I recently met Charlotte Puckette through a mutual friend and we co-lead a food tour of the Place Aligre market. Charlotte is a chef and caterer and the author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook. Since I was also a chef and caterer in New York before I moved here, I thought it would be interesting to hear her story, and curious to see if it was similar to mine. Charlotte still has her charming southern drawl when she speaks English and I liked her warm, easygoing personality right away.
Charlotte was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Her first major adventure abroad was moving to Uganda in 1990 and setting up a computer system for the Ministry of Health. Uganda at the time was a very hard and dangerous place to live in and there wasn't much for Charlotte to do outside of her work. She couldn't find any suitable food to eat, so out of survival she started to buy raw ingredients and concoct different dishes. This sparked her interest in cooking and she moved to Paris in 1993 and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu cooking school where she learned classic French cooking. She started catering on her own in 1994 and prepared typical French dishes for her clients. Feeling a bit limited and curious at the same time lead her to start experimenting with different cuisines. It wasn't hard to convince her clients to include ethnic food on the menu and she said they were relieved that finally somebody was offering something different and refreshing other than the same old traditional French cuisine. She believes the key to her success is the homemade feel to her cooking, emphasizing texture and flavor rather than perfect looking but boring tasting food.
Charlotte came up with the idea for an ethnic cookbook a few years ago with a food writer friend Olivia Kiang- Snaije, when she realized there were no cookbooks in English that had any information about the rich, unexplored ethnic cuisine of Paris. She wanted to expose people to a whole other side of French cooking other than the half dozen or so dishes that most typical restaurants served and felt people were really missing out on an essential part of the food map of the city. More than a cookbook, her goal was to provide a guide book of the best ethnic restaurants in the city along with the top recipes from each one, market stores and stands, and neighborhoods.
Her favorite places to shop are Chinatown in the 13th arr, Marche Aligre, the Belleville market,and the West African, Guadeloupe and Martinique markets near Chateau Rouge in the 10th arr. Favorite specific shops include a Lebanese grocery shop in the 15th arr. Le Delice d'Orient , 52 Ave. Emile Zola, and a Japanese market Kioko, 46 rue des Petites Champs, 2nd arr.
I love asking this question on my interviews and thought it was a most appropriate one for Charlotte:
What are your three must have foods if you were on a desert island? Charlotte laughed and said Manchego cheese, chewy bread, and white or red Burgundy wine.
Charlotte's biggest cooking influences come from traveling all over the world and discovering different cuisines rather than specific chefs or cooking styles.
When asked what was her biggest triumph and the biggest disaster of her career, she immediately said the cookbook for the first part of the question and for the second, told me an all too familiar story that brought back painful memories of my own catering business.At a Christmas eve dinner for 40 a few years back, she watched in horror as her client dropped a whole poached salmon on the floor while carrying it to the table. Charlotte told her to leave the room immediately and frantically called two waiters to help her put back the pieces of the salmon back together a-la-Humpty Dumpty before her 20 seconds were up (there's a code in catering industry called the 20 second rule, where if you drop something on the floor and you pick it up in twenty seconds, it's still acceptable to serve).
Charlotte and I did have a lot in common regarding our food careers but I never wrote a cookbook. In fact, she is working on another cookbook idea, so hopefully we won't have to wait long for another gem.
I got along so well with Charlotte that we decided we to collaborate on food market tours followed by cooking lessons.The idea is that I will take people food shopping for ingredients in the morning at a local food market and afterwards Charlotte will assist clients in preparing a delicious lunch.
I will officially announce and offer the tours in early 2009.
To order The Ethnic Paris Cookbook in the U.S. click here
To order in France click here
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com