We've all had that wonderful experience of meeting someone and almost immediately feeling like you've known them forever. That's the kind of instant friendship that was kindled between Josée Fiset (who needs no introduction) and author and host Alexandra Diaz, who is currently launching her recipe book Fiesta santé. The two women sat down together to share their back-to-school memories and their experiences making lunches for their kids.
BY SOPHIE BORDE
An instant friendship was struck between these two women who are passionate about food. After
their conversation, they were inspired to raise their glasses to the joy of spending time together – glasses full of a pisco sour cocktail reimagined by Alexandra, drawing on her Chilean heritage. These two aficionados of healthy cooking had so much to say to each other, so many questions to ask and so much information to pass on, that they almost forgot to eat the scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches sitting on their plates and they stopped noticing the production crew around them.
ALEXANDRA DIAZ I love the simplicity of your Notebooks, especially the one with the herbs. I absolutely love green! And I use herbs everywhere – in my homemade cocktails and in my cooking!
JOSÉE FISET Me too! I have a garden full of herbs, so I just have to pick them. Everything I need is right there. You should come by and see it. It’s so nice!
AD I believe it! Josée, your kids are grown up now, but mine still go to school. Tell me how you handled making school lunches.
JF When my kids were younger, I worked a lot. I was very involved in growing Première Moisson, and I often came home late at night. So the mornings were my special time to spend with the kids. I would make their lunches while they ate breakfast. We would all be gathered around the kitchen island, talking – because I think it’s fun to talk over food.
AD I totally agree! But I do the opposite: I organize my schedule to be there in the evenings. And since my kids really like salads, I can make their lunches the night before. We talk around the table at my house, too. That’s where the kids tell me about their day. I feel privileged to share that with them. Tell me, how did you manage to be free in the mornings? I get an image of a business woman leaving very early, dropping the kids off at daycare while blowing air kisses from the car window.
JF You’re blowing my cover [laughs]. In fact, I was lucky not to be alone at home. That gave me the opportunity to exercise three mornings a week, between six and seven. Then I’d come upstairs in my exercise clothes and spend half an hour with my kids while preparing their lunches. After that, they’d hug me and pet the dog and take off for school. We had a real morning ritual.
AD I started running because it was easy to incorporate into my routine. I even have meetings while I’m jogging! But what I find tricky about lunches is having to make sandwiches that will still be good hours later. My daughter loves grilled cheese sandwiches, but they lose their crispy-melty texture pretty fast. But I still make them, because she likes them even if they get a bit mushy in the thermal container.
JF Alexandra, when it comes to sandwiches, my secret was always the bread. I would use a whole range of different types. Of course, with Première Moisson, I had tons to choose from, as you can imagine!
AD Toasted or not?
JF It depended on my mood at the time.
AD You know, Josée, when I was young, Première Moisson’s was the only bread allowed to be served alongside my mother’s homemade Chilean bread. Quite an honour! Its products have always been part of my life. And my favourite – the one I just flip over – is the Sprouted Grain Loaf.
JF It makes me happy to hear that! You know, when I was a student, I spent a few months in Toronto perfecting my English. I can still see my Vietnamese friend breaking eggs into a frying pan to put in a sandwich. Everything her hands touched became delicious. I found her very inspiring. When I became a mom, I left a lot of room for improvising surprise sandwiches – never the same twice – so lunchtimes were always different. I guess it was my artistic side coming out. But it was also a way to express myself as a mother: my own personal way of taking care of my children, of loving them, of teaching them to appreciate the infinite number of flavours that become available to us with a little creativity and open-mindedness.
AD Josée, that way of cooking – and of showing love – really resonates with me. I’m also an expert improviser. I try not to take shortcuts – though I know that sometimes, with our busy lives, we choose the practical solution – and I’m trying to bring slowness back into my cooking. Without bragging, I can say that I’m pretty good at transforming what I find in my fridge into something tasty. I think I get that from my mother. (Thanks, Mom!) And my kids are following in our footsteps. They continuously surprise me: they instantly know when food is of poor quality and turn up their noses at it.
JF That’s because, like me, you’ve gotten them used to eating well. When my kids snubbed a food, I would give myself the challenge of getting them to like it, because I knew that giving into their food whims wouldn’t do them any favours. And, in a way, I also wanted to pass on my foodie side to them.
AD There’s nothing worse than a guest who sorts through the food on their plate. Like you, I gave my kids a taste for healthy foods, cooked in all different ways.
JF I had a strategy, you know. I would cook a disliked food a thousand different ways until the kids finally liked it. They could make all the faces they wanted, I would stand firm. They had to eat what I served them. I always said: “What do we do when we don’t like something? We eat it anyway!” I would explain to them that a palate has to be developed, that it was normal not to like something the first time you try it, that the sense of taste has to be cultivated. Their friends who came to the house followed the same rule. And I would take advantage of them being there to try new cooking experiments. Even the most difficult kids would leave the table delighted.
AD That reminds me of how, growing up, my friends and even my friends’ friends were always welcome. The door was always open. And there were extra kids at almost every meal. This family atmosphere, this abundance of food, this sense of welcome… they’re deeply rooted in me. And I’m trying to recreate them with my own children.
JF The type of hospitality you’re describing, Alexandra – this sharing that shaped your memories – it’s also exactly what I grew up with. And I’ve also tried to recreate this conviviality with my children’s friends. Oh, that reminds me of a story! One day, Julien, a friend of my son, said, “Your sandwiches are so delicious!” I answered, “Really? Nicolas let you taste them?” And he said, “No, we swap!” [Laughter.] I flipped out! My son was eating lifeless bread and industrially processed meat, and it was Julien who was enjoying my delicious, healthy sandwiches.
AD That’s too funny!
JF I won’t deny that I was a bit ahead of the times. My kids’ lunches were a curiosity for their friends. Hardly anyone ate tofu back then!
AD And now, it’s everywhere. Most kids are totally familiar with it.
JF Exactly. In any case, even though I don’t have to make sandwiches for lunch anymore, back to school is a time of year I really like (maybe because it’s also my birthday. Ha!) It brings back fond memories. Talking to you has made me realize that love was the main ingredient in my cooking.
AD Yes! Love is the essential ingredient. A love for life, for family, for friendship…. I hope my kids will remember that I passed on my love of healthy cooking through a kind of organized chaos that’s totally my own! And that they think of back to school and lunch boxes with as much enthusiasm as I do.
JF Come on, let’s drink to back to school! Cheers!
AD Cheers, Josée!
Fall must-read: Alexandra Diaz’s fifth recipe book, and first solo book, in which she shares her love of festive cooking and her exercise tips.