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John Donohue’s book A Table in Paris features more than 100 ink drawings of the city’s most beloved restaurants. With his signature one-color style, Donohue has rendered iconic institutions from Bofinger to Mokonuts, and everything in between. The book is also full of tips from locals and cultural experts such as Ruth Reichl, Lindsey Tramuta, Alec Lobrano, Maira Kalman, and HiP Paris founder Erica Berman. It’s the perfect companion for your next trip to Paris.
Living in Paris and trying to “make it as a writer” means I don’t often go to restaurants, and when I have the money to drink, I do my drinking at the same cheap bars. But, after six months of the city sitting shuttered due to Covid, I was missing our restaurants. Luckily, I was sent a copy of John Donohue’s A Table in Paris, a collection of drawings and conversations celebrating the combination of dining and artistic creativity that is so uniquely Parisian. A follow-up to John’s All the Restaurants in New York, A Table in Paris pairs delicious visuals of iconic restaurant architecture with the sweet nothings of Parisians waxing poetic about the restaurants they love. I recently spoke with John about how his book can transport us to better tastes and conversations.
Will: I find the perspective of your drawings to be very full of potential. Always just outside your favorite restaurant, waiting for a table, or for a friend, or for a lover. What have your drawings, and even more, your drawings in these unfulfillable times, taught you about longing?
John: If I’m ever anywhere without my pen and paper that’s when I feel intense regret and longing. When I’m standing in front of a place drawing, I become so engaged with the present moment that I lose track of where I am. Drawing brings me incredible joy, and I’m fortunate that my finished pieces have a similar effect on many viewers. I’m grateful my images can help people overcome their sense of missing a place and bring them back to the memory of a good meal and good company, and also offer the hope of returning to a favorite place soon.
W: Which restaurant in Paris will you go first, when travel restrictions are lifted and restaurants reopen? Who will you meet there? What plate will you share?
J: On my second trip to the city in the summer of 2019, when I was drawing restaurants for the book, there was a moment when my family came to join me. The first night we were all together we booked a table at Verjus. The staff jumped through amazing hoops to accommodate our needs (nut allergies, gluten issues), and my teenage daughters, who had never faced a tasting menu before (they almost always order a steak), learned to trust the kitchen and we had a kind of magical meal. I would think of heading back to Verjus to have another transformative dinner. Or, not wanting to spoil that memory, I might opt to take everyone to Le Severo, which I missed out on because of the August holiday that year. It’s famously out of the way and almost all meat, so I’m sure that would be a fun trip!
W: You mix art and food in your book. In my interviews with chefs, I’ve found chefs shy away from being considered artists (though I find them to be). What do you think the restaurant community can teach us about life and living?
J: My art is drawing, which, for me, is very therapeutic. The chef’s art is cooking, which is always very nurturing. Restaurants exist to feed people, but they do more than fill the stomach. Done right, with the proper combination of food, company, and atmosphere, they fill the soul. And nowhere in the world do they do this better than in Paris. The word “restaurant” even has its root in the French “restaurer,” which means “to restore.” A lesson I would take from the work of French chefs, who are so good at taking care of others, is to take care of yourself. If you want to live well, you have to make time and space to restore and repair yourself, for only then can you live life to the fullest, which is perhaps the truest art of all.
John Donohue, a former editor at The New Yorker and erstwhile cartoonist for the magazine, is a self-taught artist. In 2017, he launched the website All the Restaurants, where he sells signed, limited-edition prints in part to aid hospitality workers impacted by the pandemic. His book All the Restaurants in New York was published in 2019. A volume of London drawings entitled A Taste of London was released in 2023. He lives in Brooklyn and draws at least twice a day.
- For more on John Donohue, check out his website here.
- More on food! The 10 Best French Foodie Instagram Accounts to Follow
- French entertaining with Madame de la Maison’s Perfect Day in Paris!
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