It was lunchtime in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, and I was ravenous looking for a place to eat away from the usual tourist traps. I turned down a quiet street and saw the most unassuming bistro. In fact, I wouldn’t usually have considered going in but I decided to take a chance. As soon as I opened the door, I was enveloped by the intimate setting, no more than about 15 tables, many of them adorned with vases of pink hydrangeas that suggested to me that a woman might own the establishment.
I was seated by an engaging woman of a certain age who was in fact the restaurant’s owner and manager. This was more fortuitous that you might think because I was actually looking for a female chef and restaurateur to interview knowing that while there are more women chefs in Paris, men still drastically outnumber women in this industry.
Fédérique, or Fred as her patrons call her, brought over the day’s menu on a chalkboard. She changes it every day, offering a variety of tantalizing courses. Vegetables are Fred’s passion as was evident with her starters, salade des legumes, a medley of green beans, arugula and asparagus with a creamy vinaigrette. For my main course, I sunk my teeth into a succulent travers de porc poêlée sautés, slightly sweet short ribs accompanied by more buttery small white potatoes than I could ever eat.
Over coffee, and as the lunch crowd receded, Fred sat down to chat. This does not happen in the larger restaurants. Fred explained that she reinvented herself as a chef about a decade ago. Before that she worked in the film and television industry. In fact, both her parents had been actors. As the conversation continued, I made a surprizing discovery.
When I was 23 and first came to France to teach English, I went to the movies a lot to help improve my French. The most powerful film I saw was called “Le Vieux Fusil” (The Old Gun).
It takes place in Paris near the end of the Second World War when the Germans are in retreat and have nothing to lose. As the story unfolds, a doctor concerned about the welfare and safety of his beautiful wife (Romi Schneider) and their young daughter sends them away to safety in the country, which sadly has the most tragic results.
It was first time I saw Philippe Noiret act in a film and I was smitten. On a par with the “everyman” actors like Jimmy Stewart, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson or Tom Hanks, Noiret made more than 140 films soaring to international fame playing the film projectionist in the Italian drama “Cinema Paradiso” which won Best Foreign Film at the Academy awards in 1988.
One Noiret film that I had not yet seen, however, is “Coup de Torchon” – which just so happens to be the name of restaurant that I stumbled upon and is owned by the French woman who was now handing me my bill.
Fred, I discovered, is Philippe Noiret’s daughter. There are 66 million people in France, and by chance, I turned a corner down a quiet street and walked into a tiny restaurant owned by the only daughter of one of the most famous actors in all of France! MY favorite actor!
Fédérique named her fine restaurant after one of her father’s films. And the meaning of “Coup de Torchon? It translates as “Clean Slate” which mirrors Fred’s decision to start over her life in a whole new business, a clean slate for her and a memento of her beloved father.
Diana Bishop has reported world events as a professional journalist with some of the most respected broadcast networks on the planet. She now writes about being a woman of a certain age and her passion for Paris, where delving into the changing perceptions of ageism, feminism, and femininity is as natural as breathing: www.womanofacertainageinparis.com