we may be and so this is, this is, the nice thing about having a business is that you learn something new every day, this is a part of my evolution is really, you know, realizing what role we play. And it's so true. And I'm thinking about the quote that that you just shared, and that's one of my favorite quotes. And, you know, one of the most magical things about French cuisine, is you're using very basic ingredients to do something extraordinary. You're using butter, or you know, flour, cream, milk, eggs, and you can create something magical, and anybody can do it. And I think that's what So, you know, so important for people is to feel like they can not only have a look in but they can try and do it themselves. So Oh, calendar, I've just completely, like fumbled over not having a day. So I think, you know, we are certainly playing cultural mediators, because we're enjoying the experience from the eyes of the people who are visiting and also trying to translate to them what it means from our cultural context. And that you know, is everything from what is an Apero to when you know, when would you start eating at a dining table? How would you sit you know, so it even gets us into etiquette you know, the the thoughts of if you're hosting a dinner party, chances are the host or hostess has really thought about where they're gonna seat people around the table. So you get into all these, these these little cultural gems that you can share and translate to people so I guess Yes, we are like, cultural mediators in a way.

Andrea Fort  19:28  
Yeah, it's true that the culture, the habits, the gestures, I guess, traditions that go around just food, French food, are so much larger than just the meal that you're sharing. It really is experience and I was joking about this the other day, but something that I found fabulous when I was living in France was whenever I was having a meal, a French meal with French friends, we would talk about food like 80% of the time. That was a topic of conversation as we were eating French food. And I've shared this, you know observation with other friends, other friends who have lived in France. And they're like, Yeah, absolutely. And not only that, but also staying at the table for long periods of time and really enjoying the conversation, even when people aren't talking, even if there's a moment of silence, it's still part of the experience, there is no rush.

Jane Bertch  20:29  
Absolutely, you know, what I love to try to explain to people is, in France, you don't eat out, you dine. And it's such a different view on the entire experience, quite rightly, as you said, you know, when you sit at a table, it's your table for the evening, almost to exhaustion, you find yourself having to beg to get the bills, so you can leave, I'm seeing that happen with people, but it's the entire circus of the experience. And, you know, dining is it's such an emotional event, it's about who you're with. And, you know, the the noise in the background. And, you know, it's, it's, it's the entire circus, that, that I think is so special in France, and your ability to enjoy it and really be a part of it, and not just sit and eat and leave. You know, that's, people don't do that. They really want to dine and enjoy.

Andrea Fort  21:32  
Yeah, absolutely. Now, I want to shift to talking about your business right now. Because it is a question, I think we're all wondering, during this pandemic, How did you're in presence, business, travel all of that, survive, and then transform it into a digital space?

Jane Bertch  21:55  
Okay, so I will be the first to admit, I really stuck my heels in in the beginning, Andrea, because so much of what we do, when you know, taking into account what I really believe our we have the honor of doing is sharing memories and transmitting French culture. I was so afraid that trying to move that into a digital space, which is not translate. You know, it's the experience of having everybody together in the kitchen. That's so magical. So I kept asking myself, How on earth can we replicate this via zoom. So we took our time doing so. And we did it very cautiously. And I did it through lots of feedback from our clients on how to do those experiences. And first and foremost, I asked them if they wanted them. And they did. Because they wanted to keep in touch. And I realized that it's not, again, it's not the product, people don't necessarily remember the product five years from now. They remember the experience. So I come back to what I always say we do, we don't do cooking classes, we do memories. And I really had to make sure that we could do that in a remote setting. And when I felt comfortable that we could, we slowly started to get into that. So we do zoom classes. I love when we get private groups, because those were really fun. And we also decided that we would take the classes that I didn't think translated well on to zoom, and actually do video classes. It's the same team you see at the school. They're not actors, believe you, me, because when we were trying to record videos, you really appreciate how much time goes in when you're not working with the staff that are actors. So we ended up doing that experience as well and have like little check ins with clients. So we try to offer a little something to everybody. So that's the silver lining of this past year. And frankly, it is the silver lining, we now have a forum where we can connect with clients everywhere. And always now. And I don't want that to be our main business, which it is right now. I hope that will soon get back to what we love, which is be with people in the kitchen from all over the world, and then use these virtual experiences to keep in touch with our community that has been so dear to us through this time.

Andrea Fort  24:28  
Yeah, that's what it sounds like. Having that community already set in place. And actually even having the community support your business by providing you with feedback and ideas. I think that's wonderful. I mean, I think that's that might maybe be a moment where you really pride yourself on like, hey, like I have not just a business to run I also have a community to to lead or at least to be a part of right.

Jane Bertch  24:59  
Absolutely. You know what, it's a precious community. And what I love is they take such ownership of us, you know, la cuisine is just as much theirs at is, as it is mine. And I love that, you know, I get emails from clients that say you should do this, or you should do this, or Hey, I saw this, you know, and that just warms my heart because it's thoughtful, but it also shows that they feel like they're a part of what we are. And they certainly are, they're why we exist.

Andrea Fort  25:33  
Yeah, and I want to talk about the larger community. So there's something that I've seen on your social media La Cuisine Paris that I thought was really special. You highlights  a lot of outdoor markets, like the bus to mashi puts a spotlight on certain bistros and local bars and even a spice Emporium. I you know, what do you have to say about these last 10 years collaborating with with these local markets, businesses, producers and farmers. We talked a little bit about earlier, but I just think it's so special. That's so such an integral part of your communications.

Jane Bertch  26:19  
Oh, thank you. And you know what they must be we, you know, what thing is so wonderful about Paris is Paris is a mosaic of small businesses. And that's really particular here. And there's such a fabric of the community, I wouldn't exist without them, they may not exist without us. And I recognize their role. And the importance of me delivering a great experience to our clients, I recognize their role in my personal satisfaction to be able to shop at these wonderful places. I recognize how hard they work, and I love sharing them. Because, you know, I feel that we're our siblings of a certain family, if that makes sense, you know, and I love for our clients to get exposed to them. So I think that is a really important role of a small business. And that's something that we should always do well, and always challenge ourselves is to hold each other's hands, certainly in times like these, but always because we rely on each other.

Andrea Fort  27:32  
And, you know, I'm just curious, what do these artisans producers, what do they think? Or what do they say when they see you with with a group of maybe Americans? What do they have? Do they try to speak English? What's that interaction like?

Jane Bertch  27:48  
So it can be anything, and I'll tell you that I'm really really intrigued to see how it's going to be post when we finally evolve out of this past year. So Andrea, it can be anything from sheer happiness to see us to pleasant quietness, allowing us to enter you know, again, we're talking about the world of artisans, it's the client is not necessarily King, here, the artisan is and we have the pleasure to shop in their boutique. So, so we must always remember that. And some of them have fun with it. And some of them are just maybe a bit timid, you know, they're never upset, they're, they could be timid, they could be extraordinarily busy. And they'll let us just kind of do our thing and be very happy to welcome us but in a different way. And I do you know, some of them, I think, probably think, Oh, God, here they come again, because and it's also I think, very magical for them to see the all that our visitors have been able to enjoy these experiences. So, you know, some of them are a little grumpy, I'm not gonna lie. It's it's that kind of French grump that you get used to, but they do it in a sweet way. affectionate?

Andrea Fort  29:11  
Yes, exactly. It really is important to to work together to support small businesses. So, I know that like zoom plays a role in that. Jane, is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

Jane Bertch  29:27  
Oh, my goodness. I can't think of anything in particular, I guess, you know, the only things I would share are, you know, I hope when people come back, they remain curious. You know, that they take time to really not just check off their list of things to do but get lost in the small streets wander into boutiques, always saying butcher first please because that's that's an important rule and of yours, And overall, I definitely. And I hope that people just remain curious and enjoy and share and realize that all of these little businesses are the fabric of Paris and the French community and take advantage and get to know them and, you know, explore the city.

Andrea Fort  30:20  
Oh, I think we're all. We're all looking forward to that. And thank you, Jane, because I think you've really, you've piqued our curiosities, our epi curiosity, if you will, to all of our Francophile listeners. So thank you, Jane. It's been wonderful to have you.

Jane Bertch  30:36  
Well, thank you. I'm so pleased. And thank you, sincerely, when we talk about supporting small businesses, you know, you're, you're sharing people's stories is really superb, and it's much appreciated.