Amandine Chaignot traded in her hat for an early apron during the first French confinement to support producers and feed Parisians in search of quality products. Its small farmers’ market, a breath of fresh air in times of crisis, has inspired others to follow suit. This is the third installment in a series about people who have found a new vocation during the pandemic.
Parisian chef Amandine Chaignot is never where you expect her to be. In fact, she was never supposed to work in the restaurant business. Born to scientific parents in 1979 in Orsay, south of Paris, the young Chaignot seemed ready for a brilliant scientific career. “I grew up in an engineering bubble between Polytechnique, INRA, CNRS and CentraleSupélec,” she explains, citing the best academic research institutes in France. “I was destined to take this path.”
But it wasn’t meant to be. After a year and a half in pharmacy school, she threw in the towel. It was by pure chance that she discovered the food business, during a part-time concert in a pizzeria. The energy, the movement, the adrenaline of a restaurant change – she loved it all.
She began training as a chef, then cut her teeth alongside the greatest chefs in the restaurants of the most luxurious hotels in Paris (Le Bristol, Le Meurice, Le Crillon, Le Plaza Athénée) and in London (the Ritz, Hotel Rosewood ).
Very quickly, she won competitions and prizes – such as the Bocuse d’Or and the Meilleure Ouvrière de France (MOF) – and began to make a name for herself. In October 2019, she opened her own restaurant, la Pouliche, a stone’s throw from the bustling rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement arrondissement (district) of Paris, offering modern gourmet cuisine.
A bridge between Parisians and fruit and vegetable producers
In a twist of fate, five months after the restaurant opened, France entered containment in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. The lockdown was a big blow to the small new team, but the energetic young entrepreneur refused to give in to desperation.
Holed up in her Parisian apartment and chatting with unemployed producers, she quickly realized that fresh produce was lacking in the streets of the French capital.
She then had an idea: to transform her restaurant into a farmers’ market and to embark on a new stage in her career.
“The producers I worked with for 10 years were desperate. I also saw that Parisians were eager to cook but struggled to find fresh, quality products. So I decided to bridge the gap between producers and consumers.
After a week of contacting producers and storing and displaying products, she was ready to welcome the first customers to her new grocery store. About twenty producers supply it with asparagus, strawberries, honey, citrus fruits, spices, bread and wine as soon as they are available.
“Customers were surprised at first. Then word of mouth spread very quickly, ”she said. Social media also helped publicize his new business.
Temporarily renamed “The filly market” (Marché de la Pouliche), its converted restaurant was appreciated as much for its charm as for the quality of its products. “Back then, there was disposable plastic everywhere and plexiglass in front of everyone; I wanted the place to be both pretty and cheerful, ”said Chaignot. To the sound of loud music, the young grocer offered artisanal cold cuts from Montalet and Kalios olive oils, as well as culinary advice. “People laughed when they saw me wrestling with the accounts,” recalls the chef. “There was a lovely carefree atmosphere despite the difficult situation. “
Grocery store, chef, YouTuber
Its farmers market quickly took off. Customers flocked from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “There were days when people queued up to rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis,” says Chaignot. After that, other restaurateurs, unemployed due to the lockdown and inspired by Chaignot’s idea, followed suit and launched their own local markets.
Chaignot could have stopped there, but it would not have been in his character. When she was not in her grocery store, she was at her stove, preparing 20 to 50 meals a day for hospital staff in collaboration with the NGO Solidaire, because the catering services at the start of the pandemic did not provide enough meals. to the many caregivers in hospitals.
And Chaignot still found the time, during his rare free time, to post some easy cooking tutorials on YouTube, to help inexperienced cooks during confinement.
Since the Covid-19 restrictions on restaurants were relaxed on May 19, Chaignot has reunited with his team and clients in his restaurant at 11 rue d’Enghien in Paris. Things are back to normal – or almost. This month, Chaignot is due to open a new café, Place du Théâtre de l’Atelier in the Montmartre district where she lives. The Café de Luce, named after his grandmother, will be a typical Parisian bistro where you can drink a coffee cream (café au lait) with a croissant at the bar and eat frog legs for lunch.
So more groceries? Chaignot does not exclude it. “I would like to continue with that. We just have to think of a viable model, ”she said with a mischievous smile.
This article has been translated from the original into French.