A Life’s Many Acts Culminate in the Kitchen at NA/NA in Paris

As both the aesthetic and flavors in this dish illustrate, Ms. Nicolas-Ianniello’s cooking is influenced by time spent in Japan, much of it during her former career as a journalist covering ecological issues.

Ecological journalism gave Ms. Nicolas-Ianniello a deeper understanding of the links among food production, sustainability and the environment. Eventually, her interest in those ties grew so overwhelming that she knew it had to become the heart of her work. And it led her, in 2004, to open a cooking school called Esprit Cuisine that focused on organic ingredients.

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The flavors in this chocolate ganache with black sesame and miso flit from salty to bitter to sweet.

Credit
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

She also began writing cookbooks, including one written with Apollonia Poilâne of Poilâne bakery, in part about using leftover stale bread to address the very pressing question of food waste.

Although opening NA/NA in her 50s without any restaurant experience was, in a way, terrifying, Ms. Nicolas-Ianniello and her partner Charlotte Demonceau were ready for the challenge.

“At first I thought I didn’t want a restaurant, that I was too old,” Ms. Nicolas-Ianniello said. “But then I thought if we make it a little rock ’n’ roll, and do things our way with intelligence and kindness, we could have something to be proud of.”

Doing things her way means changing the menu twice a day, every day, to be best able to react to the unpredictability of finding seasonal, fair-trade and sustainable ingredients. If the line-caught white tuna from the Basque Country (served perhaps with local haricots vert and a citrus purée), wasn’t available two hours before dinner service, off the menu it went — with or without a replacement.

The formula worked. Within weeks of opening, the 32-seat venue secured its place among a coterie of new, critically acclaimed all-day Paris restaurants — the kind that transition from the homemade granola on sheep milk yogurt for breakfast to beet velouté with yuzu for lunch, to lamb brains with mint, followed by bee pollen merginue, for dinner.

The speed of NA/NA’s success may have seemed surprising. But, for Ms. Nicolas-Ianniello, it was a natural progression in a rich, full life.

“I don’t think I would have been able to do what I did so quickly,” she said, “if I hadn’t done what I’d done…

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