“I don’t cook for everyone; I cook for those I love.” So says Mariko, the Osaka-born owner/chef/gallerist who helms La Maison des Frigos, the tiny café on the ground floor of the artist squat, Les Frigos, in a rejuvenated section of Paris’s 13ème. Indeed, to eat in her dining room is to be invited into her world and – word to the wise – to follow her rules.
(No chatting on your cell, no photos, no credit cards, and – in an overheard admonishment to some fellow diners: Chez moi, we eat our main course before the melon…).
But for Mariko, a former painter and longtime Paris transplant, cooking is a labor love, inspired by the riot of color and creative chaos that defines the building she inhabits. It’s a unique place.
lr & (e)Spry (top)/ Mamasuko
Just finding Les Frigos takes some fortitude as anonymous office buildings and large retailers have encircled it in the shadow of the Bibliothèque Francois Mitterrand. But venturing to this less-trafficked stretch of the 13ème is to leave Paris as you know it far behind. So for those longing to discover yet another side of the city, it’s worth the effort.
I visited on a recent chilly afternoon to sample Mariko’s home style cuisine, replete with traditional Japanese dishes (fish or meat tempura, riz au legumes) prepared with the culinary skill honed decades ago at her grandmother’s heels.
The offerings are limited and vary according to season, Mariko’s whim, and what she finds enticing at her local marché. It’s quality food at a reasonable price: 19 euros for the menu including an entrée with salad and rice plus a glass of wine, dessert or coffee. She’s open only for lunch and again, cash only.
Come spring, locals fill the outdoor terrace and Mariko’s menu options expand considerably – always seasonal and scrupulously fresh. She recommended returning during warmer climes, ideally to attend Les Frigos Portes Ouvertes, the annual opening of the artists’ studios to the viewing public set for May 25 and 26, 2014.
But any day of the week, there is still the chance to visit the artists’ ateliers of Les Frigos, a former cold-storage facility and one-time artist’s squat that was purchased by the City of Paris in 2003 and converted to working spaces. Today, it’s occupied by 90 artists, some of whose ateliers are open to the public (at sporadic times); others can be visited (and work purchased) by appointment with the artist.
On Mariko’s suggestion, we wandered up to the third floor, marveling at the colorful work of many hands as we made our ascent up the concrete spiral staircase. Virtually every inch of reachable space bears witness to some form of artistic expression: tagging, collage, painting, poetry, sculpture.
Peeks into a couple of studios were informally welcomed; others were shut tight with no visible clue as to when they might be seen. Because this isn’t a museum or a gallery: no tickets to be purchased, no printed guide to follow. Bring an open mind and a desire to explore and your curiosity will be rewarded.
Vibrant, bizarre, unique, accessible – the space is one of a kind in a city whose contemporary artists insist it’s more than a museum to a great artistic past. Indeed, there’s little in or around Les Frigos that suggests historic, postcard Paris. It’s new, industrialized, thoroughly modern – New-Yorkais, to borrow that favorite of Parisian buzzwords. Like Mariko’s approach to her cooking and preferred clients – many of whom (she discretely mentioned) are actors, artists and famous directors – I loved it.
Restaurant La Maison des Frigos
19 Rue des Frigos, Paris 75013
Tel: +33 (0)1 44 23 76 20
Métro: Olympiades, Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, Quai de la Gare
Written by Paige Bradley Frost for the HiP Paris Blog. All photos by Didier Gauducheau except where noted. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.