Interview with Flora Mikula

Flora, one of the few Female French Chefs I know. 
Last week, Flora opened ‘Auberge Flora”.Her Inn- a quaint hotel and restaurant in the Bastille / Marais section of Paris reflects her personality, her lifestyle, her love of food, friends and fun. For details visit http://www.aubergeflora.fr/ . If you go there, please tell her I sent you!
I have known Flora for many years. I have known her as a fun loving female who could eat and drink our French chef friends under the table. She brought her son to Hawaii for Laurent’s wedding and I got to know her over the several days we shared a beach house. First, I tasted her food and was duly impressed with her culinary talents. Second, I saw the softer side of Flora, that side she dares not show any of the men. I interviewed her partly pool side and partly walking along the beach…and I found a friend.   How hard was it for a woman to become a chef in France? At the beginning it was very hard. Much harder than people imagine. Now it is an advantage. Now, I am often interviewed because I am a woman chef. Tell me about the beginning. My mother died when I was very young and my father was in the military. I was born in Nimes and raised by my grandmother in Avignon. I needed to cook to eat and found that I enjoyed it. My grandmother taught me what she knew and then I applied to the L’Ecole Hôtelière d'Avignon . They discouraged women. They insisted that I learn to work “the front of the house”, not the kitchen. I did the school for three years – studying both and then went to look for a job. They were right. No restaurant kitchen would hire a girl. What did you do? I went to London. I learned to speak enough English to survive, and got a job in the kitchen at a good restaurant there. (I had been lucky to get to do my internship at a gastronomic restaurant in Avignon and not a Pizzeria. That helped me get a good place in London.) They had a chef consultant- a Frenchman named Jean Michel Lorain, who was a well known French Chef. He recommended me to Jean-Pierre Vigato who hired me so I came back to Paris. Ah..Vigato? Apicius was one of our favorite restaurants when we lived in Paris. Fabulous fish. Yes, that’s the one. I worked in his kitchen and learned from him and his staff. I worked my way up at a Relais Chateau, then I came to New York to work for a caterer and Le Comptoir. There I met Laurent Manrique, for whom I worked for a year and a half. It was smooth sailing from there on? No, I got sick. A brain infection. I spent three months at Beth Israel and then went back to Paris.  After recuperating, I went to work for Alan Passard at his three star restaurant L'Arpège in Paris where I was named Sous Chef after a month and where I met Raphaël, my husband. I was finally named Chef at La Rotonde Montparnasse, which was a  brasserie known for combining conviviality and gastronomy. How did you get to open your own restaurant? When my father died and left me a bit of money, Raphael and I opened "Les Olivades", my first restaurant. It specialized in Provençal cooking and later “Les Saveurs de Flora” on Avenue George V. That was a gastronomic restaurant that I ran for five years. The two restaurants were very different. In one I created menus for 26 Euros and in the other we sold mostly a la carte for 200. In the first we offered sardines and tuna in the other it was lobster and turbot.   And now? I sold the restaurant and this summer am opening “Auberge Flora”, a small inn at La Bastille in Paris. Just 21 rooms, each decorated with its own personality in a wide price range from 95 Euros for the simplest room up to 350Euros for the suites.  The restaurant is open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are home alone and want to make something to eat for yourself- what do you make? That’s easy. Penne au Pistou with parmesan. If you could relive any one meal of your life, which would it be? That too is easy. Ten of us celebrated Laurent’s 40th birthday at Le Bernardin. Eric Ripert cooked all of Laurent’s favorite dishes and each was more fabulous than the last. Turbot a Sauce hollandaise, a Cote de Boeuf, Paris-Brest and a Mille Feuilles. We drank exquisite wines. Do you remember what you did the next day ?  Ah..yes. of course. Now I remember.  We came to your house and you cooked for us…First Lobster and then Rack of Veal with Morrels. Pommes de Terre Boulangere. And your pear and almond tart. I remember- it was a great evening too. What a birthday!