Alix Lacloche

1st February 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

1st February 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

Alix Lacloche is a French-American chef who caters for private events and has a weekly cooking segment on Canal Plus[footnote]On the talk show La Nouvelle Edition[/footnote]. She grew up in Paris and studied hotel management for a short time; then, craving the heat of a real kitchen, she went to work in Rome and San Francisco. Back in Paris, she decided to start her own catering business when people started clamouring for her (light, healthy, intuitive) cooking. Her first cookbook, Dans Ma Cuisine, came out in May 2014.

She lives in a small flat in the Marais, an area she’s seen change drastically over the past 10 years. Her building is old and crumbling, with an ancient mazelike staircase which you access through a shadowy courtyard. It’s all very charming, though she seems surprised when we tell her so. Her flat, four floors up, is mostly kitchen – all her food is prepared here. To make it work, she knocked out a wall, put in big prep tables and a trolley, and filled her shelves with ingredients from her travels.

When we arrive, she has no idea what she’s going to make for lunch but isn’t at all fazed – throwing a meal together on the fly with leftovers from work is how she usually eats. “I’m going to take everything out of the fridge,” she says, grabbing mint, coconut chunks and hummus (which we snack on with poppadoms flamed over the hob). She buzzes with energy: her hands move constantly when she speaks, and in the kitchen her mind moves just as fast. We happen to have a tin of anchovies in our bag; within minutes Alix has combined them with herbs, spices and segments of orange to make an unexpectedly delicious salad. Then we head out for coffee.

Continued below...

What’s your background?

It’s pretty unusual. My mother’s American, from New Jersey, and my dad’s French. She was obsessed with healthy eating – quinoa and bulgur my whole childhood and pollen in the mornings so I wouldn’t have allergies later on in life. But then my French grandmother would make me very traditional French comfort food. So that stayed with me – the food I make today is very much like that.

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A combination of the two influences?

Oh yes, but I’m all over the place. I cook from all over the world. There’s going to be a mix of herbs and spices and colours – it’s like a firework. I never know what I’m going to make. Writing down a menu for me is tough because I know it’s going to change at the last minute. Thinking three weeks in advance about what you’re going to cook for somebody – it’s boring.

I didn’t really know what I was doing but I liked the vibe of the industry – I liked the fire of it

When did you start cooking professionally?

After my Baccalaureate, I did a few stages here and there – one was at L’Arpege[footnote]Alain Passard’s legendary restaurant in the 7e where vegetables are the star of the show[/footnote]. Then I went to hospitality management school, the Institut Vatel, but that was very boring, very square. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I liked the vibe of the industry – working and stressing out and the adrenaline and not sleeping and being grumpy. I liked the fire of it.

What did you do next?

I went to the American Academy in Rome for a summer – Alice Waters started a sustainable food project there. We would get up at 5am and cook all day. It was the three best months of my life.
After that I sent my resume to a bunch of places in San Francisco. I was sick and tired of Paris – industry people taking themselves super seriously, having a really difficult time in the kitchens as a woman, long hours, all that – and I was hearing about how San Francisco was just heaven for cooks.

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So I left and went to work for an amazing woman called Amaryll Schwertner[footnote]Hungarian-American chef who runs the restaurant Boulette’s Larder in the San Francisco Ferry Building[/footnote]. She gave me the chance to cook a lot of different things because we were changing the menu every day and cooking with the seasons. It’s the place that affected me the most as a cook – it was mind-blowing.

When did you come back to Paris?

In 2011. I worked at a shop called La Tête dans les Olives[footnote]Cédric Casanova’s shop/restaurant in the 10e specialising in Sicilian food[/footnote]. There’s a big table there and we’d just cook with the products of the shop for 6 to 10 people every night. While I was doing that I had a lot of people asking me to do dinners in their houses, so I started doing that and it piled up and piled up and then at some point I was just doing that. Since then I’ve transformed my apartment to this crazy kitchen – bought a second fridge, a big table – and I do everything here.

I’m always worried that people aren’t going to eat enough. All my boyfriends I’ve force-fed

What kind of events do you do?

All kinds. Yesterday I did something for Nike: they were putting on a 10k run and we did a healthy lunch, what should you eat after you exercise. I do some stuff for perfumers, fashion people – anybody really. I specialise in small gatherings – 20 to 50 people – and everything is made here. Right now I’m trying to get out of here and find another place. It’s spotless now, but there can be stuff everywhere – and going up and down those stairs is tiring.

Do you have much time to cook for yourself here?

Yes, I cook for myself all the time. It’s very important, and there are always so many leftovers to use up.

Do you eat at regular hours?

No, unfortunately my schedule is so all over the place. For breakfast, I always end up at Fondation, my local coffee place [see Eating Out]. I don’t have your average lunch break, but I try to eat at home as much as I can, because it’s cheaper, I know what I’m making, and it’s healthier in a way.

Do you have people over for dinner, or is the food always disappearing down the stairs?

I do. I’ll move everything around, put the tables together and have 15 or 20 people around for a big roast or something. I’m like a Jewish mother, I cook too much food. I never do my ratios right, or never at all, and I’m always worried that people aren’t going to eat enough. All my boyfriends I’ve force-fed. My sister lives 10 minutes away and I’m always coming over with boxes of food.

What’s your ideal comfort food?

Green salad or avocado toast.

Is there anything you don’t eat?

I don’t really like offal – not a huge fan. I like boudin, for example, but don’t like chewy stuff, like tripe. Meat, bread and dairy are the three things that I don’t want to put too much of in my body.

Any cooking tips you’d like to share?

Always have a white vinegar in your kitchen – you can clean everything with it and it doesn’t contain any chemicals – I use it instead of bleach. And use bicarbonate of soda to clean your pots and pans if they’re all burnt. Even better, mix the two together.
Salt is very important in your kitchen, because it brings up flavours. Mint opens up a dish and is absolutely delicious in pasta with almond and lemon. Put bonito flakes on a green salad with mint and it becomes something really original.

On The Menu

Lunch with Alix Lacloche
Paris, October 2014

To eat:

Fresh coconut chunks
Flamed poppadoms with hummus
Mandarin and salted anchovy salad »

To drink:

Water

Do you find food in Paris is getting more interesting?

Food in Paris has always been interesting – it’s Paris, come on! But I feel since I came back from San Francisco five years ago, there are many more bistros, more young people who want to do something casual with good vegetables, not necessarily the three-Michelin-star thing. There are amazing restaurants that are €40-60 Euros per person – you didn’t have that before. I mean, you’ve always had bistros, but it was guys who were in the business 25 years – now it’s people my age, not even 30 and they open a restaurant, and then they open a second one, and it becomes a huge success. It’s a little bit more about passionate people with good reasons, I think.

For more on Alix, go to www.alixlacloche.com

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Posted 1st February 2015

In Interviews

 

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

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