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In Paris, You Might Want to Miss Lunch

Jun. 9, 2015
Emily Monaco

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Passing by the Première Pression Provence (PPP) out­post near the Marché d’Aligre, one could assume that the shop, which is one in a small chain of Provençal olive oil shops owned and man­aged by l’Occitane founder and olive oil enthu­si­ast Olivier Baussan, is like any other. But inside, a world of fla­vors and savors unveils itself — a world where the plate becomes a can­vas for Miss Lunch, a Paris Beaux-Arts grad­u­ate and the queen of the mid­day meal in Paris.

Belgium-born and Canadian-raised long­time Paris res­i­dent Claudia Cabri is bet­ter known as Miss Lunch to reg­u­lars of her small restau­rant, where a first-time vis­i­tor may be sur­prised by the hand­ful of tables and open kitchen, or lack thereof. The kitchen is com­prised of sev­eral microwave ovens, a Kitchen Aid mixer and a rice cooker – Cabri has fully con­verted what was once a sim­ple olive oil shop into a lunchtime extrav­a­ganza of her own imag­in­ing.

It all began, accord­ing to Cabri, in 2012, after she was short-listed for a Villa Medici culi­nary arts prize for the third time in a row. Baussan was famil­iar with Miss Lunch from her guided tours of her neigh­bor­hood mar­ket, which included olive oil tast­ings in his shop. He just hap­pened to hear about this,” Cabri recalled, and he said to me, well, would you like me to be your patron of the arts for a year? It could be the Villa Medici of Paris at PPP.”

From the very begin­ning, Cabri knew that her restau­rant would be unlike any other. The shop’s lack of offi­cial restau­rant sta­tus EJW [ EMD-y*>}D^!x meant that her kitchen cor­ner had no access to gas or a stove­top; she would have to get cre­ative, using elec­tric appli­ances and microwaves to cre­ate her edi­ble works of art, which took their inspi­ra­tion from all sorts of inter­na­tional cuisines.

It was tough in the begin­ning,” said Cabri, because peo­ple didn’t know that this was a place where you could also eat.”

Herring with Blood Oranges and Orange Olive Oil (Sandra Beauchard)

So she cre­ated adver­tise­ments by putting her art train­ing to good use, and tak­ing advan­tage of her fan fol­low­ing from her long-stand­ing Lunch in the Loft pop-up lunches, which she had been host­ing in her loft apart­ment just up the block from her new address. Soon, the restau­rant was a suc­cess, and Baussan offered her the oppor­tu­nity to con­tinue the project. Three years later, Miss Lunch is still thriv­ing.

Given her loca­tion, it’s no sur­prise that Miss Lunch relies quite a bit on the PPP prod­ucts sold by Baussan. On the day of our inter­view, she was using sev­eral dif­fer­ent oils in her weekly menu, which is entirely mar­ket guided and made up of two appe­tiz­ers, two mains and two desserts, from which lunch­ers can choose.

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Today, I’m using the won­der­ful man­darin fla­vored olive oil,” she said. So the olives are pressed with the man­darines. And that’s going to be served on a maat­jes her­ring. A very fresh vir­gin, fatty, yummy her­ring with PPP black olives.”

She also occa­sion­ally uses the olive oils to make sweet dishes, like olive oil sher­bet or polenta olive oil cake. But no mat­ter the recipe, the most impor­tant ingre­di­ent in Miss Lunch’s meals is her own excite­ment.

I just tasted a new cheese!” she said glee­fully. And it’s called the Rondin. Like a rondin of wood, so it looks like a log. It’s too funny.”

Today, PPP works with no fewer than 35 pro­duc­ers to cre­ate their olive oil line, and Cabri as a few favorites among them.

Quinoa Galettes with Greens and Cheese (Sandra Beauchard)

Well, I love the nat­u­rally fla­vored ones, the man­darine and the lemon are quite spe­cial, and there is an early har­vest, green olive oil that they make, a man and his son next to Arles, and it’s usu­ally very, very pep­pery and very ardent. And very green.”

While Cabri is now an olive oil expert, that wasn’t always the case. She made sure to learn a lot about them dur­ing her tast­ings, which she still offers today, tai­lored to each indi­vid­ual palate. You want them to love the prod­ucts, because I love them, so you have to think about some­thing that will seduce them,” she said. So if they can’t under­stand, you know, a green, a mid-ripe and a black, ripened olive oil, then that’s OK, we’ll just do some­thing eas­ier.”

You just slowly learn about them,” she said of olive oil pro­duc­ers in France, I have only met a few, but I feel as though I know them all. Because it’s just such a human expe­ri­ence to taste olive oil and to sit­u­ate them on the map and think about where they live.”

Yogurt Pots with Pomegranate (Sandra Beauchard)

From a small begin­ning, Cabri’s inge­nu­ity has cre­ated a ver­i­ta­ble lunch empire. Not only does she sell PPP prod­ucts like olive oils and olives, but she has started her own line of Miss Lunch prod­ucts, like the Pantelleria capers she har­vests on her favorite Italian island every year as well as the dried peper­on­cino from the same island. She also made 50 Miss Lunch caper flower soaps by hand this year, an adven­ture she’s not keen to revisit any time soon.

I’ll never make them again, because it’s really very much like babysit­ting, and since I’ve always detested babysit­ting it’s really not my thing,” she said. You have to be really patient and you lit­er­ally cover the soap at night with a blan­ket and take the tem­per­a­ture. Forget about it. But any­way, so I have delight­ful soaps. I think maybe I’ll find some­one who can make them for me.”

Perhaps the most excit­ing new ven­ture for Miss Lunch fans is her No Brunch, a new con­cept she came up with that she hosts one sur­prise Sunday a month at 12:30.

You’ve got a huge choice of all these dishes,” she says. Tons of lit­tle dishes. And every­thing is 6 euros. So as soon as they’re ready, we serve them. And it’s like pop pop pop, and every­body has to share tables. And you can’t reserve. And it’s really con­vivial, and every­one loves it, and even me and Marion my assis­tant, we have a really great time. Cause it’s just so dif­fer­ent. And it’s fun!”

One thing is for sure: whether it’s with her lunches, her prod­ucts, her No-Brunch or her olive oil tast­ings, Miss Lunch’s bub­bly enthu­si­asm is con­ta­gious – and that’s one of the prin­ci­pal keys to her suc­cess.



Restaurant Miss Lunch
3, rue Antoine Vollon
Paris (75012)
lunchintheloft.com
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