Portrait

Héloïse Brion: Gearing Up for Turkey Day in Normandy

The cookbook author is known for her homey seasonal recipes and her country version of the French je ne sais quoi style. Raised between Florida and France, her U.S. roots also influence her work, including her latest book, My Art of Entertaining, also available in French. Recently, we caught up with the author and mother of two on an autumn day in Normandy.
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© Christophe Roué

Doors seem to fly open before Héloïse Brion. In the six years since starting Miss Maggie’s Kitchen, initially a mish-mash of recipes bound together for close friends, she’s cultivated a loyal community of Instagram followers. She launched a lifestyle line, Parsley by MMK, featuring country chic clothing (think plaid caftans) and kitchen items, as well as a concept store of the same name in Pont-l’Evêque, a small town in Normandy known for its eponymous cheese. She’s collaborated with global brands that align with her taste, like Zara Home and Veuve Clicquot. She’s developing the menu for Bleu Coupole, the onsite restaurant at the upscale Parisian department store Printemps. She just released her second book, My Art of Entertaining, a natural follow-up to her first book, Miss Maggie’s Kitchen: Relaxed French Entertaining. Given all of her success, you have to wonder: What’s her secret?

Héloïse insists that she didn’t set out with a master plan. “I followed my instincts,” she tells me, and one project organically blossomed into the next. Meeting her in person, it quickly becomes apparent why people are drawn to her (and her work). Tall and statuesque, she exudes an easy sense of self-assuredness. Her olivey skin is framed by wavy, uncoiffed hair the color of toasted chestnuts. If she wears makeup, it’s indiscernible. A charming mole on her cheek disappears each time a toothy smile spreads across her face. Her voice holds conviction, whether she’s writing about an autumnal tablescape (“Use ceramics, an abundance of one particular seasonal product – pears, for instance –, metal, and linen or thick cotton”) or talking about her children’s school lunches (“They served tomatoes in winter,” she says, with a hint of disdain. “Couldn’t they choose something warm like butternut squash soup?”).

When Héloïse meets me at the train station in Lisieux, a sleepy town in Normandy that’s equidistant from her boutique and her home, she’s wearing Birkenstock mules and a forest green wool sweater over a striped marinière shirt. One wrist is adorned with chunky bronze bangles. She looks like a page from a Sézane fall catalog. Her car is the first giveaway of her American roots – a 1996 pine green Jeep Grand Cherokee, “shipped from the U.S.,” she tells me as we pull out of the parking lot. Then, there’s her English, which sounds as American as a girl from Westchester. And in fact, though she was raised from age seven in Florida, her family’s point d’entrée in the U.S. was Mamaroneck, New York, where they relocated from France to follow her father’s career in real estate. It was the 1980s, a time when French and American cultures weren’t in dialogue. After six months, the family relocated to Florida, and there, Héloïse tells me, she experienced a warm reception. “People were fighting to teach me English,” she recalls. And being so young, she picked up the language quickly.

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© Christophe Roué
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© Christophe Roué

Héloïse remembers her youth in Jupiter, a town on the southeastern coast of Florida just north of Palm Beach, fondly. In the Parsley boutique, as we peruse the méli-mélo of items displayed on antique dressers and raw wood tables, she points out artifacts inspired by her adopted country – handmade Cuban shirts like you’d see in Miami, “SURF” trucker hats that remind her of the South Florida surf culture, and pizza sauce by Yo Mama’s, a Clearwater-based artisanal food company. She holds up a jar. “I want to show people that just because it’s from the U.S. doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. This is super good pizza sauce, made with all fresh ingredients.”

Entertaining, a Family Tradition

Héloïse’s stories are filled with references to family, an obvious priority. As she shows me a dress made with Indian fabric, she recalls traveling with her brother to India, where she fell in love with the culture. “I think I lived there in another life,” she says with a smile. She attributes her entertaining bug in part to her mom, who loved having people over, whether they were in Florida or their remote family house in the Pyrénées. Her new book, My Art of Entertaining, is dedicated to her late father, she writes, “from whom I inherited my love of big, lively gatherings around a table.”

The book is organized by season, with hosting tips and recipes for each. The photography, shot by her husband Christophe Roué, features colorful dishes – like a rustic pizza topped with luscious figs, plump grapes, and clouds of burrata – and outdoor scenes around their home in Normandy. Also present in the pages is Héloïse’s kitchen – I’ve already seen it via her social media but am nonetheless awestruck when I actually step inside. The vibe is moody and cozy, with earthy tones (like the dusty pink Pierre de Bourgogne countertop) and an imposing Lacanche range cooker with jet-black facades and gold fixtures. A fire crackles inside a modern chimney, a welcome detail on a crisp September day. On a bare dining table made of reclaimed wood, there’s a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies topped with a sprinkle of flaky salt. It is almost too perfect – but then again, the kitchen feels lived in. Sure, there’s a golden water faucet above the stove, but in fact, it’s a practical tool for someone who cooks family meals every single day.

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© Christophe Roué

With the holidays on the horizon, I’m curious about Héloïse’s Thanksgiving traditions. “My parents loved hosting Thanksgiving in their home and they would always invite 30 or so people over, with two huge turkeys and days of preparation,” she says. Incorporating a French touch, her mom would mix sour cream and truffles, and use a syringe to inject the mixture under the turkey’s skin, “like shooting Botox,” she adds with a laugh. When Héloïse lived in Paris, she likewise hosted les amies. One year, she remembers, she even created a quiz for her French friends to teach them about the quintessential American holiday. As it happens, a classic turkey-day dish helped her win her husband’s heart. “We met in early November and I made him sweet potatoes with marshmallows and cinnamon. At first, he looked at me like ‘This girl is nuts.’ Then he tried it and was like, ‘Okay, I love you.’” I ask if she prefers her cranberry sauce homemade or canned and she pauses as if taken aback by the question. She lowers her eyes, “Always homemade.”

We take a stroll around the house, which sits on a sprawling domain that’s straight out of a storybook – there’s even a neighboring picturesque château. As we walk past trees heavy with apples and rolling fields dotted with cows, we talk about schools in the U.S. versus France. She and Christophe are considering moving the family to Florida while their sons, Balthazar and Gabin, are young (they’re currently 7 and 10), so they can be immersed in English and, presumably, experience something similar to Héloïse’s French-American upbringing. As we’re nearing the house, an Anglo-Norman building with a church-like steeple, her blond-haired children bound onto the rocky path on matching trottinettes, followed by her tall, blond husband and their strawberry-blond golden doodle, Rose. “Coucou!” she calls to them – she speaks to her family, Rose included, in French. I wonder aloud whether she’s truly ready to scrap this picture-perfect scene and start from scratch in the United States. Without hesitating, Héloïse answers, “In life, you have to simplify things sometimes. End one chapter and start another.”


My Art of Entertaining: Recipes and Tips from Miss Maggie’s Kitchen by Héloïse Brion, translated from French by Ansley Evans, Flammarion, 2022.

 

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

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