Red pesto

Artists’ studios at Soleil Rouge

Red pesto

At first, as you step into the cluttered, vast space, nothing is recognizable to the uninitiated eye. Little by little, you begin to make out intimidatingly large machines and collections of tools beyond comprehension. As you learn to see the order in disorder, things come into sharp focus : tangible sculptures and beautiful objects created from pure craft, ingenuity, and talent.

Walking into a professional artists’ studio – where sheet metal, ceramic, and glass are privileged materials – is a little like entering a twilight zone. For the past two years, I’ve learned to occupy and navigate the strange space between raw materials and meaningful (and often useful) art at a studio called Soleil Rouge.

Red pesto

The Brooklyn of Paris

Every Friday, I’d pedal my bike out to Montreuil, the suburban town neighboring my home in the 20th district, and spend the day practicing a favorite passion (learned in high school) : creating contemporary stained glass windows.

Red pesto

I’ve written about Montreuil before – about its smoked salmon production and historic peach walls. Known as "The Brooklyn of Paris," Montreuil is a cosmopolitan mix of some 90 nationalities, young families, and artists. In fact, there are so many artists in Montreuil that the brochure of the recent Portes Ouvertes, or Open Studios, event listed no less than 800 artists’ and artisans’ workshops to visit, and Soleil Rouge was among them.

Top-floor loft

Owned and run by Nicolas Desbons, a sculptor as charismatic as he is easy on the eyes, the Soleil Rouge welding, ceramic, and photography spaces are spread out over two floors of an immense former factory. I worked with my studio-mate Laure up on the 2nd floor, in the ceramic studio, a peaceful light-flooded space.

Red pesto

Spending one day a week creating glass was one thing, but on occasion, I also cooked lunch in the large kitchen of Nico’s top-floor loft. Sometimes there were just two or three of us, and other times up to ten artisans and designers gathered around the long wooden table to eat, drink wine, chat, joke around, or collaborate on projects with Nico.

Above and below the belt

Improvised lunches tend to be the house style : Nico would often speed up to the local Portuguese grocery store on his motorcycle to pick up freshly ground beef for his famous tartare. In summer, he’d grab some pork ribs and zucchini to marinate and cook up on the outdoor plancha (griddle) that he welded and installed with care in the courtyard.

Red pesto

In fact, we ate most of our summer lunches in the bucolic courtyard, surrounded by sculptures large and small. Sharing meals with the other artists, and especially my studio-mate Laure Colomer, was a joyous event, full of esprit bon enfant (playfulness) and jokes both above and below the belt !

Play of light and shadow

Laure, a sure-footed and talented sculptor, studied prehistoric and medieval archeology at the Sorbonne, and then attended Beaux-Arts, the short name for École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Laure’s work, also created during artistic residencies and exhibits in several countries, explores the boundaries between animal and human, night and day, and sleep and insomnia (which I can definitely relate to at the moment).

One of her works, entitled Labyrinthe, is an uroboros – the serpent which devours its own tail. (The primitive archetype represents an endless cycle or immortality.) Clouds projected over the piece create a play of light and shadow, a paradox between piercing clean brightness and a disconcerting darkness. (Uroboros also happens to be the name of my favorite glass company, located in Portland, Oregon.)

Burning bright

Sharing space with Laure, and with the other artists working in different media, was a revelation. For as long as I’ve been making glass windows – whenever I could carve out a little time and space to create them over the last quarter of a century (gulp !) – I almost always worked alone. Error !

Red pesto

Working with other artists means having conversations about design, craft, problem-solving, and conception. And since we’re all a little too close to our own work, other like-minded artists help us get some distance, and we can regain perspective.

So even though I’ve closed up shop temporarily – and will pick up my glasswork elsewhere next year – I’m glad to have occupied the studio in a meaningful way. I’m leaving a space for the next artisan, and I know that Soleil Rouge will continue burning bright.

Photo of Soleil Rouge interior courtesy of Nicolas Desbons.

Video courtesy of Laure Colomer.

Red pesto

Red pesto

Laure invented this vibrant pesto (as much as anyone really invents a recipe – nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes), and we’ve eaten it at Soleil Rouge many times. The strong flavors and beautiful red color are perfect for a place whose name translates as “Red Sun” !

The pesto is great for dipping vegetables and serving with drinks at an apéro dinatoire, but it’s also outstanding on pasta, and suitable for vegetarians.

ingredients :
- 1 scant cup shelled walnut halves (80g)
- 2 cloves garlic, green germ removed if necessary, coarsely chopped
- 1 generous cup sun-dried tomatoes without oil (200g drained weight), blotted on paper towels
- ¼ cup (20g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) cheese
- ½ cup (100g) best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Red pesto

how to make it :
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
2. Spread the walnuts on a shallow baking sheet and slow-roast them for 25-30 minutes, or until you smell a lovely walnutty odor emanating from your oven.
3. Let the walnuts cool directly on the baking sheet – after cooling, they should be crispy all the way through.
4. In a food processor, combine the cooled walnuts, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese, and process several times to make a paste. It will look a bit dry.
5. Continue to process and slowly add the olive oil.
6. Transfer the pesto to an air-tight container, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top. The pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Bon app’ !

makes about 1½ cups (about 400g) of pesto

Tags : tomatoes , Montreuil , walnuts , sun-dried tomatoes , pesto , Soleil Rouge , parmesan cheese , Laure Colomer , Nicolas Desbons


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Alison Armstrong 12 novembre 2016

Allison, Just to say i’m enjoying yet another lively blog from you and will want to try the recipe. I’m still only partly mobile while recuperating from new knee operation, so I have time to cook and to read and think of you cycling around Paris ! Let me know when you plan to return for a visit to NYC...there are many restaurants in my neighborhood to explore.
X Alison

Allison Zinder 13 novembre 2016

Alison : thank you for your comments. I’m glad your knee operation went well, and I will definitely look forward to my next visit to New York — with a hefty restaurant budget ! Can’t wait... xoxo

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