Name: Robert Compagnon & Jess Yang
Business: Le Rigmarole
Location: Paris XI (10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, 75011 Paris)
Where are you from? Jess: California (Taiwanese family) Robert: Born in NY to a French father and American mother (grew up between NY, Paris, and London)
What brought you both to Paris? We met and fell in love in Paris but thought America would be our home base, so we moved back to New York with the intention of settling there, though realized it wasn’t what we wanted. We decided to move back to Paris because it was a great place to cook. The products are amazing, the startup costs for a restaurant aren’t as astronomical as they are in NY, and the general quality of life is better here. Paris made sense.
What were you doing before you moved to Paris? We were cooking. We’ve always cooked and worked in fine dining restaurants. Jess was pastry chef at Rebelle (in New York) and worked in a bunch of other Michelin starred gastro places. I (Robert) was working in some Japanese restaurants. I studied Japanese literature in college, so I used my ability to speak Japanese to work in Japanese restaurants. That’s where I learned how to use the yakitori, charcoal, etc.
How did you get into food & beverage? Food has always been a passion in both of our lives. We both grew up with parents who made us eat well and were always trying to expose us to good food. At first, Jess worked in marketing and realized that wasn’t going to be her thing, so she decided to study pastry in Paris. I, on the other hand, worked at a law firm for awhile. That didn’t work out, so I started working at a restaurant in NY to see if it was something I’d want to do. One job led to another, and that’s how I learned to cook. I never went to culinary school.
When did Le Rigmarole open? Almost two years ago, October 2017.
What is the concept behind the restaurant? We often say that the cooking style is more personal than anything else. We aren’t tied down to any specific country, so the techniques can be Japanese, with Italian influence, though the products are always French. But the common denominator behind everything is that we make stuff that both Jess and I want to cook and want to eat. It’s very personal. Jess also makes all the ceramics for the restaurant. We have a ceramics studio on the first floor. We also make all of the desserts and ice creams. Boiled down, the menu is based on seasonal French products and French flavors, cooked over Japanese charcoal and seen through that mentality.
Tell us a bit about the current menu. It changes quite often. We’re kind of in a transitional phase, with summer coming to an end. The bright green flavors of the season are going to start becoming more autumnal, so it’s an interesting time. We’re starting to get some new fish, yet still banking on end of summer veggies. Tomatoes are super ripe right now, and Jess is still doing some grilled strawberries with vanilla ice cream for dessert. We’re also currently doing some grilled zucchini, as well as utilizing the beautiful corn that’s still around.
Why did you choose the XI arrondissement? What do you like most about the neighborhood? The restaurant is on a small and quiet street with nothing else really on it, so we liked that. It’s easy to get to, yet the fact that it’s on its own little side street is one aspect that attracted us to the space.
How do you go about building your wine list? The wine list is sort of a group effort. We currently have a sommeliere, Amanda, and together, the three of us all do the tastings together. We sort of pick and choose based on that. We obviously are looking for variety and things that we find really tasty, but again, it’s a collaborative effort. We’re also not stuck to just France– we have a lot of foreign wines (Greek, Italian, German, Spanish, and Austrian, to name a few.)
Which wines are you most excited about at the moment? Yes, tons! We really love Eloi Cedo from Chateau Paquita at the moment. We currently have a wine of his from the 2017 that is really lovely. He made it in honor of his grandmother that passed away. Amanda really loves selling it, too.
Robert, tell us a bit about your work importing binchotan (Japanese charcoal.) How do you use it at the restaurant? We realized after we moved to Paris that there was no supply of quality charcoal, so we decided to import it ourselves. We did it by the container and we still have half of it left! We sell it to other people too (Septime buys it, etc.) Basically, it’s carbonized really slowly so you get very pure flavors. You’re not necessarily adding a smoky flavor to the ingredient, rather, you’re really trying to make the product taste as good as possible.
Jess, tell us a bit about your past work at NYC’s Rebelle. : I was their pastry chef and worked with Daniel on the menu. Dessert-wise, he gave me complete control over the program. I had told them previously that I could probably only work for eight months maximum, because we had to move to Paris to start our own project.
Robert, where did you learn to make pasta? Pasta has been a long process. I worked at Rino for a little bit but never actually made the pasta there. (The chef, Giovanni Passerini, went on to open restaurant Passerini.) I would knead the dough but rarely ever folded pasta. Then, I was in charge of the pasta production at Momofuku Ko– it’s just always been a passion of mine. I always tweak recipes and shapes and stuff. Most of the pasta we have on the menu here is made from invented shapes that don’t actually exist, though we always pick an Italian name to go with it to sort of wink and nod at the culture.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in Paris? Mokonuts and Le Tagine. To drink, we really like going to Delicatessen Cave. They’re just so lovely and are great at helping people to choose wine.
Where are some of your favorite non-food/drink related spots in Paris to hangout? Parc Buttes Chaumont definitely. We also really like the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. It’s a fun little spot that we love sending our friends to. We also love flea markets– we go to the one at Porte de Vanves frequently.
What is a piece (or two) of advice you’d give to someone visiting Paris for the first time? Try to take it easy, don’t try to pack it in! Do maybe one site-seeing thing per day and don’t try to run around the entire city or you’ll just be exhausted. Also, walk everywhere!