Have You Met Miss Lunch?

If you think that Occitane beauty products smell good enough to eat, I have great news for you. Olivier Baussan, the founder of Occitane, has sponsored a little eatery, unique among cafés in Paris, called Miss Lunch, near the Aligre food market in the 12th Arrondissement. He has stocked it with a selection of exquisite olive oils from producers in the south of France, where he also sources ingredients for cosmetics. The resident artist-chef uses the oils and other local ingredients to create distinctive meals.

We stumbled across Miss Lunch at 3, rue Antoine Vollon, on a warm afternoon and sat down at an outdoor table, attracted by a sign advertising homemade lemonade. We polished off a bottle and chatted with the server, who turned out to be the chef, Claudia Cabri. She invited us to enter the charming space inside.

She explained that this tiny Paris café represents part of Baussan’s long-standing support for the arts and for the small-scale olive oil producers of his native Provence, through an organization called Première Pression Provence. At Miss Lunch, you not only can eat a memorable meal, but you can also buy Provençal olive oil products—this is unusual, since nearly all olive oil sold and consumed in France is Italian or Spanish, not French.

Claudia treated us to a spontaneous olive oil tasting. She explained that the oils are grouped into three types, not by region of origin, but by taste. The fruité vert comes from green olives picked before they are fully ripe. The flavor is slightly herbal, much like traditional Italian olive oils. The fruité mûr is made from olives picked when they are ripe but before full maturity, and pressed immediately. They have a softer, sweeter taste. Finally, fruité noir is made from fully mature olives, which are allowed to ferment very slightly before they are pressed. The flavor may be smoky, nutty or earthy.

We chose a fruité noir from an olive type called picholine. The producer’s name was shown on the label: Olivier Roux. Claudia gave us a booklet in which we found his picture and a map showing the location of his six hectares of olive groves (near the Mediterranean coast between Toulon and Saint-Tropez). This is a special oil we will save for salads and drizzling over grilled vegetables.

The multitalented Claudia is a visual artist: one of her quirky sketches has been turned into an Aubusson tapestry and hangs on the wall of her Paris café. She gives cooking classes (in English or French). She has even provided recipes for a book by Chantal Pelletier (a French noir-style fiction writer), and they are collaborating on a second volume.

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