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Josh Adler

24th April 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

24th April 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

On the ground floor of the apartment building where Josh Adler lives with his wife Catherine and son Max in the 11th arrondissement is an anonymous white door. It opens onto a narrow stairway leading downwards into damp, chilly darkness. This is the entrance to the communal caves, or cellars, that can be found in many old buildings in Paris1. Nowadays people use them to store bikes and boxes but Adler, a wine distributor, uses the caves for their original purpose. When he takes us down for a tour, we come back up clutching half a dozen bottles from his collection, which he keeps locked behind a heavy metal door.

A familiar face on the Paris food scene, Adler moved here from San Francisco in 2009 to work at the restaurant Spring2, where he took charge of the wine list. He left three years later to set up Paris Wine Company, which exports French wine to the US. (He also runs a distributor in California called Mission Wine Merchants.) Wine is a major passion but he’s no less serious about food: when we come round for dinner, Josh is very calmly preparing a three-course meal for eight people, with an extra vegetarian option, while keeping an eye on two-year-old Max.

When Catherine returns home from work, she tells us her husband isn’t always so calm in the kitchen – the unruffled exterior belies a perfectionist streak. She dons an apron and joins Josh at the counter3 to prepare chilli con carne. The other guests arrive, among them a local coffee roaster and an Israeli neuroscientist, and the evening gets off to a dramatic start when Josh takes a champagne sabre to a bottle of Cremant du Jura, which promptly explodes. It works better second time round with a bottle of cider (more conventional methods are used to open the other bottles of wine). Dinner is served – the chilli con carne, made with chunks of beef instead of mince, is magnificent – and we carouse on into the early hours of the morning.

Afterwards Josh made us a mix of bluegrass and country music (with a dash of reggae thrown in) to complement the meal.

Continued below...

How long have you worked in wine?

Since 2004. I was big into bikes and thought it’d be fun to do bike tours in France. So I got a job with a tour company in Burgundy and ended up biking around all the vineyards in the Cote d’Or outside Beaune. That got me interested in wine. Back in San Francisco I worked in a wine shop, got into tasting and became a buyer.

How did you end up in France?

Daniel Rose at Spring invited me to come and do the wine list at the restaurant. That was in 2009. I stayed for three years, then left to start my own company. The original goal was to sell direct to the consumer but that morphed into selling to professionals. Now I’m mainly working with young winemakers to help them sell wine in the US. I know a lot of distributors over there, so I can match them up. I also started my own distribution company in California.

Is France a good place to be a wine geek?

France is the best. I’m not biased, but French wine is the best.

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And is this a particularly interesting time to be working with French wine?

Yes. There’s a new wave of winemakers, a younger generation taking over that is interested in organic farming, less intervention, natural processes – like you see in food generally. So I work with these young people, find ones doing good wine and help them sell.

So you travel a lot?

I have been travelling a lot around France, but now I work with about 30 winemakers so I’m not looking around quite so much. I’m thinking of starting a distribution company in Paris as well. Most people buy direct from wineries, but distribution isn’t very efficient here, so I think there’s some space to work with wineries and do a little distribution closer to home. France is the best place in the world to be a wine geek. I’m not biased, but French wine is the best

Have you always been interested in cooking?

Yes, since I was in middle school. Me and a friend used to cater meals for our parents’ friends in Ohio. We’d go over and they’d pay us a hundred bucks plus all the ingredients to cook dinner for them. When you’re 12, that’s pretty good.

Was food important at home?

My dad was very interested in food and he got me into it. He used to throw dinner parties all the time and spend three or four days cooking.

Were his cooking habits passed down to you?

Not really. He was trying to do really fancy dishes at home, cooking from Michelin star cookbooks, ordering fish that was flown in from wherever and doing really elaborate sauces. I like eating elaborate things in restaurants but at home I prefer simpler dishes. You get such good quality produce over here. In fact a lot of the stuff my dad would order was from France – hah!

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Are you an organised cook?

Not really. I try to be.
Catherine: You are.

You seem pretty unflappable. Do you ever get flustered?

Catherine: Ha!
Josh: When things don’t work I’ve been known to throw things.

Against the wall?

Yeah.
Catherine: He’s terrible like that. Then I come in and say, “It’s not that bad, we can save that.”

So you have a perfectionist streak?

Josh: In cooking, yes.

“It’s more dramatic than pulling out the cork: you run the sabre up the side of the bottle, along the seam, and the top of the neck comes off clean – in theory at least.”
Josh on his favourite kitchen objects – see Pantry

Do you prefer cooking for large numbers?

I’m not a good cook for just a few people. Usually when I cook for two I tend to make tons of leftovers.

What’s the optimal number?

Six to eight.

Is there a style of food you cook more than any other?

Catherine: My cooking is French, but he’s in charge tonight so it’s going to be…
Josh: More American than usual.
Catherine: You cook a lot of French stuff as well. It’s just that he’s more versatile – he cooks a lot of Asian food too.

Who does more cooking?

Catherine: It varies. When I have less work, I do more.
Josh: I’ll go shopping for food a lot. What’s interesting about France is, people keep less stuff at home and shop a lot more regularly. We shop four or five times a week so we don’t really have a big store of food at home.

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Do you have interesting food shops around here?

Actually Paris isn’t great for produce – although I’m pretty snobby because I spent five years in California where you can get really fantastic stuff. The thing is, there’s such a strong local demand for good produce in France and people don’t bother shipping to Paris because it’s a big pain. Regional markets in France are usually fantastic, whereas in Paris they’re really not. Most people just go to Rungis4 and buy wholesale stuff.

Which ingredients do you always have in your kitchen?

Cheese. Good butter, crème fraiche, eggs, several mustards and hot sauces. Pickles. Several kinds of anchovies. Fruit, radishes…

On The Menu

Dinner with Josh Adler
Paris, October 2014

Snacking:

Saucissons à l’ail (garlic sausages)
Mission pale ale, Deck & Donohue

Dinner:

Celery root soup with thyme
Chilli con carne with cornbread »
Vegetarian bean chilli
Cauliflower salad
Kugelhupf with caramelised fruit

To drink:

Cidre Nerios, Domaine J Cecillon Sevignac
Le Chais du Vieux Bourg Cremant de Jura, Delire des Lyres Blanc (not consumed due to sabring accident)
Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013, Santini Frères
Domaine Comtault Tardieux Pineau d’Aunis, Touraine 2013
Domaine Coquelicot Chant de Coquelicot, Bergerac 2011
Domaine Coquelicot Lilas de Coquelicot, Bergerac 2010

Always wine?

Usually. What I should have done, when we renovated the kitchen, was put a wine fridge in. I decided not to because I felt that was too bourgeois.

Do you have a fallback wine?

For me, the fallbacks are the wines from people I know. In terms of regions, I like Burgundy – that’s where I got into wine. But Burgundy’s so expensive now.

What about a comfort food?

Catherine, do I have a comfort food? I like stews.
Catherine: I’d say boeuf bourguignon is your comfort food.
Josh: Yeah I definitely like boeuf bourguignon.

For more about Josh Adler’s wines, visit Paris Wine Company and Mission Wine Merchants

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  1. It also connects with the Paris sewers, but the gate leading down to them is firmly locked. “I’m past the age of breaking into sewers,” says Josh as we peer through the bars.
  2. Popular restaurant in Les Halles overseen by Chicago-born chef Daniel Rose
  3. After moving here in 2011, they knocked out the wall between the kitchen and living room, replacing it with a counter that doubles as a breakfast bar (with a baby seat attached for Max). It makes the flat feel much more spacious and convivial. Three more details about where they live: (1) On one wall, a poster pays homage to Burgundy, Josh’s favourite wine region. (2) From their fourth-floor balcony, you can see the trees in the local square. (3) This is a great area of Paris for restaurants: La Buvette, Le Servan, Bones and Septime are all within walking distance.

  4. The main market of Paris, located in the southern suburbs, Rungis is said to be the largest wholesale food market in the world

Posted 24th April 2015

In Interviews

 

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

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