When Greg Marchand began working in the London restaurant Fifteen, it’s owner, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver dubbed him “Frenchie” because he was the only French person in the kitchen. The name stuck, and now it graces Marchand’s Paris restaurant, as well as his other endeavors: a wine bar, “Frenchie to Go,” and this April, his first cookbook, Frenchie, published in the U.S. this April by Artisan.
Marchand’s success story is an inspiring “local boy makes good.” He learned to cook in Nantes, France, in the kitchen of the orphanage where he grew up after his parents died (his father when he was six, his mother when he was 11). The cook in the orphanage was off on the weekends, and Marchand began taking over, cooking classic French dishes like veal with mushrooms and cream. “My childhood opened my eyes to the world,” he says. “I was cooking for the other boys and I really enjoyed seeing the pleasure my food brought them.”
At 16, when asked what it was he wanted to do for a career, Marchand chose food and entered cooking school in Brittany where he studied for four years. “I wasn’t the best of the bunch in cooking school,” Marchand says. “I had other things to sort out. I was a late starter, but once I got going, after graduation, that’s when passion came.” Marchand “having no real family or anywhere to go” traveled, with his knife kit, anywhere and everywhere a job opportunity arose.
He worked in London at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. In the introduction to his cookbook Marchand writes: “I realize now that my passion for cooking was born then and there: it was the first time in my life that I felt part of something.”. From there Marchand transferred to the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong where he worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s French-Asian fusion restaurant Vong. Cooking tapas at a beach bar in Andalusia was next, followed by a stint as a sous chef in Marbella, Spain, for Arthur Potts Dawson from London’s The River Café, making regional Italian dishes. Marchand followed Dawson back to London and landed at Fifteen where he eventually became head chef, and then, he says “New York beckoned.”
Once in New York City, Marchand moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with his girlfriend, Marie, soon to become his wife, and was offered a job at the famed Gramercy Tavern with Danny Meyer. He quickly immersed himself in the melting pot culture of the city. He says he would get off the subway in his new neighborhood and feel like he was in Poland. “New York was the place that really opened my eyes,” says Marchand. “I found it so special that I just opened a the first New York style deli in Paris, “Frenchie to Go.”
The deli’s menu includes pastrami, fish and chips, lobster rolls, hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, kielbasa and pastries, all homemade. “All of these things are the influences of living in Brooklyn, London…the food is French technique with a lot of international influences—I use the world larder as a spice box.”
After a year in New York, when Marie learned she was pregnant, they decided, “It was time to go home.” The couple arrived back in Paris in September, 2008. Marchand found a spot on a deserted cobblestone street called rue du Nil in the garment district and in 2009, opened his first restaurant, Frenchie, which quickly received praise from both customers and critics. Almost five years later, Frenchie is, as Marchand describes, “A place I’d like to go to, a place you want to come back to, a bistro setting with real food. It’s simple cuisine made with very good ingredients and little touches of things that I learned in my travels.”
The restaurant has loyal, repeat customers, which is what Marchand was aiming for, to know people. The menu changes all the time, and Marchand says his food philosophy is that “food just has to be good.” His dishes are ingredient driven, and he sources food from all over Europe. Two years after opening Frenchie, Marchand took over a shop across the street and opened his wine bar, which he extended in 2012. Two of his favorite produce suppliers followed, opening a fruit and vegetable store, butcher shop, and fish market on his once quiet street. An unloved neighborhood has come into its own thanks to Marchand’s vision, talent and efforts.
Marchand and his family (he now has two children) live on the same street as his businesses. “We have made our own world on a small, beautiful street where there was nothing. People thought I was crazy at first for picking this location, but I saw old school Paris.” His plan is to open another take out shop, and to re-do the original Frenchie, with fewer seats. “I want to give freedom back to the people” Marchand says. “I want people to be able to come when they want and eat what they want. I want to stop this telling people when and what they can eat.”
The Frenchie cookbook was originally supposed to be a step-by-step guidebook with 10 or 12 recipes. “This book is very personal, tears and blood,” says Marchand. “Once we started, I gave it everything and I thought, we have to do something bigger, something better, and we did.” The book, which is classified by season, contains recipes from the restaurant adapted for the home cook, like Grilled Baby Lamb with Fava Beans, Sweet Peas, and Mint Chutney, and was inspired by customers asking how to make their favorite dishes. “I wanted to make my food more accessible” Marchand says. “I didn’t do the book to show you what I can do; I did it to show you what you can do. I want it in the kitchen being used, not sitting on a shelf.”