Marc Grossman is a man who likes to go against the grain – actually, he rather embraces it, writes Alex Galbinski. An American restaurateur in Paris, he has opened several health-food eateries and has been called “the city’s juicing kingpin” and the “poster boy for clean eating”.
His restaurants, Bob’s Juice Bar and Bob’s Kitchen – plus, any day now, Bob’s Bakeshop – bring an American, healthy style of eating and drinking that is relatively novel in the French capital. Think veggie burgers, bagels and fresh juices and milkshakes.
A native of Manhattan who has lived in Paris for the past 14 years, Grossman recently published his fifth cookery book, New York Cult Recipes, which is part cookbook and part travel guide.
The press release describes the book as “a love song” to New York and, along with many Jewish recipes such as bagels, latkes, cheesecake, cholent and matzo ball soup, it references many of Grossman’s favourite neighbourhoods and eateries around the Big Apple, including Katz’s Deli, Big Nick’s Greek Diner and Murray’s Sturgeon Shop.
So why did he write it if he is so at home in Europe?
“Somehow, being an expat has made me more of a New Yorker than I was when I lived there,” the 44-year-old admits.
“I’m a ‘New York Jew’. At my restaurants, there is a definite New York vibe and in my previous cookbooks, there has increasingly been a New York bent – bagels, for example. People seem to expect that from me and, at the same time, I end up craving and then cooking foods I associate with New York to reconnect to the place and my past. Cult Recipes really grew out of that experience.”
The father-of-three’s favourite recipe is for challah, which he describes as New York’s answer to the French brioche.
“Making it is a great ritual and, obviously, part of the larger ritual of Shabbat, which I love though sadly rarely keep. But I’ve always loved the bread, not to mention challah French toast,” he says.
Although his parents grew up in kosher, Yiddish-speaking families, Grossman was raised in a non-religious home with a mix of eastern European Jewish cuisine, popular American food, especially of the Greek diner variety, and “a lot of Chinese takeaway”.
He says he started cooking in childhood out of necessity: “My parents worked late and somehow, between me and my older brother, I became the designated cook.
“Typically that meant heating something my mother had prepared in the morning like a chicken or brisket, or making pasta or sticking a steak in the broiler or defrosting my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage. I was always comfortable – as well as seeking comfort – in the kitchen.”
His grandmother Minnie had “a small, but extremely delicious” repertoire of traditional dishes from the old country of Belarus (both sets of Grossman’s grandparents left Russia for the US around 1918). “She taught me things, most notably matzah brei and stuffed cabbage, and I watched her make dishes such as chopped liver and baked apples. Like my parents, she made cooking seem easy and fun and encouraged me to participate – more valuable than any particular recipe.”
Not content with restaurant cooking, Grossman cooks at home for his family – wife Fabienne, a graphic designer for Elle magazine and the book’s art director, their sons aged 12 and 10, and their two-year-old daughter. What does he make?
“When in doubt, it’s pasta and salad. I often make pseudo-Chinese food. I like stews (brisket, break lamb) that can be prepared in advance. I also test recipes a lot for work and the family are my guinea pigs – three sponge cakes this week, for example. Pancakes and French toast on weekend mornings. Some fresh fish at least once a week.”
He says people are often surprised he left New York but, when asked why he moved to Paris, says: “I married a Frenchwoman. I love New York, but it stresses me out. I like the New York ambitious, anything-is-possible attitude and how passionate people are about their work, but it can go too far – always competing, never having enough and working all the time.
“In France, I work hard but also have a lot of vacation time and days off with my family. It seems more balanced. It takes me away from myself, though less so the longer I live here. New York is the home of my psyche; Paris is the home of my adult persona.”
Grossman graduated from Harvard and tried various jobs before impulsively opening Bob’s Juice Bar in Paris in 2006. Three years later, he opened his second venture, Bob’s Kitchen, with French business partner Amaury De Veyrac, followed by Bob’s Cold Press, billed as Paris’ first cold-pressed juice service.
Not wanting to name his ventures after himself, Grossman, who used to be a vegetarian, chose Bob as he had “very positive associations with the name – Dylan, Marley, Fossey, to name a few”.
He says he did not encounter any criticism or snobbery as an American in what is still considered a major culinary capital. “On the contrary, I feel people have cut me a lot of slack,” he says gratefully.[divider]
Recipe: Marc Grossman’s Matzo Ball Soup
The matzo balls are really the star attraction in this soup, but you can make it without them, in which case it would simply be a classic chicken soup (aka “Jewish penicillin”). (Serves five)
Preparation time: 30 minutes | Cooking time: 50 minutes | Refrigeration time: 3 hours
150g matzo meal | 2 pinches bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)| 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional) | 4 egg yolks | 4 tablespoons olive oil | 4 tablespoons water | 1 teaspoon finely-chopped parsley | 4 egg whites ½ teaspoon salt
1 carrot, diced | 1 parsnip, diced | 1 brown onion, finely chopped | 4 garlic cloves, crushed | 1 teaspoon dried thyme | 2 tablespoons olive oil | 2 litres chicken stock | 100g dried egg noodles | 12 small pieces of chicken | Salt and pepper
Mix together the matzo meal, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon. Beat together the egg yolks, oil, water and parsley. Combine the two mixtures. Beat the egg whites with the salt to stiff peaks. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest and set aside in the refrigerator for at least three hours. With oiled hands, roll the matzo ball dough into balls the size of ping-pong balls.
Sauté the vegetables and the thyme over a medium heat for about five minutes until the onions are translucent, then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the matzo balls 30 minutes before serving, the dry egg noodles 10 minutes before serving, and the pieces of chicken five minutes before serving. To reduce the total cooking time, the matzo balls can also be pre-cooked separately in salted water and then added to the soup with the chicken just before serving.[divider]
• New York Cult Recipes by Marc Grossman is published by Murdoch Books, priced £20.