I hope you enjoyed reading this post and I hope it may inspire you to run, start working out, or living a healthier life!
How many years have you been in business in NYC?
It seems like only yesterday when I arrived in this country barely speaking any English but hoping to “make it.”
The next big thing after moving across the Atlantic was finding a job. It wasn’t easy. Then, one day, someone suggested posting an ad on Craigslist. My response was, “Who’s Craig?” Well, thanks to Craig, I booked my first French lesson in no time, and my tutoring business took off. That was exactly seven years ago. Since then, my company, Be Fluent in French, has grown to include clients from the movie industry, Wall Street, fashion, media, and children of all ages. Three years ago, I threw a crêpe party in Montauk for some of my friends. They absolutely loved it, and encouraged me to start my catering company, Crêpes à la Maison. Now I run two companies. I’m living the American dream, and loving every minute of it.
How did you get your start and what was your initial inspiration?
One of the great things about being French is that I appreciate good food. I grew up cooking with my grandmother, and she passed down some of the most delicious recipes you can imagine. So, how did I end up starting a crêpe company? I grew up making homemade crêpes every week. It’s probably the first recipe I learned after mastering French toast (pain perdu). They’re thin and a little crispy around the edges, and can be filled with almost everything. They’re the perfect comfort food that makes me think of home. I started rewarding my students with homemade crêpes, and sometimes we’d even whip up some together after a lesson. Whenever I’d throw crêpe parties for friends, the response was always overwhelmingly positive. New Yorkers love food as much as the French, so I wanted them to experience the same authentic French crêpes that I grew up eating. I feel like I’m sharing the best of my culture through language and food!
What do you feel differentiates you from others in your field?
I think what stands out is the care and attention that we put into everything we do. Crêpes aren’t fast food. I take pride in the fact that I hand pick each ingredient from the farmer’s market and only use locally sourced organic ingredients.
For example, the ratatouille filling in our savory galettes takes about four hours to make. It’s really labor intensive to slice, dice, and sauté all those veggies, but once you taste it you know it was all worth it. The reason I enjoy going the extra mile is because nothing beats seeing the satisfied faces of those who’ve tasted my crêpes. The other thing that makes us stand out is the authentic French experience we offer. Our French chefs make their creations in front of our guests and serve them piping hot.
What do you feel gives you longevity in this big city with so many options?
Authenticity and quality. New Yorkers are probably the toughest crowd to please, so I only offer them the best. Whether it’s our food, decorations, service, or attention to detail, I work hard to make sure my clients are satisfied. Nothing is too good for them.
How do you positively impact your clientele?
I’m a positive person, and I think I exude warmth. People feel comfortable with me and trust that they’re in good hands when they hire us. They know that we put so much effort and love into each of our parties that they don’t have to worry about a thing. All they have to do is relax, enjoy, and of course, eat!
What is your favorite part of your job?
That’s a hard one because there are so many aspects of my job that I love. I love shopping at the farmer’s market because it makes me feel like I’m back in France. I love making each filling, from the sweet poached pears to the savory ratatouille for our galettes. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people line up for their second and third crêpe. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love: to cook for people who appreciate good food.
What is your favorite secret NYC spot?
I’m a little scared that if I tell you it won’t be a secret anymore! But OK, I’ll share it with you. It’s the Albertine library, which has some of the most wonderful books in French and English (http://www.albertine.com/).
My idea of the perfect afternoon is spending hours there engrossed in a book. Then I like to stop at the Met and wrap up the day with an early diner at Cafe Boulud. That’s my idea of heaven.
How do you benefit mamas?
Let’s face it: being a mom is hard work. But being a New York mom is like being a super hero. There are endless play dates, classes, doctor’s appointments, you name it! The last thing moms need to worry about is the stress of throwing a party. That’s why we’ve come up with Kids, Crepes, and Crafts. We take care of everything, so moms don’t have to (http://www.crepesevents.com/kids/).
What is the most memorable feedback a client has given you?
I taught French to the five-year-old son of one of my favorite American actresses, and she wrote me a letter saying that he loved my lessons so much that he wanted to open a French restaurant when he grew up. For Crêpes à la Maison, it was a toss-up between, “I didn’t like crêpes until I tasted yours,” and when a kid told me, “I could eat these forever.”
What is the best advice anyone’s ever given you? Or what is your “mantra” / words to live by?
I love the quote, “Make your life a dream and the dream a reality” by Antoine de Saint Exupery. There’s nothing better than doing something you love. I moved to New York for love, but more importantly, I found myself.
As moms, the day can escape us, what is your best time-saving trick?
I’m not a mom yet, but I know by looking at all the moms I work with that organization is key. I know they have a hard time balancing work, pleasure, romance, and kids.
As an entrepreneur, it’s challenging to have a social life. I try to go to bed early and wake up with the sun. It’s unbelievable how much you can do when you feel rested.
The first thing that caught my eye when I came to New York was that food temptation is everywhere. Seriously! Most restaurants are open all day which is totally unthinkable in France. In New York there are food vendors on every corner, new, “hot spot” restaurants to try, and of course the delicious classics that have been around for ages.
I often compare New York to Disneyland for adults where everything you want is so easily accessible. You can stay home and have everything delivered directly to you.
So as a new bee in the big apple, I obviously fell into the delicious food trap. I started snacking all of the time because I was felt hungry simply by looking at and smelling food. As a result, I gained 15 pounds and produced very bad eating habits.
Sure in France, I used to have the typical three meals a day but in New York, I was not having breakfast. I ate lunch then would have snack after snack after snack. By dinner time, because I never felt fully satisfied, I would have a big diner coupled with a 400+ calorie cocktail. After eating all day, I would then feel guilty.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Eating and then feeling guilty immediately after? To try to shed some pounds, I started exercising a lot. I thought I could eat as much as I wanted to as long as I went to the gym. Of course, I was totally wrong.
Back in France I would not eat out very often. Going out to restaurants was reserved for special occasions. We usually met for an Apéro and then go home for dinner or we would host dinners in our home. In France, most of us grew up with the concept that snacking is really unhealthy. I can’t even count how many times I heard “Don’t snack Jen!” It’s also important to add that the measurement systems in France compared to America is different. In school, I was considered “overweight” for France’s standards even though I would be considered “healthy” in America. This was a difference of about ten pounds. No kidding! The French system is harsh! Do you know that Nicolas Sarkozy, although pro-business tried to ban food advertisements from public television during prime time shows? I can’t imagine that happening in New York. I still remember the uproar when former Mayor Bloomberg wanted to ban extra-large drink sizes.
For the past 7 years in New York, I struggled with my weight – and totally got trapped into yo-yo dieting! I basically deprived myself of food to lose weight but then I’d gain double the weight a month later. Once again, a feeling I hated!
Normally, I wear clothes that range in size from 6 to 8. However, earlier this year, I had put on so much weight after the holidays that while I was trying on clothes, I could not fit into any of my clothes. I burst into tears. I love food so much food that it made me sad thinking that I could hate something I loved and enjoyed so much. I hate feeling bad after eating. Eating should be about appreciating every bite and not thinking about my workout tomorrow because I’m having a plate of pasta.
From these experiences, I have learned a valuable lesson. It does not matter how much you work out– you won’t lose weight unless you pair it with a good, healthy diet. I have experience this first hand. New York is full of places where everyone can go, spend $30 for a good sweat, produce a lot of endorphins but it does not make you lose weight at all.
A good example of this is when I started exercising a lot in 2016 and gained about 12 pounds in one year (and I’m not just talking about muscle). I was always feeling hungry after a workout and would eat much more than I would normally eat.
That being said, deep down I knew that I was gaining weight because I had fallen into this vicious cycle of over-eating and then exercising to compensate for it.
Don’t get me wrong! I love exercising but for now I’m exercising for the right reasons. In January, I signed up to run the New York City Marathon.
I’m very excited and the training has just started. I’m also much better at balancing my diet. I don’t deprive myself and try to eat healthy. I also cook a lot at home. I’m obviously very busy during the week, trying to manage 2 business and my personal life and training for a marathon on top of all of that, so I put in a new ritual in place which has worked pretty well so far.
On Sundays I cook 3 to 4 dishes for the week. Nothing too fancy.. I love to grill a lot of vegetables so I can make quinoa bowls. Sometimes I make quiches or gratins. I use a lot of recipes from the Gjelina Cookbook. Recipes here are quite simple and tasty.
What I love the most about this ritual is that I don’t feel rushed and I actually enjoy spending a few hours in the kitchen with Javier by my side. We’re talking, catching up and we even make plans. I read, in a magazine, how rituals are important in a relationship and I could not agree more. We are both very busy during the week so having this quality time together is very important.
If you feel like cooking on Sunday, here is the quiche recipe that I love to make. I twist a bit the recipe and add Nutmeg and creme fraiche!
[button link=”https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/29-how-to-make-quiche” type=”primary” newtab=”on”]How to Make Quiche[/button]
I often miss my family and friends who live in France; however, rarely do I ever miss the food because I’m fortunate enough to live in NYC where there are so many French restaurants right at my fingertips.
If I happen to miss a particular dish, to satiate my craving, I usually cook it and if I don’t know how– I learn how to cook it! Take this past weekend for example. I went to visit a very good friend in Colorado and I learned how to cook Lapin a la Moutarde watching a YouTube video. You may be asking yourself “What? YouTube?” I say, why not?! I’m a visual learner, as many of us are! I do know that being French neither means I was born a cook nor does it mean that I’m slim and trim (I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat and trust me, I can get fat because there is temptation everywhere! I digress, so we will discuss that topic in a future blog post). What I’m trying to say is don’t be afraid to attempt cooking a French meal or dish. I truly believe homemade food is truly the best.
In France, we rarely go out; therefore, restaurants are reserved for special celebrations. Many of my students have asked me for French restaurant recommendations so I will share my favorites with you. I love all of these restaurants for different reasons all of which they cook French food well. I am excited to hear about how you enjoy these as well as any others you may recommend. Honestly, between us, the best advice I could give to anyone looking to eat French… is to learn how to cook it. The best food in France is usually found in small bistros with the reputation of home cooking. So why going out when you can simply make it at home? If, on occasions, you feel lazy or not inclined to cook (like I do sometimes), here’s a list of my must try French restaurants:
AMELIE: The wine selection by the glass is truly amazing. I highly recommend this place for anyone looking to practice their French. The staff is entirely French. Great for happy hour and delicious cheese plates.
COCOTTE: This is a little gem hidden in Soho where you can have a conversation without shouting at each other. The food is delicious and the staff is very warm and friendly. The perfect spot to relax after a day of shopping in Soho
PARDON MY FRENCH: Stop in for brunch and you will inevitably be transported to a cafe in Paris. I LOVE the outdoor garden not to mention, the waiters here are also French. One reminder: it’s cash only. There’s an ATM across the street. Did I mention the bottomless brunch?
VIN ET FLEURS: What a great spot! The décor makes you feel like you are in France. The owner is very friendly and loves when you speak to him in French. Definitely one of NYC’s best kept secrets. They have the most amazing fresh baked mini baguettes.
LE BARRATIN: I discovered this place very recently and immediately felt in love with the ambiance and atmosphere. The coq au vin is divine!! The Prix Fixe menu between 5:00-7:30 delivers a real taste of France, at a very reasonable price, particularly for NYC.
CAFÉ BOULUD: La crême de la crême ! Exquisite food, and impeccable service. It has one Michelin star (it deserves 3) and is worth every penny you will spend. I’m always looking forward to eating there. The mini madeleines are the best I’ve ever had
CAFÉ TRISKELL: One of my favorite place in Astoria. Best croque madame I’ve ever had outside of France. The crêpes are thin and crispy like the ones I’ve had in France too. The chef is from Brittany. The French onion soup is a must get especially during the winter season. Cash only!
PATES ET TRADITION: I love love this place in Williamsburg. The outside seating is great when the weather is warm and sunny. There are a few French places in Williamsburg but none as good as this one, Try the galettes with goat cheese, they’re amazing. Cash only!
I’m Jen, the owner of Crêpes à la Maison and Be Fluent in French (website coming soon).
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up and spent most of my life in France, and during a visit to New York City eight years ago I met Javier during my first WEEK here (true story)! Javier and I decided a year after having a long distance relationship that it wasn’t for us. So I packed my bags and joined him in New York. So I packed my bags and joined him in New York. It was the best decision I ever made because although we are not together anymore, I became an entrepreneur and live the life of my dreams.
The next big thing after my move across the Atlantic was to find a job. One day, someone mentioned posting an ad on Craigslist. My response was “Who’s Craig?” Well, thanks to Craig, whoever he is, I started offering private French lessons.
Pretty soon I signed my first student, who worked in fashion, where everyone wants to speak French. Within no time, my teaching schedule started to book up so quickly–and the rest is history. My clients work for companies like the New York Times, Helmut Lang, and JP Morgan. One day, one of my favorite Hollywood actresses’s assistant called to see if I would start working for her! It was beyond my wildest dreams. So, how did I end up starting a crepe company? I grew up making homemade crepes every week. It’s probably the first recipe I learned after mastering French toast (pain perdu).
The idea for Crêpes à la Maison came about during a weekend away in Montauk with friends. While there, I decided to host my first impromptu crepe party, along with a do-it-yourself crepe bar. All of my friends feasted on a range of sweet and savory crepes that sunny summer afternoon. ALL of them suggested that I start a catering business. “Why not?” I thought to myself. “Wouldn’t it be great to replicate that amazing feeling we had in Montauk over and over again?” And that’s how Crêpes à la Maison was born. I always had an entrepreneur spirit burning inside of me, but It wasn’t until I landed in New York that I totally embraced it. I’m not gonna lie: starting your own company requires tons of hard work and perseverance. There were days when I just wanted to open a book, kick up my feet with a glass of wine, and not think about Crêpes à la Maison or Be Fluent in French. Well, I’m so glad I didn’t give up! Looking back, there’s one lesson that kept recurring for me. It’s follow your dreams and intuition because no matter how difficult the road gets, the journey makes the destination so much more rewarding!
Hope you’ll enjoy reading my posts!