Project Update: A school lunch, a blogger panel, and a shift in my thesis

This week was really exciting for my project. My thesis changed directions a bit because I got a lot of new information about food in France. So I’ve got a project update and a photodump. It’s a long entry, so hang in there. Starting with my thesis, there were three big steps:

  1. Visit to the American School in Paris: On Friday I got up really early after going out a bit too late and schlepped across town on 3 buses to St. Cloud, a suburb right outside of Paris (to the west), where I had a meeting with a man named Patrick who is the chef at the school. I found the American School, which is a private k-12 school, online several weeks ago and emailed the principle to see if I could just ask a few questions and watch a lunch service. He put me in touch with the school director and she set me up with an appointment with Patrick. Little did I know that a 9-10 am meeting would turn into a 5-hour visit and a second visit scheduled for Friday March 9! Right off the bat they were so welcoming. I was given a full tour of the facilities including the upper school and lower school cafeterias, the fruit and dessert station, the “cold room” for sandwiches and salads, the main kitchen, storage rooms, and sanitation room. The whole place was immaculately clean, the produce was all organic, and this man Patrick told me everything I could have possibly wanted to know. I just stuck my recorder in my shirt (not sneakily- he knew!) and followed him around, hardly having to ask questions because he was so good at telling me everything about his job. He had worked as a chef for Disney, various military and NGO’s around the world, and in his own restaurant before coming to ASP last year. His mother was from Switzerland and father from a southwest region in France, which is where he had his own business. At 46 years old, he’s had 32 years of experience and is more passionate about the food for these kids than anyone I’ve ever met in any school cafeteria, ever. Each month he plans the meals, which vary from organic chicken breast with gnocchi and ratatouille to lemon veal sew with mashed potatoes and carrots. Wednesdays are the only day he will serve French fries, Friday’s are meatless for the lower school, and Thursday’s are fish days (which is almost always wild). While the style of cuisine is French, the service is American meaning the kids get to pick what they want so it doesn’t mean they always eat the fresh, balanced meals because they’re able to buy other foods like bagels, microwavable pasta, and chips, but Patrick treats them like his own children and often sends them back for produce if they attempt to buy just pizza and Oreos. There’s a big refrigerator for organic apples, oranges, and bananas along with sushi delivered from Sushi Shop three times per week. Patrick oversees deliveries from about 20 different delivery companies, also around 3 times per week in order to get the freshest foods. There aren’t leftovers or spoiled foods as he tweaks the amount of food he needs to cook to work with sports schedules, field trips, and school activities like bakesales. After the tour, where I met his team of 4 other men, I watched the first two lunch services, then had a break where I ate San Peter fish with butter beans and cauliflower, salad, fresh fruit including pineapple, mango, and passionfruit, and a chocolate covered quinoa cake for dessert. All organic. Even an hour into the service my beans had a nice bite to them and the fish held up on its own beautifully. The veggies were cooked in olive oil and the fruit, which I saw being sliced that morning, was perfectly ripe and sweet. Nothing canned. Nothing overcooked. There was also a thyme rack of lamb and wild rice but I do NOT eat baby animals (though I will admit I had foie gras sushi two nights…and it was incredible). While I ate, I sat with the faculty who shared their own food stories in Paris, directed me where to eat, and invited me to come back and visit the upper school cooking school. One of the teachers and I got into a really interested talk about Food Matters, the documentary, and Monsanto, and she’s giving me a book to read. They were all really excited that I was so excited about exploring the corruption in the food industry and obsession with fixing illness with pills instead of adequate nutrition. Afterwards I watched the second lunch service to see what the students were buying then finally left at 2:30. I had such a blast and am so excited to come back. It was incredible too to be in an American community within Paris that seemed to really excel at combining the best elements from both cultures.
  2. Food and social media. On Wednesday I went to a panel of people at my school with several food bloggers, including David Lebovitz whose blog The Sweet Life in Paris has been a really helpful guide for me while being here, and a girl working for Yelp Paris. I sat front and center and learned a ton about how they find food in Paris, how people connect over food here, how to find the best restaurants (ask the men at the fish markets), and how to maintain your integrity while reviewing on the internet. I also got to ask them a question about how they think the French diet is changing which was a big help in figuring out the new direction of my thesis. Now, instead of just spotlighting the French diet, why it works, why it doesn’t and what it means for the future, I’m bringing in the American influence. What was the French diet, what happened when America brought fast food and fast habits, and how we are redeeming the damage done with a new wave of consciousness including organic and local foods, and creating health food restaurants and juice bars. Thus, the Americanization of the French Diet.
  3. Christy Shields: I heard through a fellow about a faculty member who wrote an article on several French-American couples she studied. I was supposed to meet her today but because I moved yesterday and was out of sorts and she didn’t get back to me about where her office is until right before the meeting we have to rain check, but I think she will be an really helpful player in the project.

Other than that I’ve just been floating around, I’ve officially stayed in 8 places since I landed in Paris. The irony is that the whole reason I took that homestay is because I didn’t want to be floating around because I didn’t choose a place to stay fast enough. And look how that turned out.

Anyways. I stayed with Agathe, my friend (who was my French exchange student during the summer in between 6th and 7th grade) this past week which was a blast. It was kind of the first time I’ve lived with a girl where it went really well, our dynamic seemed to be really great. Below are a bunch of pics from some adventures like when Jocelyn and I went back to little India, some food creations, lots of flowers, one offensive magazine cover, and a few from the school events this week. Enjoy!

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