A FRENCH-JAPANESE CONVERSATION WITH MARIE MÉON AND NATHALIE AGEMATSU
Marie Méon is a French-Japanese entrepreneur, in love with Harold and mother to Georges. She grew up in Tokyo, then moved to Paris to study architecture and interior design. After 10 years working in retail design for luxury brands, she decided to dedicate herself to something more meaningful and her true calling: cooking. Shortly thereafter she founded Manger Manger resulting in a way for her to combine cooking, teaching, restaurant design and event-management.
Nathalie Agematsu is French-Japanese as well. She grew up between Japan, France, and the US. After studying communications in Paris, she worked in fashion, as a buyer, and then started a career in the international magazine business. In 2012, moved by the desire to promote her native country’s artisanal work, she founds Shopu, an online store that sells a collection of items from Japan, between design, art and handicrafts.
These two have known each other since kindergarten. They were classmates in the Lycée Français de Tokyo and reconnected in Paris a decade later. Read on for their thoughts on wellbeing and eating well.
I/O: Wellbeing today is often approached holistically. How would you define it?
Marie: Self care and being honest with ourselves: knowing how to listen to our bodies and our minds, trying not to get in their way, and going with what we want or need (in terms of tastes, limits, and even excess!). When we mature, we know ourselves more and more, and it’s better not to lie to ourselves, for instance when we don’t want to drink or go out, when we want something fatty but not sweet… These days, my body’s telling me to exercise, and I should probably listen!
Nathalie: I start my day off with meditation, no matter where I am. This practice allows me to be aware of my body and my mind, and to start my day off calmly and in good spirits. I believe wellbeing is first and foremost knowing how to enjoy ourselves without guilt.
I/O: A favorite meal?
Marie: A bowl of steaming Japanese white rice - my own version of Proust’s madeleine.
Nathalie: Seafood, because it reminds me of both Japan and the south of France where I was born.
I/O: Do you have any rituals or nutritional quirks?
Marie: I stop eating when I’m about 80% full. It’s a very effective method to be able to eat everything and not gain any weight, because yes, I do eat everything! If I indulge too much, I naturally tend to compensate the next day.
Nathalie: I always take a photo of what I’m eating, and end my meals on a sweet note, like a piece of dark chocolate or a cookie from Yoku Moku, brought back from Tokyo.
I/O: What’s your greatest source of inspiration?
Marie: Jeong Kwan (Editor's note: watch the Chef's Table episode about that Buddhist Monk and chef who lives in Korea). My dream is to stay at her temple.
Nathalie: Travelling, meeting people, and exhibitions are my biggest sources of inspiration, as well as traditional skills, and their transmission through generations. I especially admire the artisans I work and collaborate with for Shopu.
I/O: Who are your role models?
Marie: My mother. She was from a traditional farming family in Japan and decided to move to the capital alone, then went on to study fashion in Paris. She came back to Tokyo with a French husband, and set up a haute couture workshop. She founded a family of mixed origins, all the while pursuing her professional ambitions. This was still pretty uncommon in Japan back then as women often traded in their careers upon becoming mothers. She lived the life she chose to live, which made her a very determined and modern woman. This has influenced me greatly.
Nathalie: My Japanese grandfather who is no longer with us. He transmitted his love for flowers, the value in life’s simpler things, an appreciation for the beauty and imperfections of everyday objects, and respect for the artisan’s work that went into creating each item.
I/O: What is your definition of a perfect meal, in terms of food, atmosphere, guests…?
Marie: Clashes, contrasts, surprises, unexpectedness. I love having guests and cooking for them, especially if I don’t know them or they don’t know each other!
Nathalie: At home or at a restaurant, a small group, shared plates, and lots of saké!
I/O: Do you have any self-imposed rules when cooking?
Marie: No processed food in my fridge, food shopping at the market and with independent producers to ensure that I follow the seasons. I try to do everything myself (bread, candied lemons, spicy oils, sauces, etc.). Eating less, eating simply, eating well! Also, my fridge is never full, I find it wasteful. Products get damaged or spoiled, you forget some of what you have, and then you end up having to throw things out. Having my fridge half full/empty guarantees the freshest products, and forces creativity: in the end, you try new things, unexpected pairings, and create new dishes. Everybody wins!
Nathalie: No processed foods for me either. I shop at the organic market or on Rue du Nil in the 2nd arrondissement, where they have the best seasonal produce, top-of-the-line meat and fish, rare vegetables and the best whole grain bread I’ve ever had!
I/O: Chia pudding or Purin pudding?
Mare: Purin, of course.
I/O: Energy Balls or Kyoto Sesame Meatballs?
Marie: Meatballs! They’re so comforting. I cook them with poultry and tofu, poached in a guilt-free “dashi” stew. I’m also a big fan of Kefta tajines.
Nathalie: I often find energy balls too sweet and I have a soft spot for anything with sesame, so I’d have to say Kyoto meatballs!
I/O: What are the closest gastronomical resemblances between France and Japan?
Marie: Seasonality of dishes and ingredients, which is often the main theme when composing a menu. And then, I would say the true obsession of both the French and the Japanese for food in general. You could say I’m doubly-obsessed!
Nathalie: France and Japan both have a strong culinary identity, a shared passion for quality products, and a sense of refinement. The best croissant I’ve ever had was in Japan!
I/O: What resources do you recommend?
Marie: I’m always browsing Food Republic for articles. At the moment, I’m reading Save your Body by Dr. Kousmine, which helps re-thinking what we eat. I listen to the Cherry Bomb podcasts, and read their magazines. I also like Luncheon, Gather Journal, the Gourmand, and Kinfolk for their beautiful images. Lastly, I follow artist Olafur Eliasson’s cantine’s Instagram account (@soe_kitchen), a creative and conceptual vision of vegan cooking. His book is a masterpiece: Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen.
Nathalie: At the moment, I’m reading the Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (1923-1941), whom I particularly admire. The Headspace app, dedicated to meditation: creator Andy Puddicombe’s voice is absolutely hypnotic. My favorite podcast to this day is S-Town, an investigative documentary created by Brian Reed: once you’ve started, I guarantee you won’t be able to put down your earphones! Japanese magazine Brutus for its diversity, and the english magazine Pleasure Garden, for the beauty of the pictures and original portraits.
I/O: Where can our community find you?
Marie: Around a table with good food, on my site, and of course in my kitchen!
Nathalie: On my site, at my pop-up events, or at the Pho place on rue Volta!
Thank you: Pauline Wormser and Marie Persyn at Such&Such.