You Can’t Go Home Again – Or Can you? A Return to France

They say you can’t go home again. But it’s safe to saw (thankfully), that is not always true.  You may know Chef Patrick Hebert from our cooking classes in Paris and may have even heard part of his story but there is only so much you can say in class. He shares with us his return to France and the journey between two cultures. A journey not without a bit of culture shock.

Losing a job is not a very pleasant experience and even though it’s difficult, very often a door closes to let another one open.

In 1980, I was 26 years old and working in Paris. My boss got very sick and his wife decided to close and sell their beautiful restaurant. That very same week I found an article in L’Hotellerie, a professional magazine for a job offer in the US. A New Orleans based company was looking for a French chef for the opening of their second restaurant.

 

patou
Mr Patou – Shreveport, Louisiana

 

My first wife and I didn’t have children at the time so we were free to begin this adventure. We arrived in New Orleans in September. My first shock, coming from Normandy, was the heat and humidity. I had never experienced a subtropical climate before.  The second was the size of the cars, they were enormous, luxurious, and comfortable, yet the people were driving so slow and orderly. Nothing like drivers in Paris.

Return to France
Chef Patou

To us, everything in America was bigger: the cars, apartments, refrigerators, even the toothpaste tubes, and jam jars. And to our surprise everything ran efficiently. For example, it took us only a few days to get a telephone installed in our new apartment. At that time in France, it was still a long, laborious, and expensive process to have a phone at home.

It didn’t take me long to realize how bad my English was and communicating was not always easy. The employees who worked under me were very slow in comparison to how a kitchen was run in France. It was often very frustrating and it took me time to accept and adjust to these new working conditions. My relationship with management was also a surprise to me. They gave me their trust from the very first day and it was very important to me not to disappointed them. They were fair and generous, but tough in business.

 

return to france
Monsieur Patou in 2002

French chefs were and still are esteemed in the US and it was funny to see the way people reacted when they recognized my French accent. After four years of working as a chef, I decided to open my own restaurant; good cheese, charcuterie, and French bread were in short supply and all the French people I knew were craving French cuisine. It took about a month to create the company, get a liquor licence, and obtain a construction permit. That was the easy part, the difficult part was being far away from our family. It wasn’t like today, international phone calls were very expensive back then and the only way of staying in contact was writing letters and waiting weeks or months for a reply. 

After 30 years I decided to sell my restaurant and return to France. I knew the move would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be as hard as it was. My parents were aging fast and I felt I needed to be close to them after being away for so long. My kids had graduated from college by that time and they had built lives of their own.

Return to France
Cooking Class at Monsieur Patou


What I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to find a job. At 55 years old, it was considered a mission impossible in France. The same was true for finding an apartment in Paris, but my second wife and I were lucky, we found a great apartment and I found an even greater job at Cook’n With Class.

In the time I was gone, France had changed so much and after 30 years I had become very Americanized. I felt like a stranger in my own country. I was out of touch and had missed a lot, but I was happy to be close to my parents and my extended family. It took a year for me to feel at home again. I’ve rediscovered the good life and the rich culture of France. Not to mention, the good social coverage and work protection which are really a plus, but now my kids and my good American friends are far away. Then I realized that I belong to two different countries that I love immensely, two different cultures, and two different ways of thinking. I’m at home in both places and I know today that I am very fortunate to have had this extraordinary experience in my life. Most of all, I’ve learned that the grass is not greener in the other country, the shades are just different and beautiful wherever I’m at.

return to france
Chef Patrick Hebert – Chef Instructor at Cook’n With Class Paris

 


Interested in French cooking classes in Paris? Book a class with Cook’n With Class Paris – small group sizes, classes all in English.


Join the Conversation

  1. Clayton Dickson says:

    Hello,

    I live in shreveport, LA and am curious what Chef Patou is doing these days. His resstaurant in shreveport is famous and missed dearly. would love to hear.

    1. Cook'n With Class says:

      Hello Clayton,
      I passed your comment on to Chef Patrick. If you can't make it to Paris to see us (before he retires), you can catch him online in one of our online cooking classes. https://cooknwithclass.com/paris/book-online-cooking-classes/

    2. Me too! His daughter is not far. Would love for him to come back to Shreveport

      1. Cook'n With Class says:

        Thank you for commenting on Chef Patrick's post for us. He is well-loved as well in Paris!

  2. Geri Witt Los Angeles CA USA says:

    Many years ago (30+?) we had a horse running in Shreveport and invited 5 other couples to join us for dinner at M. Patou.
    It was a truly memorable dinner! I just came across a postcard I took from the restaurant, I’m so happy I didn’t use it because it brings back such happy memories .
    My beloved husband passed away a year ago
    after a long illness and being housebound, We spent our time looking at pictures of victories at races all over the world and reminiscing about all the wonderful experiences and dinner parties. We only went to Shreveport once but that evening was such fun in every detail we could never forget it!
    The food, the service, the incredible atmosphere you created was a joy, never to be forgotten
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart !!
    I wish you and yours good health and happiness as we all do our best to survive Covid 19.

    1. Cook'n With Class says:

      What a sweet memory. We have been lucky to have Chef Patrick with us for over 10 years now in Paris. The clients love him.

  3. Anne Pinfold says:

    In October 2001 we celebrated our 20th anniversary at Monsieur Patou in Shreveport. It was the most memorable meal we have ever enjoyed. Chef Patrick came out personally with one of the dishes.
    We will be celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. Don't think we can make it to Paris.
    But we just wanted to thank Chef Patrick again for the wonderful meal and experience in 2001. Great memories.
    Greetings from Natchitoches, Louisiana.

  4. Gary and Kathy Metcalfe says:

    We lived in Shreveport for the first 10 years of our marriage ( now 42 years) and celebrated The Holiday Season or our anniversary at Monsieur Patou’s and still tell family and friends about the wonderful meals we had there. His wife always came to our table as we both had young children at the time, and shared stories. It was always as if we had been invited into their home. We hope that Chef Patou and his family are enjoying their return home in Paris and his cooking classes. We are envious of anyone who has the opportunity to spend time with such a talented chef as he. Best wishes to Chef Patou and his family.

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