Giovanna Azevedo has been operating a French-style bistro in Tupelo since August 2005. All along, the chef has known the feeling and flavors she wanted to create for patrons at The Bistro on Main and more recently, The Bistro on Park.
In March, she made that feeling crystal clear for her staff.
For nine days, Azevedo, her boyfriend, her mother, her daughter and a close friend traveled with four Bistro employees to Paris, where they visited specialty grocery stores, toured fresh markets and dined in a myriad of restaurants.
“I paid for the plane tickets and they paid for accommodations and food,” she said. “I picked up the tab for experiences that were work-related. I think it’s important to let people experience what we’re trying to emulate.”
The group took the trip during spring break, March 15-24.
“The economy made us think twice about it,” Azevedo said. “But the trip had already been paid for and we couldn’t throw dollars away to save pennies at that point. (The restaurant) was open last spring break and we weren’t that busy, so we went for it.”
Not only did Azevedo want to give her staff the gift of travel, but she also wanted them to step outside their comfort zones.
“The people who work for me are all great, great kids. I just appreciate everything they do for me,” she said. “I don’t think any one of them had ever been to Europe before. It really gives you empathy for so much more in life. Even our rudest people here are much more polite than the people in France.”
Food ‘to die for’
The first night in Paris, the group dined at a mom-and-pop French bistro.
“We had cassoulet, duck confit, steak frites – traditional French fare,” Azevedo said. “We didn’t go to any big names. We really tried to stick with the kind of fare we serve here.”
Another night, they patronized L’Epi Dupin, a hot restaurant on the Left Bank that’s ranked No. 31 out of 5,811 restaurants in Paris by tripadvisor.com.
“It was the best meal we had together,” Azevedo said. “I had sautampéed mussels in saffron broth that were to die for.”
April Simmons, bar manager at The Bistro, ordered the cod.
“It was so good,” she said. “I can still taste it right now. I knew I was going to be in for good bread, good wine, good food. It was just what I expected.”
Simmons’ favorite part of the trip was a visit to a bar called L’Abbaye.
“I went and made friends with the guy who owned the bar,” she said. “He let me come bartend for him. I was making Americanized versions of their drinks. We’re now friends on Facebook.”
One day, Azevedo’s boyfriend, David Rosenfeld, took her on what she called a culinary walk.
“The best of everything – the best chocolate, the best croissants, the best baguettes, the best French onion soup, the best culinary store,” she said. “Everything was so vibrant. The flavors there – we have to buy heirloom and organic here. Everything there is already that way. It’s just so alive in your mouth.”
More trips planned
Azevedo believes she accomplished what she set out to do on the trip.
“I think everybody has more of an idea of what we’re trying to accomplish and how authentic we’re trying to make the food,” she said. “I think everybody took away something to add to what we do every day, even if it’s having more patience with people who are not exactly like us.”
The chef came back to Tupelo and immediately added items to her menu at The Bistro. She now prepares a cassoulet, rack of lamb with goat cheese and mint, and coq au vin.
“I ate real authentic Bernaise sauce in Paris and it kind of lit a fire under me to make mine a little better,” she added.
And the trip to Paris may just be the first of many European experiences for the restaurant’s staff.
“We’ll definitely do this again if our business enables us to,” she said. “Next time I’d like to invite some of our guests to go, too. I want to go to Bologna, Italy, where the Slow Food movement – getting away from fast food – is from. I love that. And it’s not just because I cook slow.”