This Mother-Daughter Duo Prove That Style Is Not Limited To The Closet

Meet France and Maman.

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Paris’ 7th arrondissement is home to many great things: one is the luxurious Bon Marché department store, another is the idyllic garden of the Musée Rodin. Both bookend the home of Francoise Brunel, which, as I approach one sunny day, is marked by a plaque outside that reads: “Yves Saint Laurent. 1936 – 2008. French designer. Lived in this building from 1970 until his death.” 
Already I have high expectations for my meeting as I enter into the courtyard, though in some ways I feel like I am visiting old friends. Francoise’s daughter, France, has flown over from her adopted home of New York for a friend’s wedding and I took the opportunity to stop by for a meal. It is, after all, what they do best. 

The two set up their blog, Allo Maman, What’s Cooking?!, just over a year ago after Maman, as Francoise is affectionately known, suffered an accident that left her bedridden for six months. They created this joint project as a way of staying in touch – and to pick up a few kitchen skills along the way. Living respectively in Paris and Brooklyn, cooking dinner every night can be a daunting prospect, especially if you live by yourself. Not only is everyone constantly on the move, but there is so much temptation to eat out or buy ready-made meals. All of Maman and France’s recipes are easy-to-follow, and prove that cooking at home doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, it can be a fun way to learn all sorts of new skills. 
Every week, they choose an ingredient that both mother and daughter must incorporate into their own recipe: from avocado soufflé to zucchini flan. Inspiration often comes from their shared French roots, and where they differ is the influence from their respective travels. Maman loves all things Japanese. France errs towards contemporary Western cooking styles. It’s their loving, laughing online presence that makes me feel like I’ve sat around the dinner table with this family throughout my life – a feeling that extended to the very first time I met them. 

France opens the door of the bright, vast apartment with a warm smile. Her artfully clashing floral outfit standing out against the Zen-infused interior of Maman’s elegant home as I am led – where else? – to the kitchen. The thing about this duo is that everything they do is steeped in style: both come from creative backgrounds. They may have different tastes (in every sense of the word), “but,” explains France, “I think what links us together is our passion for color! A plate that's super colorful with tons of contrasting colors is something that we look forward to.” Besides the aesthetic advantages, France tells me, a variety of shades also means you're getting a variety of nutrients from your meal.
That’s not all they have in common. Both are firm champions of the three-course meal. “Every time I’m at an American’s [for] dinner I’m like ‘that’s it? We’re done?’” says France in mock outrage at the lack of desserts served in the States. It’s true that the entrée, plat, dessert meal plan is more of a French tradition – and one that Maman has stuck to all her life, “I do it every day of the year” – but what goes into each component of any Brunel menu stems from a wide range of international reference points. Maman tells me, “I get influenced by the cuisines of the countries I've lived in,” which really does cover a lot of ground. She left home with her parents at the age of 19, and has since lived all over Africa and Asia, “I'd try to recreate the cuisine of each country, maybe with my own personal touch, because there are ingredients that I didn't know [or have].”

Today we are having pork loin dressed in honey and soy sauce with a side of lightly-fried courgettes. It’s clear to see that Maman’s passion for the East has inspired this dish. When it comes to Allo Maman’s ingredient challenges, how do they come up with the recipes? “A combination of magazines, Instagram, Pinterest and original ideas,” France tells me as Maman places the vegetables on the stove. As with any household with a shared love of the kitchen, there is also a family recipe book somewhere in among the well-thumbed volumes of cookbooks that contains the instructions for the much-loved “gâteaux de famille” (family cake), which both mother and daughter’s eyes sparkle at the mere mention of. 
As the now-marinated pork goes into the oven, neither Maman nor France have the splashes of oil that I’d be covered in by this stage – which is especially impressive considering the elder Brunel is wearing a perfectly crisp white shirt. It’s not every day you look into a kitchen and see such well-dressed chefs, and I simply have to ask: is there anything they wouldn’t wear in the kitchen? “Silk clothes,” Maman answers. “For me, really nice shoes,” France chimes in, “Because there’s always something that drops when you cook […] No suede!” We laugh, and then the tone turns serious as Maman says: “We never wear aprons. I dread cooking in an apron!” When your natural style is so sharp, why would you want to cover it up? 

Looking at the two women, I can see certain similarities (aside from the obvious). France may be wearing head-to-toe patterns in bright colors that pop beside her mother’s paired-back palette, but both are dressed in a way that understands the power of simplicity and allowing certain details do the talking. Have they picked up any fashion tips from one another over the years? “I think the influence is more [from] her to me,” says France, gesturing to her mother. “Basically, she loves two things when it comes to fashion: the androgynous style, and minimalism.” Both are tropes that France says she enjoys experimenting with – in particular she likes alternating between more masculine and feminine styles, something she is freer to do in New York. Let’s settle it once and for all, I say, which city has better style: New York or Paris? “I don’t think there is a ‘better’…” France trails off. Maman picks up the thread with a diplomatic answer: “It’s a lot more mixed in New York, but that’s very interesting. It’s a lot more formal in Paris. There is less varied style.” “For me,” France jumps back in, “the biggest difference is elegance [versus] daring. In the U.S. you’re way more daring. Here, people are very elegant but they tend to all dress the same in my eyes.”
The food is now being plated up with as much care and concentration as I imagine these women would choose an outfit. Sauce drizzled over the evenly sliced pork loin, contrasting red pepper corns sprinkled over the courgette for color. I watch Maman open a draw to select a coordinating napkin from a collection that’s more impressive than any shop, and it occurs to me that it’s already time to eat. Maybe it was the cheerful chatter that made the time pass so quickly, maybe Maman and France have developed superhuman kitchen skills. Or maybe it really is just that easy. In any case, I’m summoned to the meticulously decorated table. Bon appétit. 

Check out our selection of everything you need to look like an Allo Maman chef, from the outfit to the equipment:
Zara Draped Floral Print Top - $50
River Island Plus Dark Red Floral Print Tapered Joggers - $56
Foxie Dox Floral Print Midi Skirt With Frill Detail - $152
Zara Printed Palazzo Trousers - $50
Mango Chest Pocket Cotton Shirt - $40
Equipment Arlette Cotton Shirt - $218
Uterque Double Button Trousers - £95
Eloquii Soft Suiting Pant - $90
Hermès Derby - £550
& Other Stories Velvet Sequin Heel Sandalette - $125
La Trésorerie Plance en Bois Niju Grance - €60
La Trésorerie Plat a Rotir Rose Pastel - €45
La Trésorerie Sauteuse Inox 024cm - €42
La Trésorerie Plat Rectangulaire en Email Blanc/Bleu - €19.80
La Trésorerie Assiette Cantine - €15.50
La Trésorerie Set de Table Raye Noir - €8

Stay up-to-date with France and Maman on @allomamanwhatscooking
All photos by Marwen Farhat. Kitchen utensils courtesy of La Trésorerie. 
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