What do you get when you pair a handsome French restaurateur with a beautiful Canadian baker, other than a fairytale romance?
The answer is Maman, a trendy Soho cafe, from couple Benjamin Sormonte and Elisa Marshall, in addition to Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal, which opened in October 2014.
Maman’s concept was inspired by the fresh, home-cooked foods Sormonte’s and Marshall’s mothers made, and it serves lots of salads and quiches (on top of some of the city’s best chocolate chip cookies) and sources most ingredients locally. As a follow-up, the pair also opened rotisserie chicken joint Papa Poule with Arnal earlier this year (with chicken so juicy and herbaceous it practically melts in your mouth).
“There’s a big focus on seasonality,” Marshall says. “We believe less is more. If you have really great ingredients, you don’t need to over-saturate anything with dressing or sauce.”
Sormonte and Marshall have plans to open more Maman locations in New York City and Canada in the future, and while they don’t have time to cook at home nearly as much as their mothers did, we took a peek inside their Tribeca fridge and chatted with Marshall to discover some of the secrets to their sweet culinary marriage. —Jamie McKillop
How often do you cook at home? Not as much as we’d like to. When we do eat at home, it’s usually Maman or Papa Poule leftovers. Don’t get me wrong, we’re fortunate to have access to such good, delicious, healthy food. We don’t like it going to waste. At the end of the day, we donate leftovers to local shelters, and take some home for dinner.
What do you like to make when you do cook? We have a lot of fun experimenting for Maman. It’s a daily changing and seasonal menu, so we can have fun with it. If Ben makes an amazing salad or tried a new recipe, it could be on the menu the following day. I’m more on the baking side. But our home is definitely our test kitchen.
I see Champagne. Do you guys like to entertain? We always have family and friends over. Ben, being from France, is a big Champagne drinker, so we always have a cold one in the fridge in case guests come over.
What’s next to the takeout boxes on the bottom shelf? Those are duck eggs. Ben likes to cook with those. He’ll fry them up and make an open-faced sandwich with goat cheese and fresh herbs. We do a lot of small snacking. It’s very French to do a meal before a meal, with an hour in between.
Where’s all your baking stuff? It’s in the cupboards. I would say I play around with different recipes about once per week. The most important thing with baking is the quality of the ingredients. We don’t buy huge vats of nuts that sit and loose their flavor. You might pay a premium, but it’s worthwhile.
I see the soy milk. Do you guys not like dairy milk? No, that was actually used to do a trial of rice pudding—and it wasn’t very good! At the cafe, we are seeing more and more popularity with soy milk and almond milk. You can see the numbers on our coffee orders. We’re trying to do more of that with baking, but it can be such a chemical process. You’re not always going to win.
For more information, visit www.mamannyc.com
(Photos: Atisha Paulson and Elisa Marshall)