Americans in Paris: How the French Fell in Love with U.S. Chefs
As Chicago-born Daniel Rose solidifies his status as one of Paris' most respected chefs, a new crop of American talent is shaking up the restaurant scene.
For a chef, the Illinois-to-Paris trajectory is not a standard one, but Daniel Rose has made it seem obvious, and very right. While burgeoning chefs have long flocked to France to memorize mother sauces and get screamed at by master chefs, the past decade has seen a wave of promising American upstarts like Rose come to Paris and stay.
Rose, chef at Le Coucou in New York and two restaurants in Paris, is the breakout American success in a city not known for an openness to foreign expertise. In 2006, after studying at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon and passing through some of the country's most prestigious kitchens, he opened his first restaurant, Spring, a super-seasonal sixteen-seater in the 9th arrondissement, to critical acclaim. Though Spring eventually closed, Rose has since opened two popular Paris restaurants, La Bourse et La Vie and Chez La Vieille, as even more American talent funnels into the city.
"I don't think I caused it, but maybe I was a catalyst for a fire that was already ready to start," said Rose. "I think there were definitely chefs who looked at the Daniel Rose model and the Spring model and thought, 'If he can do it, so can I.'"
To cook French food in France, as an American, is daring. To earn credibility and respect among Parisians? A bit miraculous. Last year, Rose's status as one of France's most significant chefs was cemented when Air France tapped him to develop business class menus on several routes from the U.S. to Paris, following in the footsteps of Joël Robuchon and Daniel Boulud (and becoming the first American chef to do so). His dishes include warm poultry paté with foie gras and a luscious cod with turnip and beurre blanc.
"A lot of people imagine that I've somehow crossed the French barrier, and in some ways I have," said Rose. "But in many ways I haven’t. I still get the thing where they hear an accent, and they’re like, 'Would you be more comfortable speaking in English?'" (Rose, whose French is immaculate, has lived in the country for over two decades.)
Perhaps just as exciting as Rose's small but mighty restaurant empire is the crop of American chefs who have followed him, opening restaurants in Paris and thriving; many of the city's most talked-about spots draw a line to the States. Le Rigmarole, a spectacular French-ish restaurant that showcases binchotan charcoal and the Japanese grill, opened in 2018 and just earned its first Michelin star. It's run by husband-wife duo Jessica Yang, a California native, and Robert Compagnon, who was born in New York. At the New American haunt Verjus, one of Rose's favorites, Americans Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian translated their hit Hidden Kitchen dinners (hosted out of their apartment) into a stunning tasting menu restaurant, with a wine list that would please even the most critical French drinker. At Flesh, which now has two locations, California chef Simon Lewis—who worked in Rose's kitchen—brings eclectic American barbecue, grilled dishes, and an impressive selection of bourbons to Parisian diners.
Rose is reluctant to take credit for the influx of American chefs, but he acknowledges that something has shifted in the Paris dining landscape that's made a new kind of success possible. Paris-based writer Lindsey Tramuta, author of The New Paris and April's The New Parisienne, notes that the flurry of expat openings in Paris is not unique to American chefs, who are also joined by Japanese, Australian, and Korean talent, as well. (Rose also says that chefs from these three countries, in particular, have relatively straightforward one-year working visa programs, so they often work in his kitchens.)
“Paris remains the grammar school for aspiring cooks everywhere,” Tramuta said. “For a time, it was common for culinary students to return to their home countries and open businesses with the skills they acquired in France, but in the last decade, more and more foreign chefs, including North Americans, have stayed—that could be both because of opportunity or, perhaps more likely, a far more open and curious dining audience.”
While Le Rigmarole actively challenges the notion of what a French restaurant looks like, Rose's La Bourse et La Vie is one of the most quintessentially Parisian bistros you can find—cozy and warm, it's tucked away on a small street in the city’s oldest neighborhood, serving sharply executed French classics with minimal riffs (including arguably the best steak frites in town) and local ingredients sourced obsessively by Rose. Chez La Vielle, too, is another testament to Rose's remarkable affinity for the neighborhood restaurant, in a city he has made his neighborhood by sheer determination.
"American chefs bring fresh perspective and are rarely as rigidly restricted to tradition or any set of codified rules, which allows them great creativity and inventiveness," said Tramuta. "There is a proliferation of these chefs because the market is so open to it now, far more so than when Daniel started and the French press talked about him like he was some kind of anomaly."
Indeed, the market's openness has made space for a boom in explicitly American-style restaurants, too; brunch specials line the narrow streets of the Marais. It's easier to find barbecue, tacos, and soul food than ever before (don't miss these chicken and waffles). Echo Deli, a hugely popular California-inflected brunch spot, "feels like a touch of Los Angeles in Paris," noted Tramuta.
Despite the current vogue for all things American, Rose admits he still sometimes feel like an outsider. He says that he could open five French companies and people would still ask him if it would be easier for him if they spoke in English.
"The greatest compliment is people come to the restaurant and they don’t realize I'm American," he said. "Then when they find out, they’re like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we could taste it.'"
Daniel Rose’s restaurants in Paris:
Chez La Vielle
Tiny and imaginative kitchen reinventing French classics.
1 Rue Bailleul, +33 1 42 60 15 78
La Bourse et La Vie
Cozy, comforting French bistrot fare with a refined edge.
12 Rue Vivienne, +33 1 42 60 08 83
More popular Paris restaurants from American chefs:
One-Michelin-starred French-Japanese grill that everyone is obsessed with.
10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, +33 1 71 24 58 44
Lovely wine bar and dining room with seasonal tasting menus from Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian.
52 Rue de Richelieu, +33 1 42 97 54 40
Eclectic, fun spot for American barbecue. ("Fun and wacky," per Rose.)
25 Rue de Douai, 23 Rue Louis Blanc