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French Ingredient: Making a Life in Paris One Lesson at a Time

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The inspiring and delicious memoir of an American woman who had the gall to open a cooking school in Paris—a true story of triumphing over French elitism and falling in love with a city along the way.

When Jane Bertch was seventeen, her mother took her on a graduation trip to Paris. Thrilled to use her high school French, Jane found her halting attempts greeted with withering condescension by every waiter and shopkeeper she encountered. At the end of the trip, she vowed she would never return.

Yet a decade later she found herself back in Paris, transferred there by an American bank. She became fluent in the language, gradually earning the respect of her French colleagues as she excelled in her new position. But she had a different dream: to start a cooking school for foreigners like her, tourists who wanted to take a few classes in French cuisine in a friendly setting, then bring their new skills to their kitchens back home. Predictably, Jane faced nay-saying Frenchmen—how dare an American banker start a cooking school in Paris?—real-estate nightmares, and a long struggle to find and attract clients.

Thanks to Jane’s perseverance, La Cuisine Paris opened in 2009. The years since have been filled with triumphs and heartbreaks. Several times the school almost closed, thanks to the pandemic and terrorist attacks that kept tourists away. Now the school is thriving, welcoming international visitors to come in and knead dough, whisk bechamel, whip meringue, and learn the care, precision, patience, and beauty involved in French cooking.

The French Ingredient is the story of a young female entrepreneur building a life in a city and culture she grew to love. As she built La Cuisine, Jane learned how to charm, how to project confidence, and how to give it right back to rude waiters. Having finally made peace with the city she swore never to revisit, she now offers a love letter to France, and a master class in Parisian cooking—and living.

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