The Blue Arrow

"What is next?"
Susan is planted in front of me on the opening night of Maison May in May 2016.
Her question feels to me completely inadequate: the effort & the risks taken to push the doors open have been quite significant. I am exhausted & the hardest part is ahead of me.
Susan obviously has no idea what it takes to open & run a business.
It is like asking a woman who is holding her newborn when she is planning on having another one: Give us a minute here, we are not even sure yet if we can keep the thing alive...
Yet she had, if nothing else, envisioned that my second location was not wrapping up a story but starting one.


It took me 18 months to get over first the sort of postpartum depression that came with that opening & then to catch my breath.
And then one day all the Susans in my head came back, whispering:
"Soooo…. What is next for you now Catherine?".
For the past 6 months, the contemplation of that question has left me a bit disoriented. I have been in a fresh creative process more than once by now, running my own businesses for a while, each year bringing new understanding of things as age & experience lift me up. But recently, it  began to feel like the modus operandi I had been relying on was not working anymore. 
Up until  this time, I had trained myself to watch, wait for the right time & leap into action, often at an incredible speed.
I was coming to the realization that my life had resembled more a succession of blitzkriegs than a stroll in the park...

 

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A memory kept coming back to me. In the past few weeks, it has become  an allegory for my process. 
The scene took place many years ago at the playground of PS11 in Clinton Hill. 
It was a warm spring afternoon & I was walking down Waverly Avenue.
Two  girls were spinning a large rope.
Two groups formed, one standing behind each "spinner".
All were very quiet.
It struck me because in that ocean of screams that an Elementary school recess can produce, this group had created a quiet oasis of intense focus.
I was not sure what they were waiting for as they would spin, spin, and  yet... nothing would happen.
And then, I saw her.
I had not noticed her before, but the minute I spotted her, she was all I could see, and I wondered how I could have not even have noticed her right away.
The Girl was around 10 years old. Her school uniform was impeccable & her high white socks were pulled up above her knees. Braids were wrapped around her head, like a crown.
Her expression was ethereal.
The rhythm of her body is what struck me at first: the rope was brushing the asphalt in cadence with the sway of her torso.
After a few seconds that seemed to stretch for hours, I could feel that her gaze was not on the rope as I originally had thought, but was aimed way past it.
Watching the whole scene was meditative: the ones who were spinning the rope had their cadence totally figured out, tracing perfect ellipses.
The Girl kept swaying.
Gradually, it got more intense, her body arching in a deeper curve.
And then she threw herself in...
Her whole body had leaped: not just her feet -  no, she had propelled her entire self in a perfect way. Her face had not even flinched.
She was tensed with control & focus.
She had flown in the ellipse, landing smoothly to then jump at a frantic pace.
Nobody in the surrounding crowd had blinked, and for a few dozen seconds, all of them formed a perfect ensemble .
It felt like they were all dancing together, oscillating in cadence.
The tableau was striking- a dozen hearts probably beating at the same pace; the rope, the asphalt, the girls all merged into one perfect ribbon of swirling energy.

 

For the past decade, I have often felt like the Girl with the crown of braids; I built a core & learnt to jump into the action relentlessly, building an instinctual understanding of when to jump in & out, using strength, both mental & physical, often at an incredible pace.
I learned to trust myself in my ability to work, live, love & jump in it all....
And yet, for the past 6 months, I have been watching a few ellipses swirl around me, each one a possibility for my next move. And I could not bring myself to jump in.
Not out of fear, or lack of inspiration or ideas: all of these feelings, I visited, inhabited & clearly rejected as valid excuses for what I thought was my inaction.

 

And then the shift came this past week. Almost like a dream or a vision.
Through a process that I will spare you that involved many things but mostly my past 10 years of therapy, I reconnected with a very young version of me.
And I started remembering & picturing the 6-year-old me.
The untamed.
The one who would ride her red bike so fast on the little road by the river behind her house that she would often fall in the ditch.
The one who would love to roll down grassy hills, laughing so hard that she would get the hiccups & then laugh even harder, dizzy by the spin & the thrust of her body with each spasm.
The one at the top of the snowy mountain who would ski downhill so fast, all bundled in her blue  suit, that she was nicknamed, for a time one winter, La Flêche Bleue (The Blue Arrow).
The one who would spend hours crawling in the bushes, looking for her turtle, Sophie, who always seemed to run away so fast...
 

 Catherine, age 6. 

Catherine, age 6. 

She was fearless, yes, but above all, playful.
Play-full.
And that girl, I had forgotten about her….
But she had not gone anywhere
She was still standing in a corner of my soul.
Waiting.
Hoping we could play again.
 

She is what some call my inner child.
The I I was in essence before social, familial, religious constructs & conditionings put a lid on the better part of me.
My feeling of ambivalence on what to do next was not rooted in the actual concretization of any of my ideas, but on how to actually bring them to life.
 

I was done jumping.

 

It was not working for me anymore.
That was not the way I wanted to go about things any longer.
The intense focus, the exertion of physical & mental strength to jump into a situation & then jump, and jump until exhaustion...

 

I am done jumping.

 

Let me roll in the grass instead.
Let me feel the wind tickle my cheeks as I go downhill, mouth open to catch some snowflakes.
Let me run after my turtle.
Let me enjoy the ride.
Wherever it will take me.
As I can trust now, as I have jumped through many ellipses, that I can find my way softly to grow my business, laughing & playing more all the way.

 

Happy Spring.

 

 

Catherine.

 

Fall Survival Kit - Return to Basics

I am not going to lie: Fall is the hardest stretch for me, always.


The boys, work, the transition into cold weather, although I love the Indian Summer in NY, I always find myself breathless, not to say most of the time spinning. And this year is no exception with the intense violence spread in the news everyday (national & international), and the transition from running 2 restaurants instead of 1...


Yet, this time around, I’ve never felt more energized. Probably because more than ever, I grounded myself & went back to the essential. Here are my basics, and how I draw energy, whether it be in work, a run at the park or a glass of red wine..

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2 Croissants & 1 Baguette, s’il vous plait!

The year I turned 13, my godmother Françoise, then 22, married a lovely young baker named Thierry. She and I had always been close—she was my cousin, and her becoming my godmother at just nine years old forged a special bond between us. Thierry was a totally dedicated artisan, as well as an entrepreneur at heart, in a very unpretentious way. Eager to unleash his creativity right away, he decided right after their wedding to settle somewhere so they could run their own bakery. They found the perfect spot in a sweet little village called La Louvesc, perched on top of a beautiful little mountain in the heart of the gorgeous and lush Ardèche.

In the winter, all but about 200 people left the village, and not a lot of people would venture up the treacherous, icy road to the village. But when the beautiful days of spring returned, the town would morph back into a busy hive—the 15 hotels lining the main street would re-open, summer camps would get ready to welcome their flocks, and the summer houses would get dusted off and opened up. Overnight, the population would surge into the thousands for the next few months.

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Blueberries & Sardines

Food is a powerful vessel to connect with the people around us, but also to connect with our actual physical surroundings. The sun, the air and the soil feed the food that we eat—which is why when we eat food produced locally, it gives us a sense of belonging and place. The simple act of eating links us directly back to the earth we are standing on. This is a primal fact that is all too often forgotten in our modern, hyper-processed civilization. We usually don’t know where our food comes from these days, so there is no longer a strong connection with that intimate and visceral understanding. This, by extension, makes it easier for us to forget about caring for that which is feeding us: the planet.

I didn’t know it at the time, but now that I’m an adult, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to grow up in an environment that fostered this understanding. Here is a story that encompasses it all for me.

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On Building Community

New York is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, but also a social jungle where it is so easy for an individual to get lost. Every morning, just while strolling half-a-block to the subway, I pass more people than I would while sitting on a bench for an entire week in the small town of my native Provence. Yet it is rare that I ever talk to most of these people.

We are all busy with our own lives, and we live in a day and age where social interactions are often coded in “likes” and “hearts,” making human connections even more difficult to foster. We are more connected than ever before, yet essentially we are alone together. I have been thinking a lot lately about how one can create and maintain a healthy village in the heart of this social jungle. As the first step in building my own village, for the past few months I have been hosting community dinners at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb ).

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Leading a Kitchen: Standing at the Pass... Spring Menu (R)Evolution

About three months ago, we decided to do some exploration to streamline the menu at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb ), and redefine a few of its parameters. On the evening of the launch of the new menu, I sat down with a dear friend to eat my way through it, and make whatever adjustments might be necessary. By the end of the meal, however, I was overcome with the most intense feelings I’d had in the 11 years of owning my own restaurant—the food was beautiful. Flawless. It felt entirely mine, and I could stand behind it, 100%. It looked like me, and the menu tasted exactly like what I wanted Maison May Dekalb to be. 

I say this despite having not once set foot in the kitchen to peel a potato. I’ve never come up with a composed dish—the truth is, I still mix up the sautee pan with the frying pan. 

Yet, I can still claim every menu at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb, ) just as much as the chefs de cuisine. It is a team effort, a gentle collaboration, and the menu becomes a fantastic way to express my vision and creativity. 

Let me explain.

 

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Getting married... in Brooklyn!

ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb ) has grown into much more than a delicious farm-to-table restaurant in the heart of Fort Greene and has, in recent years, become the top destination for thoughtful, intimate boutique weddings in New York City. I’m still in awe over this success, and wanted to share some of the philosophy behind it all.

I sat down with Lauren Berg, to pick her brain. She is our beloved event coordinator, and a large part of her duties includes ensuring that every wedding held at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb )will exceed expectations.

She started with us six years ago and since then has gradually taken charge of events because of her deep sense of care, empathy & hospitality—essential qualities when working with happy, but sometimes stressed, couples planning their big day. She has booked, designed, and orchestrated hundreds of weddings at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb.)

Here, she gives us a few pointers on how she makes it all work so well.

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Cook, Connect, Build & Restore

For Proust, it was a madeleine that revealed the truth of involuntary visceral, sensory memory—for me, it was a tomato I plucked from the back of van coming from a farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Eating local food in Brooklyn certainly constitutes something quite different than what I was doing growing up in Provence. Back then, colors were intertwined with smells—the blue of the sky with the fragrance of the Pins Parasols burnt by the bright yellow sun. The chirping song of the grillons would serenade me as a foraged through my grandmother’s vegetable garden, eating straight from the vine. Obviously, it’s impossible to get that same rush at the produce aisle of the supermarket—not even Whole Foods.

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Evolution Rather than Resolutions

At year’s end I always become reflective about what I’ve been through, and, most importantly, what lies ahead. As 2014 drew to a close I began to wonder: in a city that never sleeps, where success is measured in dollars, where everyone runs on an invisible wheel, and where sustainability is often mixed up with being slow, how do I figure out my professional and, in turn, personal progression?

How can I define my ambition in terms of the right way to grow?

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Slow Food, Provençal Style

Mine was a serious cook, in a peasant’s intuitive, self-taught way. I never saw her look at a recipe book unless she was making a dessert, and she had the genius ability to produce an amazing dish out of what anyone else would have considered an empty fridge. I have many fond memories of her cooking, but my absolute favorite dish of hers was her ratatouille.

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Where I Am Now - Possibly Who I Am - For Now

I think we’d all like to think ourselves as more than just the sum of our parts. Take me, for example: you could label me as just a female entrepreneur, or a (single) mother, or a restaurateur. I’m French, I’m a New Yorker. But to me, all of those things are so deeply intertwined to make me, you can’t think about one without the other. If I’m just a female entrepreneur, I’m a bitch. Just seen as French, oh, oui, oui, we get it. A single mother first and foremost? It’s oh, poor you.

It’s taken me a long time to realize what I am as a whole, and to free myself from living solely toward others’, or my own, expectations based on any one part of who I am. I had been conditioned for 40 years, but now, as a middle-aged woman—a point I’ve come to that I wholeheartedly embrace, by the way—I don’t get hung up on who I’m supposed to be today, or right now, but rather, what could possibly be in store for me?

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