Getting to Know You: Élodie Noël
A series of Q&As with members of the vibrant Irish international community to share their cultural heritage, food memories and stories.
From northern Paris, France, Élodie Noël has a Sicilian grandmother to thank for her love of a good tomato sauce, and her quest to find the perfect French baguette in Dublin persists.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Montmorency in the north of Paris in 1987. My older brother and I grew up between the grim suburb of the French capital and the beautiful sunny South of France, where our parents bought a house when we were young. My mother's side of the family lives in Marseille, so I spent quite a bit of time there too. I used to spend two months of the summer in a small village near Narbonne, gorging on the best fruits and vegetables coming from the local farm and our friends (most of my friends were sons and daughters of vineyard owners, who also had gardens).
My mother's family are Sicilian "pieds noirs" from Tunisia, so our food influences are strongly Mediterranean. My grandmother is an excellent cook, she has many signature dishes expressing all the cultural influences she grew up with in Tunisia (Sicilian, Jewish, Arabic, French). Sicilian pizza, couscous boulettes (the best on earth), fricassés (little fried breads filled with tuna, boiled potato, boiled egg, capers, olives and harissa), ricotta-filled ravioli (this one was my great-grandmother's specialties) and caponata.
My mum is also a very good cook and she can make most of those dishes as well. Being French with Sicilian origins, food was always a huge part of my life. My grandmother asks what you want for dinner when you are still chewing on your lunch; that's her way of saying she loves you and she wants to make you happy! I asked her to write all her best recipes in a notebook for me a few years ago. They are the funniest recipes, "put a little bit of this and a little bit of that in." Not written in an orthodox way, but that's how she learnt them. If my house went on fire, that's the one thing I'd have to run back inside to get!
I moved to Ireland about five years ago, after three years of a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, a Dubliner whom I met in the middle of Vietnam.
Do you cook?
I love cooking, but I only really started when I moved to Ireland. When I lived on my own in Paris, I cooked very simple food for myself – omelettes, salads, or I was eating out. Cooking for two is much more fun, so that's how I started experimenting. It was all very intuitive for me, I saw my mum and grandmother's cooking and learnt through observation. I feel like it's the case for most French people I know. We just love food, and we grow up with meals being such an important part of our lives that cooking comes naturally. I have a two year old boy and he loves sitting on the counter in our kitchen and just being with me when I cook.
What is your favourite dish and your favourite food memory?
That's tough! It could be a great cheese platter with a fresh baguette and a glass of strong Corbières wine, fresh oysters, a margarita pizza, or sushi.
One of my favourite food memories is eating buckets of peaches with my best friend in the south of France. My mum would get trays of overripe peaches from her friends and she would just peel them and make a peach salad, adding a little splash of Muscat wine. We just couldn't stop eating. I also remember eating piles of figs in August and ratatouille made with all the best summer vegetables. I was addicted to these things.
Where do you shop?
Since the first lockdown, I do most of my food shopping in Dunnes. I think they have really good products, especially the Simply Better range. I go to Lidl regularly for my staple foods – Greek yoghurt, organic porridge, nuts, white sourdough cob. For something special, it has to be Fallon and Byrne.
I think what I crave most that I cannot get here is a real good French baguette. There are some decent ones around town, in The Bretzel Bakery and Bread 41, but it's just not the same as it is at home. The best baguette I had in Dublin was at The Greenhouse restaurant. I wish they sold their bread!
I cannot really say I miss French cheeses – thank God for Sheridans.
Are there ingredients/dishes that have repulsed you and if so, have you come around to liking them?
Call me a fake French woman, but snails are just not for me! Also, I wish I liked melon, but it makes me sick. In the summer, in France, this is all people eat and it really looks so appealing, fresh and light. It could be a genetic thing, my grandfather feels the same, we both find melon repulsive. I am very particular with meat, I do not like sausages and pork in general, or strong meats like lamb. I think pork belly disgusts me the most. I couldn't eat bacon either, but since I moved to Ireland I like very well-done bacon. I think what I don't like is the taste of animal fat. We usually eat meat once a week in my house and we stick to beef and chicken. I don't see it as an issue because I think we should all reduce our meat consumption anyway.
If you are so inclined, we would love it if you would share a recipe and any other anecdotes.
I can share my great-grand-mother's tomato sauce; the simplest, most delicious weeknight dinner.
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Drizzle some olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic over low heat, then add all the other ingredients.
Bring to a simmer, then put on the very low heat and cook for at least two hours - three is even better.
I usually serve it with linguine, diced fresh mozzarella, spinach and sometimes sun-dried tomatoes.