Gluten-free and lactose-intolerant diners can now easily join the table in Paris. Noglu, a restaurant dedicated to gluten-free and mostly dairy-free dishes, is the newest in a line of Anglo-American influences on French cuisine.
Noglu owner Frédérique Jules, a Frenchwoman who discovered her gluten intolerance in San Francisco a decade ago, opened her allergy-sensitive restaurant in the Passage des Panoramas in the historic Opera district near many American eateries like the Hard Rock Café and newly-opened Chipotle.
While influenced by her travels to the US, Jules is not labeling her restaurant American. Instead she's featuring dishes reflecting French, Japanese, Italian, and other cultures alongside American pastries. This internationalism is an important factor for keeping Paris cuisine relevant. "New chefs travel, I think. Septime, Frenchie, all of these innovative tables are places that have chefs that travel and see what's going on abroad," she said.
But Jules does embrace a certain American spirit at Noglu. Frequent trips to California and Brooklyn inspire her new Parisian endeavor. "It's a question of spirit and service that we need to learn here," she said, "and to be welcoming is a lot less French."
Jules hired American Jenni Lepoutre, adding a touch of American baking to Noglu. Lepoutre, originally from Ohio, has cooked on both sides of the Atlantic. A graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in the US, she baked at Whole Foods in the US before moving to France where she has worked at famed macaron maker Ladurée and as a teacher in French pastry classes at La Cuisine.
At Noglu, Lepoutre prepares sweets while Japanese-born chef Mitsuru Yamase prepares the savories, both working in a 100% gluten-free environment. Both chefs also limit lactose products, opting for dairy-free products when the results would be indiscernible. This trend, catering to the needs of food allergies, is just another facet carved into the face of French cuisine.
Already, kale, food trucks, and a gluten-free bakery have made SmartPlanet headlines over the past year. Elsewhere, media attention from the the New York Times to Anthony Bourdain focus on the American invasion in Paris, with cupcakes and hamburgers making their way into bakeries and restaurants citywide. A bastion of culinary tradition is eroding away where new ways of eating are joining traditional steak-frites and duck confit in the city’s iconic bistros and cafés.
Whether a fast fad or a new normal, it’s no longer out of the question to ask for alternatives in Paris. Gluten-free and dairy-free products, for example, are no longer elusive in even some of the most basic Parisian supermarkets and most are readily available at specialty stores like the famed Grande Epicierie. Words like vegan, organic, and gluten are slowly becoming part of the vernacular. But why the sudden flirtation with American food trends?
Lepoutre said that the how’s and why’s of the French embracing Anglo-American trends may seem perplexing, but to the locals, something previously unavailable like a hamburger is a novelty, even exotic. "French cuisine is very traditional and it stays that way, it doesn't change," Lepoutre said.
The pride in tradition, however, has been ebbed away by a popular wave of food television and magazines that has democratized cuisine. "Food has become such a huge interest to people, it's becoming more common knowledge and less about someone cooking in restaurants," she said. Think French Top Chef. "This exposure pushes the innovation because you have to do something better than the last person," she said, "and it's like Apple, to keep people interested you have to stay ahead of everyone else, you have to innovate."
The integration of the hamburger and other dishes is not surprising to Lepoutre. "The French love the modern stuff because everything in France is old," she said, contrary to the nostalgia of those traveling from the relatively young United States. But the slow adoption of American cuisine is no less startling.
"Food is the last one to the party," Lepoutre said. "Food is that one basic comfort, so maybe this is the one thing the French have held on to," she said.
Others on the food scene, like Cat Beurnier, owner of SugarDaze cupcake bakery in Paris, think that the love affair with American cooking will endure as long as there’s an American at the helm. "I don't have anything against a chef working outside of his comfort zone and creating new dishes while borrowing from outside influences or cultures –- look at Julia Child, or more contemporary references like Thomas Keller or even Bobby Flay," she said, "but if you want an authentic dish, go to the source." And if the lines outside of the American-owned Camion Qui Fume food truck are any indication, French locals think so, too.
For Noglu, the flirtation is more than a matter of taste, it"s also a medical one. Still, a healthy stream of clientele, both gluten-intolerant and otherwise, has been reserving tables. It remains to be seen, however, if French establishments will embrace the trends made popular by their Anglo-American counterparts.