Entrepreneurs

Ariane & Alix Daguin: Good Taste from Mother to Daughter

Ariane Daguin, founder of the D’Artagnan gourmet-products distributor, has just sold her company for 102 million dollars. Her new project, a farm and a restaurant overseen by her daughter Alix, has seen her reconnect with her family roots.
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© Benoît Georges

“Drop by around 1 p.m. and have lunch with us.” When offered by Ariane Daguin, an invitation like this is impossible to turn down. Based in the United States for almost 40 years, the daughter of Michelin-starred chef André Daguin introduced American foodies to foie gras, magret de canard, and other organic meats through D’Artagnan, the distribution company she set up to supply the country’s high-end restaurants and food stores. However, this time, the meal was not enjoyed in a gourmet bistro in Manhattan, but in a far more bucolic setting an hour’s drive north of New York City.

In the village of Goshen in the heart of the Hudson Valley, Ariane Daguin, 64, and her daughter Alix, 34, have thrown themselves into a new venture: a 14-acre farm named All One One All. This nod to the motto of Alexandre Dumas’ musketeers is also a manifesto for this one-of-a-kind farm, where ducks, sheeps, bees, vegetables, and trees coexist as part of an agroforestry framework. According to this system, animal and plant species are brought together for mutual benefit, which also protects and regenerates the land. Soil for one, one for soil!

This nature-focused vision is also applied to the operation of the farm. A barn dating back to 1805 is home to a shop selling eggs, chickens, and vegetables, as well as precooked dishes, herbal teas, and preserves. “The concept is based on local cuisine made exclusively with what is produced by us and in this county,” says Alix Daguin. On sunny days, tables are set outdoors, where people can eat or have coffee, and there are cooking and crafts classes open to families. “We are a nonprofit. Our objective is to show that farming can provide delicious food and be accessible to all. We’re doing everything to make it happen, including workshops, guided tours, and meals.”

The Return of the Prodigal Daughter

After graduating with a degree in architecture, Alix Daguin spent five years working at a firm in California. “I really liked it at first, but after a while I began to get bored.” She decided to return to the East Coast to launch the farm, designing the plans and overseeing its restoration. The young woman now works there full-time alongside five employees. “I always knew that I wanted to work in food and I was interested in doing it with my mother, but D’Artagnan was totally her company and I’m not a business person.”

While sitting at a table upstairs in the barn’s vast, bright room, which will soon house the restaurant, Ariane Daguin shared her vision of the project. “For so long, I was frustrated to not have the upstream and downstream. I worked with D’Artagnan’s partner farmers and with restaurants and companies that sold our products. I was always in the middle. I thought it was natural to have a farm one day, but I was too busy with D’Artagnan.”

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© All One One All Farm
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© All One One All Farm
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© All One One All Farm
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© All One One All Farm
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© All One One All Farm
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© All One One All Farm

Launched in 1985 to sell foie gras produced by a farmer in the Hudson Valley, the company has become an empire selling poultry, red meat, and game, along with truffles and mushrooms. Thanks to her straightforward manner, Southern French accent, and exceptional products, Ariane Daguin has become friends with New York’s leading chefs including Daniel Boulud, David Chang, and Anthony Bourdain (deceased in 2018), who even named his daughter Ariane. From September 11, 2001, to the Covid pandemic (“75% of my clients closed overnight”), D’Artagnan’s epic journey has not been an easy one.

However, hard work has paid off. In late March 2022, Ariane Daguin sold the company to Fortune Fish & Gourmet, a wholesale distributor of seafood and high-end products based in the Chicago suburbs, for 102 million dollars. “With the reopening of restaurants, our revenue went through the roof – especially as we also boosted sales in stores and on our website during the public health crisis,” says Ariane Daguin. “I thought it was the right time to sell; I didn’t want to be the wealthiest woman in the cemetery!” While she is continuing to work for D’Artagnan, the founder is planning to take some time for herself. “I have worked hard for 38 years. Now I want to enjoy myself a little and travel more. I’ve never even been to Asia!”

A Family Project

The Hudson farm, which was purchased in late 2019 and opened to the public last year, should also keep her busy. Especially as the project has not yet hit its stride. The coming months will see the installation of a creamery (“I’m going to make the world’s best yogurts,” says the daughter), and a distillery (“to make verbena liqueur and crème de menthe,” says the mother). Then there is the restaurant, whose fate is held in the balance while awaiting a decision from the local authorities. “I’m very impatient for things to start, particularly because it will enable us to manage it at our own pace,” says Ariane Daguin. “I grew up in a restaurant, and I know how much work it requires on a daily basis. Here, we will be able to prepare the food that we want based on the harvests, the seasons, and our chef friends who will come to use our products.”

Both conspiratorial and teasing, the mother-daughter duo realizes that their experiences of the project are slightly different. “My mother thinks it’s fun, or complains that things aren’t moving quickly enough,” says Alix. “I’m here every day and there is so much work to do, things to monitor, different trees and plants… We don’t necessarily agree on everything, but for the project as a whole, we’re on the same page.”

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André Daguin in the kitchen of the Hôtel de France in Auch, 1993. © Benoît Gysembergh/Paris Match/Getty Images

In May, Ariane and Alix left the farm to take a trip that meant a lot to both of them. They attended the inauguration of the Rue André-Daguin in Auch, the city where their father and grandfather, who passed away in 2019, was the chef at the Hôtel de France’s restaurant for almost 40 years. Awarded two Michelin stars for his work, he introduced the world to the cuisine of Gascony – particularly magret de canard, “a meaty whodunit” celebrated in a 1971 New York Times article as “delicious,” “subtle,” and “exquisite.” As she and her daughter prepare to open their own restaurant in a small village north of New York City, Ariane Daguin has reconnected with her roots. “It’s one thing to grow produce,” she says. “It’s another to prepare, cook, and enjoy what you have created with friends and family.”

 

Article published in the July 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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