Question: what do you do when winter is looming, you’ve done the same office job or a variation of it for almost a decade, been relatively well-behaved your whole life (hi mum), you’re having a third-life crisis, and always wished you could do something more creative?
Answer: pick the biggest cliche you can think of and make it happen.
So, for everyone that’s asked, that’s what we’re doing in paris. We started a food blog and ran away. The connection to france came from our childhoods so it seemed like a logical place. Not that we had anything against, say, trinidad and tobago, or benin, or mongolia – we could just as easily have ended up there. But given the high chance of everything going to shit due to poor planning and unrealistic dreams, the thought of being able to stuff our faces with the world’s most beautiful cakes while crying on a bridge overlooking the seine provided an undeniable safety net.
And here we are. Completely unprepared for any kind of change. No training, no qualifications, no networks. A basic knowledge of photography and photoshop picked up from google university. A love of food and a serious desire to find out how to make it well. Plan? Live in paris for as long as possible and hassle our favourite restaurants into teaching us how to make awesome stuff. Foolproof. No chance of failure.
Surprisingly, not as easy as it seemed. For a start, “loving food” isn’t really a proper qualification, nor does it set you apart from the general population of the world in the talent stakes. Secondly, the city is much bigger than it appears on google maps. Thoughts about picking a street and wandering around until we found a string of awesome restaurants to pester were quickly crushed when everything was booked out, closed, or unable to be found. For the first four weeks, hunger and lingering cold weather turned everything into a post-apocalyptic, cormac mccarthy-like search for food.
Even more surprisingly, chefs aren’t, like, super thrilled about strangers who come to their restaurants and ask heaps of questions about their food, how it’s made, why they chose particular ingredients and whether they want to share their recipes. We got a lot of weird looks. We’re pretty sure we heard the word spy – espion – at least a couple times. Though maybe they were actually saying epsilon; a lot of people like the greek alphabet after all.
Either way, the exhilaration of being here quickly turned into what one of our brothers calls the melancholy of paris, where being alone and disconnected in one of the world’s most beautiful cities is so breathtakingly depressing that it makes you both deliriously happy and want to drown yourself at the same time.
There certainly have been terrifying middle of the night what-the-fuck-have-i-done-with-my-life moments that no amount of valium or inspirational typographical pinterest prints can assuage. Days are long and unstructured and on many, nothing happens at all. Starting from zero is like being a teenager again, where no one will give you a chance cos you don’t have enough experience, but you can’t get any experience cos no one will give you a chance. We’ve all been there. Most of us are sensible enough to do it only once in a lifetime.
Eventually, though, we reverted to relishing those tiny, shining moments in the quagmire of self pity: a plaisir sucré from pierre hermé, finally being abused in french – rather than english – by the crazy dude in the local square, the silhouette of the haussmannians against a paris sunset, paris at night. And you know what? It’s been pretty ok. In fact, once we got going, it got pretty good. After a while, the small stuff actually builds up into days and weeks of maybe-it’s-not-a-complete-cock-up-after-all. We’ve discovered some amazing ingredients here (e.g. this, this and this). We shop at the most charming markets, with the most charming stallholders. We’ve learned how to put things together in minuscule kitchens without cracking the shits and throwing things at the wall then having to eat off the floor. And we’ve met some awesome chefs so far – creative, generous, warm and seriously talented.
And, turns out the more you frequent a place and insist you’re not a thieving food psychopath, the more people trust you. And the more people trust you, the more they seem to like you. And the more they like you, the more ok they are with sharing. Who knew? Just don’t be a desperate pyscho and people will be more comfortable with you. Life lesson win.
So while we’re busy becoming accidental chef groupies, check out this recipe for buffalo mozzarella, smoked salt and sage flowers. It is the simplest, most beautiful plate of food you will ever make. You could do it sleepwalking.
1 large buffalo mozzarella
handful of walnuts
extra virgin olive oil
Roughly chop then toast the walnuts in a pan or oven until just crunchy. Get a plate. Tear the mozzarella into large chunks and arrange on plate. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of smoked salt. Scatter the sage flowers and walnuts. Drizzle with olive oil.