One could say that Rosa Jackson has a finger in every pie, and not only because her lemon tart is finger-licking good. She is a multitasker but a focused one and, in her world, everything revolves around food, usually organic. Rosa has successfully combined her writing skills, a passion for cooking and an encyclopedic knowledge of anything that might come up if you Googled Food and Paris together. She single-handedly runs two companies, Edible Paris which provides tailor-made food itineraries around the capital, as well as Nice based Les Petits Farcis, which offers market tours and cooking classes in English. And if you’re not convinced by a Paris loving Canadian, teaching classic Nissart dishes in her 400 year old apartment, then I will assume you haven’t tasted her Menton lemon tart with olive oil. Tarts don’t lie.
ALOUD: Rosa, how and when did your interest in the fields of Food emerge?
ROSA JACKSON: It started very young. I lived in Paris for a year when I was four and I used to really love going to Patisseries with my dad. I became very enamored with the food. When I got back to Canada, I realised the only way I could have French patisseries was to make them myself. When I was about 8 or 9, I would try to make eclairs or croissants. Most of them didn’t turn out at first but I got good at making simpler things. As a teenager, I started preparing cakes for parties. I worked for a French tea room where I finally learned to make croissants. I taught myself to cook over a period of years but there is only so far you can go by yourself. When I finished University, studying English literature and theater, I started working for the local newspaper as a Food writer. After a couple of years, I took a 6 month leave and went to Paris. I worked in a couple of tea rooms and did some freelance writing. I didn’t really start any cooking studies because I didn’t have the budget for it. I got a job at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School as an interpreter. I was able to learn a lot even though I wasn’t officially a student.
ALOUD: Were you still writing when you worked at the Cordon Bleu?
ROSA: Yeah, I continued to write a lot for the Canadian Daily newspapers. I would talk about trends, things that were happening in the Paris food world. After a while at the Cordon Bleu, I got worried I was getting away from journalism too much so I thought I need a serious journalism job. I got a job at Agence France Presse and worked there doing international news and translating. It was really valuable for me to get established in France but I started getting bored very quickly, it felt very institutional. I left AFP to work as a food editor for Time Out. I was editing the Time Out Paris Eating and Drinking guide for several years. It was not a well paid job but I loved the work, I loved editing and I wrote many reviews myself. At the same time, I had another freelance job editing the champagne magazine for Moet & Chandon, going to Champagne evenings, in Milan or Copenhagen. I briefly worked for a website called “e.luxury” where in the space of 3 weeks, I had to eat in the 10 best restaurants in Paris. Those were the 90’s when people had money (laughs). Now that doesn’t really exist anymore. To do that and get paid for it is … finished. After I had worked for Time Out for a few years, I was like an encyclopedia of Paris restaurants so I thought, I might as well turn it into a business. That’s how I created Edible Paris.
ALOUD: How did you start it?
ROSA: Well, I had contacts in the media. I told everybody I knew that I was doing it and people just picked up on it. Once there were one or two articles, then other people started to write about it. It really just got its audience by itself. I’m always amazed by Edible Paris because I never really do anything to promote it and it just kind of ticks along.
ALOUD: When did you start doing market tours?
ROSA: When I was working at the Cordon Bleu, I had a little company called Paris Market Tours. I promoted it through sending out letters to newspaper editors and they would write little articles about it. I didn’t have enough business to make that my main occupation so I stopped that when I started working at AFP. I think those were the first tours of markets that anyone did in English in Paris. After I stopped, Paule Caillat, who teaches cooking in Paris took over. She made a business doing cooking classes and I thought I would really like to do something like this. In Paris, it’s very difficult to get the kitchen space that you need. I was coming to Nice quite often and started looking at places here. I bought this place a little bit on impulse. That’s when I focused on the cooking classes.
ALOUD: What attracted you to Nice?
ROSA: I was coming here a lot for holidays and I fell in love with the place. I was able to buy an apartment here that I couldn’t have got in Paris, the market is right there and it has strong local cooking traditions. No one else was doing it here. It seemed like a good place.
ALOUD: How did you learn to cook the local dishes?
ROSA: First I went and bought all the old cookbooks, tried and eliminated recipes. The niçois style is often very much just throwing lots of things in a pot and letting them cook for a long time. I was looking for things that were a little bit more refined and more modern.
ALOUD: Your dishes are local but they are presented more beautifully
ROSA: Yeah, they are a bit more presented. There were certain chefs I got to know like Franck Cerutti from the Louis XV in Monaco who helped what I did seem legitimate to people who live here so that they helped me a lot more and would give me recipes. It’s a lot from talking to the different farmers and how they do things and just trying. Because of my classes, I do recipes many times, they grow over time.
ALOUD: Do you have any other projects besides Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis?
ROSA: I have 3 cookbooks in French and now I really want to publish a cookbook in English so I just started working on one and I guess I won’t say too much about it because it’s not sold to a publisher yet.
ALOUD: How do you give your various projects the time that they deserve?
ROSA: I had to limit my cooking classes to no more than two a week because each class represents about two days of work. That gives me at least one or two days where I can do other work. One a week is even better but it’s easier to make money from a cooking class than from writing. They do require a lot of energy and I appreciate the time when I’m just in front of the computer and doing other things.
ALOUD: How often do you prepare itineraries for Edible Paris?
ROSA: I normally do one or two itineraries a week. Those take about half a day for me to do and then I send them to someone else who does the maps.
ALOUD: I imagine now you have quite a good mental library, you must be able to put itineraries together fairly quickly.
ROSA: I do, I use my memory a lot to piece things together. I am planning to create a real database of Paris food shops and restaurants so that I can do it in a more methodical way instead of starting things off fresh every time.
ALOUD: How much time do you devote to freelance writing?
ROSA: It’s hard to say exactly because it varies from month to month. Maybe now it’s only about 20% of my time.
ALOUD: Do you have a tendency to let things evolve organically or would you rather follow a plan?
ROSA: No, I’m very organic (laughs), I’m organic in many different ways. The idea for Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis cooking classes came to me at the same time. I didn’t really plan that, it was just an idea I had and I tend to act on my ideas and see how far I can go with them. Those happened to be good ideas that I was able to follow up on.
ALOUD: When you have an idea like this, do you talk to people very quickly or do you let it simmer a long time?
ROSA: I didn’t really ask anyone’s opinion, I just did it, within days (laughs). Les Petits Farcis was longer to set up but Edible Paris was relatively easy to get started. I have never done a business plan (laughs). I probably should if I want to develop Les Petits Farcis into something more like a full-fledged cooking school. Once you start renting space that is beyond your home, I think you have to be very careful. The things I have done so far are low overhead but it’s not the same as paying a huge rent every month on a shop storefront.
ALOUD: Do you have any full time staff?
ROSA: I have people who do guided tours for me but they are independent.
ALOUD: How do you make important decisions? What would make you say no to an offer?
ROSA: I follow my guts quite a lot. I am very fussy about what I do. For one thing, I only like to write about food and not a lot of other subjects. If it’s off topic, I pass it on right away. It has to be something that interests me, that I think will be fun.
ALOUD: Are there things you wish you hadn’t done?
ROSA: It’s very hard to say no to a guidebook project because they are not generous and they ask for a lot of work but it comes with other rewards. It’s good for Edible Paris and for my general knowledge. It forces me to go see what’s out there. There is not a lot that I regret doing just because I am quite selective to begin with.
ALOUD: Is working for yourself an important aspect of what you do?
ROSA: Yes, and although I loved working in the Time Out office, I don’t think I would do well now if I had to go into an office for fixed hours because I’m not used to being told what to do.
ALOUD: Do you think that it is sometimes isolating?
ROSA: I do miss the contact with the other writers at Time Out. It’s much more creative if you can exchange ideas and Nice is a little problematic for that because there aren’t many other writers that I know here. Paris was really good because you could always meet other creative people. Nice is a different kind of environment and there are times when it can feel a bit isolated. I find the contact with all kinds of different people in my cooking classes quite stimulating in its way.
ALOUD: Are you able to make a living only from things you want to be doing?
ROSA: Yes, like I said, if I only wanted to write at the moment, I would have a problem (laughs) but because I’m willing to do several different things that are not necessarily my original career, I think I can do only what I want.
ALOUD: Do you think that the cooking classes have become your main activity and the other ones are secondary?
ROSA: Yeah, it has grown into that but only in the last year. This year is the first year where I have felt that’s there has been a build up of word of mouth and articles. It has moved into being my main activity which I am quite happy with.
ALOUD: Had you foreseen that?
ROSA: Like I said, I don’t really plan (laughs). I don’t think I ever really believed I would be as busy as I am now. There is not really a big difference in the number of classes I’m doing, it’s more that they are full now.
ALOUD: And you mostly get Americans, Canadians, Australians…
ROSA: I think I get almost as many Canadians as Americans, I see Australians more during the winter and the English are a small part of my classes because I think it’s not as much in their culture to go and take a cooking class when they are on holiday.
ALOUD: Do you agree with this quote by Confucius “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”?
ROSA: I love the quote but I still feel like I’m working sometimes (laughs). Although I love writing, the first hour when you sit down and you have to write an article is kind of torturous but it’s certainly work that I enjoy and I wouldn’t trade it for working in a shop.
ALOUD: What about all the administrative aspects which come with an independent career?
ROSA: I try to do the minimum of that sort of thing that I can but living in France, you can’t get away from it completely. I think when you have freedom in what you do, it’s a lot different than when you feel it’s being imposed on you by an employer.
ALOUD: Do you draw a line between your life and your work?
ROSA: No (laughs)
ALOUD: I think that is also the thing about this quote. For some people, work is work but when you work for yourself, it becomes your life.
ROSA: Yeah, when I go to bed, I’ll take a cookbook with me (laughs). When I’m on holiday, I’m visiting food producers and going to the markets. I would never say that’s work, it’s just what I do.
ALOUD: But it blends into your work. How do you promote yourself?
ROSA: These days I am trying to use tools like Facebook more. I also have a blog on which I don’t write as often as I should but when I do it regularly, I find it is a really good tool because people feel like they know me and would like to spend some time with me. It’s a nice way of making a connection.
ALOUD: You are also mentioned in some guidebooks. Do you approach them?
ROSA: No, I don’t approach them. I’ve done that job too, you look at what’s out there and include it in the guide.
ALOUD: Are there other people doing what you do in Nice?
ROSA: No, in fact there is no one else.
ALOUD: How do you make things happen? Do you feel like you create opportunities or that they happen almost by chance?
ROSA: I think that almost nothing has been an accident. Everything I do came from me. I’m someone who has a lot of ideas. It’s more about choosing which ones I’m going to act on. The reason I had those ideas for Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis at the same time was that I had just been to a culinary conference so I was feeling quite inspired. Any other ideas I have now are just developing a different aspect of what I do.
ALOUD: How would you take it to the next level?
ROSA: I don’t know if it’s a quality or a flaw but I’m not very good at thinking big, I think on a small scale. Everything I do is focused on what I can provide. I think Americans are more in the mindset of grow grow grow and I’m more in the French mindset that I don’t want it to get so big that I’m not enjoying it anymore.
ALOUD: What are your next steps?
ROSA: There are several possibilities. I could get into cookbook writing more or concentrate completely on the cooking classes. A the moment, I am just seeing where I can go with this cookbook project and at the same time, at least considering getting a different space for my classes to take it out of my home and make it a bit more flexible. The other possibility is doing something with TV because automatically your career goes way beyond what you can do without television. It’s not something I would actively go after but if I met the right people and had the chance, then I would try.
ALOUD: What other skills would you like to add to your repertoire?
ROSA: I would love to take 3 months and go to the slow food university but my current life doesn’t allow for anything of this luxury. At least take more cooking classes because at the moment, I work a lot and I don’t have much time for personal development. It’s always good to study, especially when you teach because there are always new things that change, new ideas, new products.
ALOUD: From the business side of things, would you want to formally learn about that or are you quite happy to learn as you go?
ROSA: I think the most I would do is learn it from books, I don’t think I’m motivated enough to go to school to learn that (laughs).
ALOUD: How do you envision the future, close or far?
ROSA: I’m quite happy to be in Nice because it took a few years to decide that this was really where I wanted to be rather than Paris. It was only just a choice between those two. The real ideal is to have both.
ALOUD: Which you are kind of doing anyway.
ROSA: When I look at my future, in ten or twenty years, I definitely want to have one foot firmly in Paris and the other probably in Nice because I feel like my work very much centers on both places and I get something very different out of each place.
ALOUD: Is the risk worth the reward?
ROSA: I’m definitely a risk taker by nature, I’m not someone who stops to think for very long before taking a risk. If I was a different type of person, then it might be harder but it doesn’t scare me that much.
When the time came to recommend another woman who should be on this blog, Rosa suggested one of her friends and fellow Paris lover:
Erica Berman, an American living in Paris for the last 17 years, is the creator, manager and owner of Haven in Paris, a vacation rental company which offers a range of luxurious holiday apartments in the centre of Paris. In addition, Erica and her team spend their days scouring the city for anything and everything hip—from restaurants and boutiques to organic markets and artistic events to publish on her blog HiP Paris.
To learn more about Rosa’s work, you can visit her blog on www.rosajackson.com and find links to the “Les Petits Farcis” and “Edible Paris” websites. For French speakers, you will find some easy dessert recipes in her latest book Les meilleurs desserts des paresseuses published by Marabout. Rosa also contributes a monthly column for France Magazine, published in the UK and a feature on Parisian Bistrots will be published in The Australian Gourmet Traveler in the December 2010 issue. Finally, don’t forget to click here for the recipe for Rosa’s delicious Menton Lemon Tart with Olive Oil.