I think we’d all like to think ourselves as more than just the sum of our parts. Take me, for example: you could label me as just a female entrepreneur, or a (single) mother, or a restaurateur. I’m French, I’m a New Yorker. But to me, all of those things are so deeply intertwined to make me, you can’t think about one without the other. If I’m just a female entrepreneur, I’m a bitch. Just seen as French, oh, oui, oui, we get it. A single mother first and foremost? It’s oh, poor you.
It’s taken me a long time to realize what I am as a whole, and to free myself from living solely toward others’, or my own, expectations based on any one part of who I am. I had been conditioned for 40 years, but now, as a middle-aged woman—a point I’ve come to that I wholeheartedly embrace, by the way—I don’t get hung up on who I’m supposed to be today, or right now, but rather, what could possibly be in store for me?
What I do know and what I can always do is keep the ball rolling with what I’ve already got going—I’ve got plenty between my business and my two teenage boys. I’ve learned, from growing older, and from the experiences I’ve had by now, that if you continue to do just that—the whole ball-rolling thing—the path tends to unfold itself naturally. This was not an easy concept for me to learn as a somewhat impatient woman. The last few years have been challenging for me, filled with disappointments but also some great ideas, and always underscored with an unwavering feeling of hope for what might come next. Holding on to this hope, and using my past trials and triumphs as a reminder of how life unfolds when you keep going, I realized the path to the future unfolds right from my doorstep, and always has.
I opened ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb) 10 years ago with a deep commitment to serve my community food that was ethical, nourishing, and delicious, and to be able to work close to my home and my children. I wanted to bring the traditions of the French country kitchen of roots to my adopted Brooklyn neighborhood. A decade of experience at some of New York’s finest restaurant assured me I could pull it off, but this time on my own terms.
It took me just as many years to realize the impact that Maison May Dekalb has had for the people in my community, the thousands of people who have been drawn to my little restaurant to share good food, or to celebrate a special event. I’m both proud and humbled to say that hundreds of our “neighbors” have gotten married right in our backyard. For a restaurateur, this intimate connection with one’s patrons represents an incredible gift—I have been given the opportunity to establish an even deeper relationship with my guests at one of the happiest times of their lives. To me that is what being a restaurateur is all about.
The celebrations component of my business developed without an agenda—it just came to me. There was no marketing plan, but it has turned into an important focus of my business. Now, I feel as though the next step lies in telling the stories of those celebrations, and sharing the recipes that have shaped our collective experiences—not to mention the fact that writing a cookbook has been a dream of mine for the past 12 years, before I even opened the restaurant. It came to me as a deep longing when I was starting to feed my baby boys, and I “reconnected” to food.
Maison May Dekalb has grown into a fantastic web of people sharing happy memories, all taking place in our little brownstone in Fort Greene. The restaurant has been at the center of a tight-knit little community who all desire the same clean and delicious food—a book, for me, will tell the story of that community, and hopefully help to grow it beyond our neighborhood.
Our extended family goes beyond our staff and patrons, of course—we’re a network of fishmongers, butchers, distillers, farmers, careful artisans who share my vision for a certain kind of food experience. The network keeps growing, and I want it to continue to grow, and a second restaurant location will help us do that. I hope that by growing my business with the core values of sharing something ethical, nourishing, and uplifting, I can help effect change in the community, and help run and grow a restaurant family with a shared commitment to each other and to the planet.