Besides which, David-Nicolas’ irritation at not being able to actually eat his dish while it’s still hot – so I can take a few pictures – tends to tarnish the restaurant experience. And I completely get that – he just doesn’t get it! But it’s not as if I’m trying to turn him into an Instagram Husband. He’s naturally an Insta-Parisian Husband, instantly irate at the least suggestion we shouldn’t tuck in to our food immediately.
Just like at home
So even though my last post was also about a restaurant, this one is more about the kind of place where we can just kick back and relax, especially on an outdoor patio in summer. It’s the kind of restaurant friends run, and where we also run into friends – an informal meeting spot for local artists on a break or after work. This restaurant’s motto really speaks volumes: Restaurant et bar à vins, comme à la maison.
Our friends Alice and Azid, former “life partners” (and still business partners!), opened Le Casque d’Or in 2007. Although Azid had plenty of restaurant experience, Alice didn’t quite know what she was getting into. And after their hired chef didn’t show up one day, Alice found herself behind the piano, or stove, as head chef!
The market’s best ingredients
So she decided to learn how to cook professionally by attending a local culinary program headed up by Thierry Marx, who I just saw today with my friend Mary at the Grand Palais during the Taste of Paris chef festival. Marx grew up in the nearby rough-and-tumble but now quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Ménilmontant, so that’s where he opened his cooking school. He wanted to offer the guys, les gars de Ménilmontant (so named for a Maurice Chevalier song), an opportunity to train and work as chefs in restaurants. Note: The school also happily accepts women.
Alice says she was a little surprised at the rude, or rough, nature of working in kitchens. Far from glamorous, kitchen culture in France is still by and large a sexist, tough environment. But she had the chance to work with a few well-known chefs, and their aesthetic shows up on Alice’s plates: she cooks only seasonal products, and changes the menu almost daily to reflect the market’s best ingredients.
Queen of the Apaches
But what of her restaurant’s name, Le Casque d’Or, or Golden Helmet? The name’s origin lies in what we would call a juicy story – but the French would call une histoire croustillante, or a “crispy” story. Back in the good old, bad old days of the early part of last century, Apaches, or gangs of thugs, roamed the streets of eastern Paris. They weren’t Native Americans, but you can find out more about them – and their stylish footwear – in this post.
When two rival gang leaders fell in love with the same woman, a fight broke out. The object of their affection? Amélie Élie, otherwise known as Casque d’Or, for her helmet of golden hair. After local tabloids got hold of the story, Casque d’Or became a city-wide star, henceforth known as “Queen of the Apaches.” The fighting, as well as the filming of the 1952 Jacques Becker film Casque d’Or starring Simone Signoret, both took place in a tiny street in Belleville (which you can visit during my Walking tour of Belleville). In my area you can also visit Simone Signoret — in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Women of the sidewalk
Anyone will admit that Amélie was not, let’s say, a woman of pure values. She frequented Apaches of several gangs, one of which was called Les Gars de Charonne – the Charonne Guys, named for their “village” which had been incorporated into the eastern part of Paris in 1860.
So we know that Amélie spent plenty of time in Charonne (mostly on the sidewalks, ahem), near the current location of the Casque d’Or restaurant. Today, the Charonne quartier is home to the famous nightclub La Flèche d’Or and the Philippe Stark-designed über-hip hotel Mama Shelter. And you can even visit a lovely little park, the Jardin Casque d’Or – not far from Alice and Azid’s restaurant. But don’t expect any women of the sort who linger on the sidewalks!
Even though I don’t write restaurant reviews on my blog, I have plenty of recommendations, which I prefer to give out personally. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment or question below if you’re looking for a place to eat in eastern Paris.
Restaurant photos courtesy of Casque d’Or