Private chef and author Lisa Baker Morgan left a legal career in pursuit of her passions for food and French culture and has written about her experiences in Paris, Part Time
After surviving a near-death experience in a Monaco hospital and newly divorced, American Lisa Baker Morgan was 38 when she was spurred on to follow her dreams of living in Paris and training at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
The mother-of-two now splits her time between Paris and Los Angeles and is a private chef, teaching cooking classes in America and France, including at Château de Bosgouet in Normandy, and has also worked alongside chef Bruno Doucet, owner of La Régalade in Paris.
In her new memoir, Paris, Part Time, she tells her story through 25 original recipes, photographs and honest revelations about single motherhood, language barriers and juggling a new culinary career across two continents.
When did you first discover your love for France?
I was first exposed to France in high school (though it was intellectually only). After I graduated from college, I visited France for the first time. It instantly felt like home.
Why did you choose to move to Paris in particular?
Paris has everything I want. It is a walking city. I am close to amazing restaurants, art, theatre and there are parks and open green spaces everywhere for everyone to enjoy. It has all the conveniences and opportunities of a well-planned and preeminent city, and it is aesthetically and inspiringly beautiful at every turn.
There is also a feeling of community in Paris that doesn’t exist in other large cities. People live outside of their apartments. They gather in cafés and picnic in the gardens and parks. There are also a variety of communal activities open to the public like the open-air cinema, tango dancing or group roller blading through the heart of the city.
On the weekends, streets are closed to allow residents to safely cycle or exercise on the streets. It is a place that offers and promotes a quality life for everyone. I love that.
How did you find your perfect apartment in the city?
I searched online, engaged several brokers (on both continents) and hounded friends who live in Paris for inside tips about the market. There were a lot of misses and some frustration. When I found my apartment in the 16th arrondissement, I knew immediately; it was love at first sight.
Did you have to carry out much work to it?
The electrics were outdated so that had to be done immediately and the radiators had to be replaced and/or repaired. The kitchen and bathroom were challenged aesthetically and functionally so they were complete redos.
Other details such as restoring the floors, painting, refurbishing the doors and windows were not necessary to make the space liveable but certainly made it much nicer.
The lack of hot water and heat when I first moved in (not to mention the water leaks I unknowingly inherited from the prior owner) were an unpleasant surprise. However, the building is 100 years old, and I have come to learn that water leaks and resulting water damage are not uncommon in Parisian apartments.
What advice would you offer to other expats looking to buy property in Paris?
First, figure out your price range and the arrondissements you prefer. Every arrondissement has its own character. Familiarise yourself with the notaire process and get a good recommendation from someone you trust. Have your financing in place and be prepared to act quickly.
When you look at properties, do it during the spring or autumn. Avoid looking at apartments during les grandes vacances or when schools are not in session (remember students are out of school for two weeks every six weeks during the school year).
These periods will not be an accurate representation of the noise and activity level. Also, look for a property with well-placed windows. Paris can be very grey, so you want your space to be light.
Was it exciting or nerve-wracking to start a new life in another country?
It was a combination of both. I was excited because newness always brings hope and the thrill of discovery, but at times the unfamiliarity was frustrating. The language barrier was my biggest hurdle although now, English is prevalent, so it is not the issue it was 20 or even 10 years ago.
The carte de sejour process is also something which will challenge the most patient of individuals, and learning the French tax system, laws and procedures all take time and adjustment.
What do you love most about spending time in Paris?
I particularly love the ease of living and quality of life. In Los Angeles, everyone is dependent upon a car and each day is framed by the limitations of traffic and distance. As a parent, there have been years where I spent four hours a day driving just to get my daughters to where they needed to be. That is the equivalent of a part-time job. Even the grocery store and post office are 20 minutes’ away by car.
When I am in Paris, I appreciate that I can walk everywhere: the post office, the bank, every kind of market and boutique. Anything I need for a comfortable life is within blocks of my home. That is an incredible luxury.
Public transportation is efficient and convenient. I am also a runner so I appreciate that I can leave my apartment in my running shoes and five minutes later I am in a beautiful park, around a lake, or along the Seine. If I want to get out of the city, the opportunities to visit the countryside or take a train to another country are uncomplicated. These practicalities allow for a higher quality of life for all citizens.
With respect to food, I am fortunate that Los Angeles has a very long growing season and the farmers’ market offers fresh, quality produce. However, there is still nothing like French food whether it is the breads, the cheeses or the fresh produce. It must be the terroir. The food is so flavourful it pales in comparison to any other place I have travelled. There is also a slow, dedicated appreciation of food and its preparation that is a fundamental part of the French culture.
Where are your favourite places to dine out?
There are so many and new restaurants are cropping up all the time, so I am always adding new places to my rotation. Here are a few that I enjoy: Clover Grill, Clover Green, Septime, Clamato, La Régalade, L’Ami Jean, Le Coq Rico, Ze Kitchen Galerie, Pierre Sang, Les Arlots, Le Châteaubriand, Bistrot Paul Bert, Restaurant Belle Maison, Le Flandrin, Le Cardinal, Le Chalet des Iles, Carette, Monsieur Bleu, Les Princes, Le Petit Rétro, and on the roof of the Molitor.
What are your favourite things to cook?
Everything. I enjoy the artistry of making a beautiful sauce or the time it takes to create a layered terrine en croûte. In the summertime, I enjoy light, often raw, preparations. In the colder months, braising something that dissolves in the mouth which is served with a creamy, rich sauce is a go-to. What I choose to make at any time is inspired by what is in season and for whom I am cooking.
One of the things I love most about cooking is the ability to take a fresh ingredient and think of all the ways it can be prepared. For example, in July the marchés are brimming with beautiful courgettes and their flowers. This simple fruit can be used in a variety of ways: roasted in a summer tian, in a savoury tart or soufflé, braised alone or with other summer vegetables, in cru preparations, or baked in a courgette quick bread.
Before the pandemic, how much time did you get to spend in France?
About three to four months a year. The time and length have always been dictated by my daughters’ schedules and needs and my work.
Apart from Paris, what other areas of France have you enjoyed visiting?
There are so many extraordinary places to visit in France. The country is regional and every region boasts food, recipes, traditions and styles unique to that area. The food alone is reason enough to explore. From the briny oysters in Brittany to the wild boar in Corsica and the stone fruit in the Luberon, every city makes the most of the products indigenous to that region.
However, food is just the beginning. One could create a travel itinerary based solely upon cheese, wine, history, art or architecture. France also has some of the most beautiful racecourses and cycling climbs I have ever done. The nation is abundantly rich in every way; there is truly something for everyone.
To date, I have had the opportunity to explore Brittany, Normandy, Champagne, Alsace, Provence (from the hanging villages the seaside towns, and all of the beautiful nooks in the Luberon), the south-west and Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, the Burgundy region and Lyon. I write about many of these areas in my book and include photographs to illustrate the beauty of the regions.
What are your plans for the future?
My youngest daughter will graduate high school in two years, and I hope then to make Paris ‘full time’. As far as my future professional plans, food and travel will be an integral part. There will also be further intellectual endeavours. I am currently working on several new writing projects and there will be some form of human rights advocacy/activism.
While these are all things I am passionate about, I always keep an open mind as to the varied forms my interests may take in the future. I’ve learned that life is not a straight line – everything is growth and an opportunity to learn.
Paris, Part Time by Lisa Baker Morgan is published by Ciao Yummy!
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