In this column, photographer Eileen Cho (an expat from Seattle living in France) shares the experience of inviting herself to the homes of Parisians, asking them to cook her dinner in exchange for her photography. In the fourth installment, she has lunch with Erin Dahl and Pierre-Charles Morin, the quintessential “cool” Parisian couple.
Photographing strangers is one thing, but getting their permission to publish and share their photos is another. In France, there are strict rules about publishing images, so when I set up my meals with strangers, getting their permission to share the photos on any platform can be tough.
I was elated when Erin and Pierre-Charles, an American-French couple and business duo behind Content Cooperative, the first English content agency in Paris, invited me to their place for lunch. From his name alone, I knew Pierre-Charles was French, and I was nervous about whether or not he would be open to me sharing the photos from our meal. PC, a nickname reserved for his closest of friends, was surprisingly lax and totally open to being published.
Erin and I had actually been digital acquaintances since the beginning of my adventure in France. We connected through Instagram when she was the Editor-in-Chief at a popular Paris blog, Haven in Paris. But it took this social project and two years for us to actually meet in person! However, at the end of our meal together, it felt as if I had known both Erin and PC forever.
Erin and PC welcomed me into their home on one of the hottest days in May. PC met me downstairs and as we climbed up to the third floor, I blurted out, “You are so French!” Erin had her long, red hair tied up in a loose bun and PC had on brown, hipster frames. They were both wearing dark grey t-shirts and jeans, and I asked if they had purposefully coordinated their outfits for the meal and shoot (they hadn’t).
I know in every “Dîner à Paris” installment, I have highlighted big apartments, but their place is especially huge for Paris – triple the size of mine! The apartment has extremely spacious dining and living rooms with a closed off kitchen, and a bedroom. This is a true Parisian dream apartment in the hip neighborhood of Ledru Rollin, an up and coming area with lots of new restaurants and shops. Like Belen, they had a small herb garden on their balcony where Erin picked basil from for our meal.
Their apartment is decorated with modern furniture and art that they have collected over the years, souvenirs from their world travels, and a myriad of Haitian gifts from PC’s sister, a relief worker in Haiti. They also have the most gorgeous, long wooden dining table where they had set up food to prep, and a cool bar set up with all the spirits you wished you had in your collection. I began to take photos as they arranged dishes and platters on the table. Usually, when I’m in peoples’ homes for these meals, I don’t take many notes and am actually photographing the whole time. As my hosts share things with me, I really try to hear their stories. When I come home, I am able to remember each detail because of my visual memory.
Looking around the beautiful space, I wondered if they threw many parties in their home, and before I voiced my question, they mentioned that they did indeed throw dinner parties from time to time. Would this encounter lead to my first true Parisian dinner party? (Update: Since our first meal, I have hung out with both Erin and PC multiple times, and Erin has even thrown a girl’s night for a few ladies including myself, with homemade cocktails, homemade tomato and cheese tarts, salads, charcuterie, and all. I actually keep in touch with all my hosts and meet them for coffee, lunch, gatherings, supper club dinners, and other occasional outings. Sharing a home cooked meal fosters real relationships and through this series, I have made many new genuine friends!).
For our lunch that day, Erin and PC planned a summer salad bowl with baked asparagus, steak, grilled halloumi cheese, lentils, and seasonal vegetables paired with a creamy pureed beet sauce. They’d shopped that the morning at the Monoprix (France’s answer to Target), and their local market. They both were busy prepping and cooking, but they made sure to make me feel at home by pouring out their stories. Like any initial interaction between strangers, most of my encounters with hosts in their homes start off somewhat awkwardly, but with Erin and PC, I felt extremely at ease.
Erin is an American writer from New York and PC is from a small town in Western France called Angers. The couple met early into Erin’s new adventure in Paris, fell in love, moved in together, and then both left their careers to start a new one together. When they aren’t working, they can be found eating at the hippest restaurants, taking photographs on the streets of Paris, or exploring the city on PC’s motorcycle.
Erin and I shared our stories of adapting to life in France, and PC offered us his refreshing insights into our occasional troubling experiences as expats. We also discussed the differences in American and French culture, and how difficult it is for transplants and expatriates to make French friends. Here in France, most friend groups have been established for years, making it somewhat tricky for newcomers to be accepted. For example, PC’s main social group is made up of friends from childhood. Erin and I both agreed that to us Americans, being friends for that long was unusual, as so many of us make new friends in college.
As the meal progressed, Erin brought out a mix of fresh cut berries topped with basil from her garden, and we continued talking for hours. I shared with them the Facebook groups I help moderate, including Social Girls in Paris, a community for women in Paris with over 1,800 members, and Creatives in Paris, a small group of creative professionals. They had no idea such groups existed and were eager to join. Erin and I mentioned the need for self-defense classes for women in Paris, and PC offered to teach us and other women Krav Maga, an Israeli method for self defense.
To me, Erin and PC resemble the quintessential cool couple of Paris, like Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg (but definitely less troubled). Yet, they are super funny, kind, and approachable. We started the meal as strangers, but I definitely left four hours later with two new friends.
Photos by Eileen Cho