Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chef Wheeler Del Torro on Cooking in Paris

I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Chef Wheeler Del Torro virtually, after he contacted Discover Paris! about taking an Entrée to Black Paris walking tour over the Christmas holidays. He currently lives in Boston, where he operates the underground restaurant called Pharmacie at 3ScoopsCafé.

When I learned that Chef Del Torro hails from Jamaica and that he had cooked professionally in the City of Light, I immediately asked him for an interview. Here's what he has to say about Paris and its place in his culinary career and vegan lifestyle.


ETBP: When did you come to Paris?
WDT: My adventure in Paris began when I came to the city in the late 90s. The city was a lot different then. I graduated from high school and moved here with my girlfriend at the time, Max, who was born and raised here. I was so in love. You know how amazing French women can be. Paris is amazing - this city taught me how to cook, how to host a proper dinner party, how to slow dance… and I think the most important thing was just how to enjoy life.

ETBP: How long did you live here?
WDT:I had planned to stay for a few months in the summer, but returned to the States 3 years later. I would go home for holidays and birthdays, but that was it. I didn’t want to miss any of the action in Paris. Time just seemed to fly. I spent the time exploring antique shops, markets, bookstores, cafes, and of course, learning how to cook.

ETBP: Where did you work here?
WDT: I hosted dinner parties around the city. Also in Nice and Sarlat.

ETBP: Talk about your Fillet of Soul dinners. Where were they held?
WDT: Our Fillet of Soul dinners began as book club in the 6th, where I was living at the time. I was trying to expand my social circle, because I had just moved here and didn’t know one person outside of my girlfriend’s family. My idea was a conversation about the book and a meal. I invited people who I wanted to be friends and acquaintances with. The Internet, word-of-mouth and my passion about books and culture helped grow the book club into a bi-weekly dining event. As they grew, we expanded into larger flats (homes) around the city, and included music and sometimes performance art.

ETBP: Who would attend?
WDT: Our regular group was a mix of young professionals, budding artists, poets, rappers, and students. We would also reach out to innovative young chefs and entrepreneurs.

Del Torro Dinner Party
Photo courtesy of

ETBP:Your Web site talks about you selling desserts to nightclubs and to high profile events and parties as your reputation grew on the Paris culinary scene. What types of desserts did you sell?
WDT: I provided my Black Label desserts, which have alcohol infusions. I created a variety of flavors ranging from a Dom Perignon champagne sorbet to a Kahlua cookies and cream.

ETBP: How long have you been a vegan?
WDT: I have been vegan for over a decade.

ETBP: Describe how you came to embrace the vegan diet / lifestyle.
WDT: I worked for a banker as a private chef. His doctor gave him the option to radically change his diet or face another heart attack. To help encourage him to change his diet, I made a substantial monetary bet with him to see who could be vegan the longest. I have been vegan ever since.

ETBP: What are some of your favorite vegan eating establishments in Paris?
WDT: The Gentle Gourmet is my current favorite. They have delicious options for every meal of the day and have been at the forefront of introducing the concept of “vegan” to Paris. For a casual meal, I like SOL Semilla in the 10th.

ETBP: What would you advise vegan tourists who visit Paris regarding eating?
WDT: Enjoy Vegan Paris! There are many great vegetarian and vegan restaurants springing up around the city. Check online with the blogs Vegan Paris, My Vegan Paris Adventure, and the Paris Vegan Meet Up Group.  For supplies ranging from groceries to toothpaste, visit the team at Un Monde Vegan. 

ETBP: Do you cook non-vegan foods for your clients?
WDT: No, I like the opportunity to challenge and surprise my clients with the many possibilities of vegan food.

ETBP: Compare the London culinary scene with that of Paris.
WDT: As a person who travels about two weeks out of each month cooking and entertaining, you can tell a lot about a city and where people are culturally, from the types of people who show up at pop-up dining events. Because I create underground temporary restaurants, which gives me the flexibility to collaborate with local chefs, I would have to say both cities are on the move and producing some amazing young chefs that are going to transform the culinary landscape for the foreseeable future.
For the record, Paris does stand out. It is the epicenter of beautiful women (and men) willing to experiment with food.

ETBP: When you came to Paris, did you establish contact with the Jamaican community?
WDT: I ventured over to Little Africa and made friends, but I didn’t connect specifically with the Jamaican community. However, many people from the Islands reached out to me because of my jerk sauce. They used to tell me it reminded them of home. I remember at one of my events an older woman started weeping while eating a jerk dish I made. I didn’t know what to make of it; I thought maybe it was too spicy for her. I asked her if she was okay. She told me she hadn’t tasted anything like that since her grandmother had cooked for her as a child.

ETBP: Are there any other national cuisines that have influenced your culinary style?
WDT: Other types of cuisine constantly inspire me. Many of my recipes are fusions of different cuisines like soul food with Asian elements or West African street food with traditional French fare. I often do tapas, which can be very experimental depending on who I’m cooking for.

ETBP: What is attractive about the city of Boston as a home base for you and your business?
WDT: Boston has over 50 colleges and universities that attract the most brilliant and creative students, professors, entrepreneurs, and people from around the world. You could be riding in subway and hear people talking about quantum physics and the person next to you chatting on the cell phone about their second round of financing for their biotech startup. My offices are sandwiched between Harvard on one side and MIT on the other, which keeps me stimulated and creative. Boston also has a large French community, with an active cultural center hosting events and classes almost every day.

The Gentle Gourmet
24 Boulevard de la Bastille
75012 Paris
Telephone: 01 43 43 48 49
Metro: Bastille (Lines 1 and 8), Quai de la Rapée (Line 5)

Sol Semilla
23 rue des Vinaigriers
75010 Paris
Telephone: 01 42 01 03 44
Metro: Jacques Bonsergent (Line 5)

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