A New York Home Made Delicacy Named Mirjam Lavabre
By Rachel Brunet, Editor of Le Petit Journal New York
The original version of this article was published in French in Le Petit Journal New York
Mirjam Lavabre’s home-made foie gras with sauternes is much more than just a holiday tradition, it has become a New York institution. She cooks the Hudson Valley duck livers halfway with sweet wine from Bordeaux and sprinkles them with both passion and generosity. A global citizen, Mirjam has pleased her customers palates for over a decade. Profile of a multilingual gastronome who has been living in the United States for nearly 30 years.
Mirjam Lavabre is one of those people whose kindness is natural, amicable and authentic. She is a humble woman who loves to share and has presided over her catering company Cuis’In, which she co-founded with her son’s father, since its inception more than ten years ago. Right from the start, Cuis’In was met with success. Mirjam was at first involved with the company’s development while her ex-husband, Éric Delalande, led the kitchen. She willingly agrees that “he has golden hands and does his job with passion,” an essential ingredient in any culinary preparation. Cuis’In soon began working with major accounts and banks as well as private individuals. She has lived between two worlds, the French community and the world of New York gastronomy. They sometimes come together, and Mirjam always keeps one foot in between them. So, two French dishes stand out in Cuis’In’s success recipe book, the homemade foie gras with sauternes and the galette des Rois prepared with rum (King’s cake). Both recipes have become a hit in the Upper East Side community and at the Lycée Français where her son—now a student at USC in Los Angeles—graduated from. Her clients recognize the quality and know-how of Cuis’In, they have always asked for more, and always with delight.
“My foie gras is home-made. I prepare it based on my ex-husband’s recipe,” Mirjam explains. That’s how life is done. Happy moments and more difficult ones are intertwined. When the couple split up ten years ago, Mirjam moved behind the stove. Her ex-husband shared with her his cooking secrets from afar, all the talent she had witnessed for years. And soon Mirjam became a chef herself. She had always evolved in the world of hospitality and restaurant. In Germany, where she grew up, she obtained a diploma in this sector and from there moved to Miami in the early 1990s.
“One evening in Paris, I met someone in nightclub (where she then works for the Accor group) who was going to travel Miami with André Boudou—Laeticia Hallyday’s father—to open the Amnesia. He gave me his phone number and told me to contact him if I ever wanted to come and work with them. It did not fall into a deaf woman’s ears,” Mirjam jokes. She sold her furniture two months later and flew to Miami with $700 in her hand. On April 4, 1994, she began writing her American chapter.
Once in Florida, Mirjam is very quickly spotted by André Boudou himself. Mirjam is a polyglot. She speaks fluently German, French, English, Italian, and Spanish. A true advantage in the luxury hotel industry in Florida. “He offered me the opportunity to become manager of the Amnesia fine dining restaurant.” The establishment’s wealthy clientele is international. Germans, French and Italians flock there every evening. She is then lured by La Voile Rouge, the eponymous restaurant of the Tropezian institution. Once again, her linguistic fluency won over the owner’s heart.
Young Mirjam soon grew tired of the glittery Floridian life and decided to pursue her American adventure in another city. She headed North-East. Destination, New York, which she reached from Florida by minivan. A real adventure. A slice of youth.
Arriving in the city that never sleeps, she quickly meets people, if not characters, from the culinary industry. Jean Denoyer—the owner of La Goulue on 70th street, La Goulue Madison Ave, Brasserie Ruhlmann NYC, Le Colonial NYC, La Cicala, La Boite, La Coupole NYC, Petruschka, Le Comptoir, The Supper Club, L’Absinthe, Orsay, Fizz, Japonais NYC, Encore Bakery, and Bar Italia. Then Philippe Delgrange, the head of the famed Bilboquet restaurant; she also works with the pastry chef and aesthete François Payard. While she discovers New York’s fascinating world of gastronomy, she convinces the man who will eventually become her husband and partner—and who then lives in Virginia—to move to New York. Talented and passionate, he quickly found his marks in the city’s great cuisines, and through his art, he soon made a name for himself. Mirjam works at La Goulue, Ici, Orienta, and Le Colonial. Life then played its part, and they create Cuis’In.
For 13 years now, Cuis’In has been an essential part of the New York scene, with a well-stocked address book of loyal clients and a fine network of gastronomes. Between Mirjam’s interpersonal skills and Eric’s art, Cuis’In has grown rapidly. The two French dishes that turned the catering business into success were created following French culinary art and techniques. “When we traveled home for Christmas, we would bring our own foie gras along.” It usually happens the other way round for expats. The battle for the best foie gras in our family in France southwestern region of Ariège quickly became an institution. New York foie gras always won!
Mirjam still scrupulously follows her ex-husband’s recipes, and her menus have remained successful over the years. “My regular customers order the foie gras as soon as Thanksgiving is over,” Mirjam says. She patiently unnerves, prepares, seasons and cooks the delicate dish as she was preparing it in a cloth. “We find in CuisIn’s dishes all of Mirjam’s authenticity and generosity, an excellence in the care she gives to the ingredients and recipes. Her foie gras illustrates a sense of comfort, of familiarity, and it leads to pleasure and greediness,” explains JC Agid, who co-wrote Harvesting Excellence (Assouline) with Alain Ducasse in the late 1990s.
For my part, I came across Mirjam’s Foie Gras au Sauterne quite by chance. I was surprised to find an artisanal foie gras in New York. It immediately reminded me of a farm in the Southwest of France. I imagined an old stone building, small windows and a lit up a cozy living room. In its center, a fireplace would let out the noise of the wood crackling. Outside, the smell of fire, cold air and free roaming ducks. Isn’t it sometimes strange to let a local product bring memories back and invite you to a subtle voyage to the place you are coming from? An instantaneous journey where all the senses are awakened. Attentive, quivering and excited. Perhaps one has to be French to feel this emotion that links a product to a culture. Perhaps is it necessary to be deprived, as we are this year, from a trip to France to want to recreate traditions and sensations on this side of the ocean.
I was without a doubt fascinated to see an authentic foie gras in New York, tin-free and away from the perfection we owe to robots. In these times of pandemic and travel ban, I may just want to go back my childhood house where there are always real local products. Among them, home-made foie gras. Similar to the one made by Mirjam Lavabre.
New York. December 11, 2020 – Rachel Brunet