Who Built Her Dream Life Around a Passion
for French Cooking
Susan Herrmann Loomis is one expat-entrepreneur Glenn and I were delighted to meet on a trip to Paris during the Summer of 2014. I was with Glenn and one other couple, about to embark on a private Orient Express houseboat tour of the Loire Valley. We had landed at CDG and were staying in Paris a few days at the George V when it was highly recommended that we travel an hour north for a truly special culinary experience.
Always up for an adventure (especially one that promises great food), we took a car up to the town of Louviers, where Susan lives and runs her cooking school from her lovely home.
Susan’s spacious residence is actually a converted convent, nestled in the center of town and across the street from a splendid Gothic cathedral. She’s called the house on Rue Tatin (also the name of her school and famous blog) home since 1993, and has lovingly restored it to include a sprawling state-of-the-art kitchen where she regularly hosts students from around the world.
“The romantic part of my job is getting to meet all of the wonderful people—many of whom become my friends.” Susan told me over the phone recently. “The luxurious part is that I get to eat well, drink fabulous wines, and I am always discovering new things. But I always say that my students give me so much more than I could ever possibly give them. I feel rich beyond measure.”
While building her cooking school, Susan has continued to enjoy a lengthy and award-winning writing career. She recently published her tenth book, In the French Kitchen. Part memoir, part strategy guide, and part recipe collection, the newly released book imparts tips and secrets from the French home cook, as seen through Susan’s eyes.
“I wanted to bust some myths and help people understand that yes, the French are gifted, but beyond that they are simply organized, they understand food and they have learned a lot just by growing up around it.” Susan explained to me. “The book is about showing you how to cook in the same way that the French home cook does, and easily put two multi-course meals on the table every day, sit down with your family and friends, and enjoy it.”
Susan began her career as a journalist before realizing she could marry her passion for food with her talent for words. As she tells it, “I spent a lot of my free time reading about food, and it dawned on me that I could write about it!”
To begin, Susan decided to investigate food from every angle, starting with cooking. “I wanted to learn to cook in either Japan or France, but since I already spoke some French I moved to Paris and apprenticed for a year at a highly renowned cooking school. It was a wonderful situation where I was able to help run the school, and learn to cook at the same time.”
From reading one of Susan’s books or attending one of her classes, you can sense her passion for not only the how of food, but the why. When our group arrived in Louviers, she first took us to the local Farmer’s Market. It was the epitome of your dream French market, perfectly and simply stocked with the most beautiful organic produce, glistening fresh fish, and raw artisanal cheeses. (And don’t even get me started on the bread.)
With our lunch ingredients in tow, we headed back to Susan’s chateau. The experience of being in her home was just delightful. We first enjoyed a lovely afternoon coffee as she laid out the game plan. Then we got behind the burners and made a spectacular French country meal, with Susan’s encouraging guidance leading the way.
At the house on Rue Tatin, French cuisine loses a bit of its intimidating air. Susan is a natural teacher and a collector of culture, and she effortlessly imparted so many great tips. She introduced me to eating baguettes with a spread of fine butter, sliced raw radishes and a sprinkle of sea salt—divine! She also shared some smart dinner party advice: Rather than asking guests what they’d like to drink, offer everybody just one signature drink to encourage friends to share the same experience.
Susan is clearly a woman who loves life, food, travel, culture and people, and has found a way to live in honor of that. After her apprenticeship in Paris, she stayed in town and opened her first business. “I opened a little restaurant, and did freelance writing on the side. It snowballed into books. For 10-15 years I supported my family of three mainly through writing.”
Because it sounds like a dream project, I could not resist asking Susan about her first book, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, which she worked on with another renowned American chef in Paris, Patricia Wells.
“We walked the streets of Paris for a year and a half tasting everything multiple times,” Susan told me, bringing the dream to life. “At that time we’d often be the only two women in a restaurant at lunch time in Paris—it was all businessmen!”
I asked Susan what it’s like now to be a woman entrepreneur in France, living a self-made lifestyle as she does: “I do exactly what I want in my work, which others don’t always understand. It can be challenging—people look at me like I’m an extraterrestrial. I’m an American, I work for myself, I work from home, I’m a single mom and I travel all the time. None of it fits the French model and nobody can quite figure out how I make it all work, but when they get to know me, they see that I work hard at everything I do to make it all happen.”
I always say that every woman has a story, and I find Susan’s story so inspiring. It may not have been easy to move to France and live in this way, but she had a dream and took a risk to make it happen. I so admire a woman who knows who she is and doesn’t fall back on what society expects of her. Susan will admit her path was not for the faint of heart, but when you ask her how she did it, the answer is simple:
“If you’re passionate about something just stick with it. Perseverance is the best ingredient you can have. You just have to show up, and your passion will carry you through the tough times, and eventually it all will come together.”
For more about Susan Herrmann Loomis, visit her website: onruetatin