As a restaurant reviewer, curiously the food isn’t the biggest perk – for me. I mean, food and wine and great service all have a price tag so aren’t to be sneezed at… but the REAL bonus, the icing on the cake, the olive in the martini is meeting the chef or chief of any eating establishment. (Take note James Lowe at Lyle’s who couldn’t be bothered to even say ‘hi’.)
As I munch away and soak up any atmosphere, questions start buzzing around my head. So you can only imagine my delight last Friday night to find that Patricia Michelson (She of La Fromagerie) was actually joining us for dinner?
I had heard from a reliable source that Patricia is an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with. In the most flattering way, of course, this woman means business. She’s also a raconteur by nature and friend and I adored her company.
Eager not to spend time pouring over the menu, she took charge. Three alpine toasties were ordered along with big glasses of rosé, olives and feta – while we heard the story of a 42 year-old woman (some 20 years ago) and how she had been inspired to start a business from scratch. Perhaps to tie in with our toasties, the story began in the Alps. The weather had closed in leaving Patricia somewhat stranded in complete white-out. Hours later she had managed to navigate her way back to the village and this is where she came across a cheese shop. One taste of some artisan cheese and her mouth was watering… as the dream of the cheese empire began.
I wondered if she had any regrets, having dedicated so many years to her retail and wholesale business? But as she responded, I could see the twinkle in her eyes… her passion and instinctive direction for these quintessentially charming wine and cheese shops. They are clearly an integral part of her whole being.
Her ideas are endless but realistic. The new site with more than 200 cheeses is close to launching, the customer experience is constantly being evolved and even her 4 year old grandson has a part to play in the theatre production behind this shop-cum-café-cum-cheese-emporium.
A pure foodie at heart, Patricia and La Fromagerie attract the hard core cheese lovers as well as the bigger names such as Nigella, Jamie and Giles – not forgetting the numerous American tourists who obviously delight in the whole experience. In addition to the 100s of cheeses, the shop floor sells seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as freshly baked bread and some particularly well sourced extra virgin olive oils. Downstairs in a tiny kitchen (we weren’t invited to see) three chefs are busy making homemade jams and chutneys, biscuits and cakes – along with the café’s menu.
But we didn’t only talk cheese. Patricia was equally interested in us (the key to a success business leader) and before we knew it the clock had struck late and it was time to let this charming lady go home to her husband. Although I very much doubt she sleeps much. There’s too much going on in that head.