I met Stephanie Fray, who lives in Paris part time a few months ago through one of my tour clients. Stephanie has an international public relations and marketing company, Conundrum Marketing.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Brooklyn. My family moved to northern Westchester when I was seven. I lived there until I left for university.
What made you decide to keep a home in Paris?
For me, France felt like home from the very time I visited in 1990. Since that time, I thought about ways to create a life there. When I started Conundrum, a public relations, marketing and events firm in 2002, I looked at the venture as not only the perfect platform to do what I love on my terms, but also potentially a means to work from, for and in locations I love as well. I knew that we would be able to work with clients that we are passionate about in a variety of categories – in food and beverage, hospitality, luxury brands, and fashion and beauty. More importantly, we would be able to develop a global niche, helping international clients market to the American and English-speaking audiences. I started dividing my time between the US and France almost 10 years ago to service our Europe based clients.
You have many clients in the restaurant industry and you work with some of the top chefs in France and the U.S. How do your marketing and PR campaigns differ between France and the U.S.?
Conundrum’s marketing and PR campaigns differ by client not just by location. How we approach a campaign for Daniel Rose at SPRING is very different than how we approach a campaign for Bruno Verjus at Table. Both are Paris-based but have unique sensibilities and talents, individual perspectives and desires to communicate different aspects of their businesses.
Similarly, in New York, how we communicate about Beijing-based burger chain Uncle Sam’s giving a unique spin to American classics is very different than how we communicate about seafood expert and classically trained Chef Edward McFarland serving up the best lobster rolls in the city at Ed’s Lobster Bar.
I will say that in France, we need to think very strategically about two very distinct audiences with our campaigns – the local, French audience and the tourist audience. Many of our French clients rely entirely on tourism or in large part on tourism. We do think of tourists in the U.S. but most of our American clients rely much more heavily on regular clientele and local customers than travelers.
What are some of the current food trends in New York and Paris and are there any parallels you see?
In New York, it sometimes seems that it is all about trends, buzz and the next best thing. If you follow the food media, you’d think that there was nothing to eat in New York right now other than David Chang’s Fuku chicken sandwich. A few weeks ago, it was ramen, barbecue, tex-mex and burgers.
We definitely see trends in Paris. We had our burger trend, our Asian-fusion trend, our cupcake trend, and our small plate trend. I am happy to say that Parisians never seem to opt for trends over tradition meaning the trends never seems to become so popular that talented chefs and well-respected restaurants who don’t hop on the trend bandwagon are lost in the shuffle.
What are some of the new and upcoming chefs and restaurants in Paris?
I was having this very same conversation with David Mallet (my go to hair stylist in the City of Lights and fellow food enthusiast) just last week. I am a creature of habit so I tend to be more excited about my perhaps more under the radar favorites including Le Cornichon, Comptoir du Medoc, and Table a Cote. If I have to mention new, I just had a lovely lunch at Grand Coeur and I am excited to try Guy Savoy’s new location. I would also be remiss not to mention Daniel Rose’s upcoming La Bourse et La Vie on rue Vivienne opening soon. Recipe testing is underway now and I think that customers are going to be very excited by the new venture.
You produce a big weekend event every year in New York where people can meet and cook with some of the top chefs. Can you tell us more about that and how it started?
New York Culinary Experience started eight years ago as a collaboration between New York magazine and The French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). The event is held annually in NYC. The New York Culinary Experience is the only culinary event of its kind that gives passionate food lovers and aspiring cooks the chance to enjoy an intimate weekend of hands-on master cooking classes and conversation with more than 30 of the most prominent chefs in the world. Past participants have included David Bouley, Alain Ducasse, Shaun Hergatt, Daniel Humm, David Lebovitz, Paul Liebrandt, Flora Mikula, Daniel Rose, Bruno Verjus and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A portion of the proceeds from the event supports The Future Chefs Scholarship, a program at ICC established to provide scholarships for students who wish to pursue their dream of attending culinary school. Additional information can be found at nyce.nymag.com.
What arrondissement do you live in and what do you like best about it?
I currently keep a home in the 11e. For me, I love that the neighborhood is extremely residential, I am smack in the middle of two fantastic food markets (Marche Bastille and Marche Aligre), and a stone’s throw from incredible restaurants – I count Table, Auberge Flora and Clamato as my cantines.
What do you prefer about Paris?
I love the simplicity of life in Paris. I enjoy being able to leisurely walk down streets without being mowed down by a passersby. I relish lingering at cafes and restaurants without feeling like I’m getting pushed out to turn a table. I feel spoiled by the attention to detail and beauty that artisans put into every line of work whether it is the manicurist not allowing me to leave until my nails are perfect, a salesperson wrapping a $10 package as though it is the most important give I will ever present, the dry cleaner carefully packaging clean clothes so that do not crease or soil them during transport, or an art framer happily hand-painting a wood frame so that it perfectly matches a color of a photo. Most of all, I love the sense of community and the fact that we engage with one another in every facet of life – at the bank, the butcher, the coffee shop, or even at the newsstand where you have never purchased a paper.
Photo of Stephanie courtesy of Larry Busacca
Come experience Eye Prefer Paris live with Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I personally lead. Eye Prefer Paris Tours include many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes, food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks and gardens and much more. In addition to my specialty Marais Tour, I also lead tours of Montmartre, St. Germain, Latin Quarter, in addition to Shopping Tours, Gay Tours, Girlfriend Tours, Food Tours, Flea Market Tours, Paris Highlights Tours, and Chocolate & Pastry tours.
Tours start at 225 euros for up to 3 people, and 75 euros for each additional person. 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
Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 195 euros per person (about $210)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.