Désirée, environmentally-friendly <br>Café-Florist

Désirée, environmentally-friendly
Café-Florist

There are many female names in their team: Anna, Hélène, Suzanne and Pascale. And then, there is Désirée! Mathilde Bignon and Audrey Venant, both founders of this Parisian café-florist, have chosen an old-fashioned name for their business project.  A concept that brings together two cosy establishments, one on Rue de Meaux – where this photo was taken – and the other on Rue de la Folie-Méricourt. Places where these two friends – in the early part of their lives colleagues in the purchase of AOC cheeses – have gained a new understanding of the French floriculture sector and its development. By taking the opposite approach to traditional floral supply! Désirée uses fresh flowers that follow the seasons, sourced exclusively in France from producers they admire. A new professional adventure that began after many years spent working alongside producers who made them aware of the world of living things and the problems associated with the agricultural sector. From these discussions and issues, their shops were born. Meeting places that are as poetic and sunny as their mantra “You come to us, and we sow the seeds”, where you can indulge yourself with conscientiously produced flowers … and pastries too. Because these two young women have also chosen to offer seasonal recipes that highlight nature and its products! A challenge that the pastry chefs Anna and Pascale have taken up enthusiastically, working behind the glass window that separates the kitchens from the workbench where the bouquets are prepared. Désirée: definitely a friendly place to spend time, where optimism and humanity come first.

Désirée, 96 rue de Meaux, 75019 Paris and 5 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 75011 Paris. Café is opened every day from 8am to 4pm on weekdays and from 9.30am to 4pm on weekends. The flower shop is open from 10am to 7.30pm from Tuesday to Saturday. You can find Désirée on www.desireefleurs.fr and on Instagram: @desireefleurs. To follow the evolution of the Sonchamp project, visit the association’s account @fleurs_lentes

Le café fleuriste Désirée et son établi à Paris
Fleurs séchées dans le café fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Bouquet de fleurs séchées dans le café fleuriste Désirée à Paris

Mathilde, Audrey, can you introduce yourselves, please?

Audrey

I’m Audrey Venant, I’m 35 years old and, along with Mathilde, I’m the co-founder of the café-florist shop, Désirée. I started this venture in 2017 after a background in purchasing and retail. As the daughter of shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, I’ve always enjoyed interacting, creating links with people.

Mathilde

I am Mathilde Bignon, I’m 34, and I grew up in Paris. Despite living an urban life, I’ve always had a strong connection with nature and gardens. I got my passion for flowers and botany from my grandmothers.

Tell us about your background.

Audrey & Mathilde

We met 11 years ago! We were AOC cheese buyers at the time and were colleagues before we became friends. We were confronted very quickly with the world of agriculture and the difficulties encountered by milk producers, but we were also struck by the pleasurable aspects of the profession. Taking care of the animals every day, adding value to the milk and making it a delicious product using methods derived from a long tradition. This really chimed with us. After a few years in the sector, we both found ourselves out of step with the demands of our hierarchy: we wanted long-term strategies and to have a positive impact on producers. This was no longer compatible with the annual profitability requirements of a conventional distribution company.  It was because we enjoyed working together and admired each other that we wanted to embark on a project together. Today, we adore each other, although we’re really quite different and going on holiday together is not necessarily a good idea (laughs)! That’s what makes our team so beautiful and balanced.

How did the Désirée project come about?

Audrey

One morning, Mathilde came into our office with this question about flowers. “Why is buying flowers so difficult? Why do we feel lost and ashamed of not knowing their names, prices, and origin?” Driven by our love of agriculture, we wanted to learn a little about where they come from. And right there, it hit us like a cold shower: 85% of cut flowers sold in France come from abroad and are massively processed. Production in heated and lit greenhouses or below the Equator has led to flowers no longer being seasonal; they are produced all year round with a high carbon impact. And yet, France has beautiful horticultural production basins, notably the Var and Ile-de-France. Producers subject to this global competition are slowly disappearing, at the risk of taking with them their ancient skills and unique expertise. When we discovered all this, Désirée set us a challenge: we had to try to work only with local and seasonal flowers! From that point on, we crisscrossed France in search of producers, and our cafe-florist project was born.

 

Préparation de bouquet au café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Compositions florales chez le café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris Mathilde Bignon et Audrey Venant dans leur café-fleuriste à Paris
Mathilde Bignon et un bouquet de fleurs fraîches dans son café-fleuriste à Paris
Livre et décoration sur les étagères du café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Bouquet de fleurs fraîches dans le café Désiré à Paris Table en bois du café Désirée à Paris

Your motto “You come to us and we sow the seeds” is full of humour and poetry. What does it say about you and your relationship with nature?

Audrey & Mathilde

Humour is very important to us because, above all, we don’t want to feel guilty. We live in a world that’s quite heavy enough already; there’s no need to add to it. We want to make responsible consumption easy, because our flowers are beautiful, are of good quality, and are no more expensive. These organic organisms must be brought back to their essence: poetry, fragility, simplicity. Over time, they have been transformed, selected, sometimes forced, to become a luxury product associated with grand occasions and a prestigious world that is far too serious, and that needs to be taken apart. The world we live in – altered by human activity – can no longer sustain this kind of excessive, globalised production. It is urgent that we consume more locally and more simply. So we believe that humour and poetry are gentler vehicles than moralising for getting this message across…

Your second address, located in the 19th arrondissement, once again takes up your original concept of a café-flower shop. Why did you choose this two-fold activity?

Audrey & Mathilde

The commitment shown by some restaurants and market gardeners is a model for us. Today, consumers pay far more attention to the origin of products, the way they are grown, the soil and the people who have allowed them to reach our plates. Putting a café-restaurant and a florist with this sort of commitment side by side meant we could play on this all-too-necessary reflection on the origins of what we consume. But above all, we wanted to create a way of life: to be able to welcome people, to share around a table. Conviviality is central to the Désirée project.

How did you distribute the tasks between you?

Mathilde

The first word that comes to mind is luck. First, we were indeed extremely lucky to meet each other, and, as a result, the division of tasks was very natural. Audrey is deeply driven by the desire to make people happy – she’s the one who’s done most of the networking with our producers and who looks after the customers. As for me, I like to organise and write stories: I’m in charge of organisation and communication. Our strength, above all, is that we have a great team. We’ve been able to surround ourselves with people better than us, each in their own field. We can now really rely on them. Our motto is: always give priority to interpersonal skills over practical skills; they come with time!

Audrey Venant dans son café-fleuriste à Paris
Table en bois et chaises métalliques dans le café Désiré à Paris
Assiette avec pâtisserie chez Désirée à Paris

Humour is very important to us because, above all, we don't want to feel guilty. We live in a world that’s quite heavy enough already; there's no need to add to it.

Table en bois avec café dans le café-fleuriste à Paris
Hélène, Audrey et Mathilde dans leur café-fleuriste à Paris L'équipe du café-fleuriste de Désirée à Paris

You favour local production and seasonality. How do you select your producers?

Audrey & Mathilde

Our first principle is the human link. We work with people we love and admire and with whom we want to build over time. Then, of course, we’re often on the road, meeting our producers: we try to work only with growers we’ve been able to visit. Currently, our edible products and flowers are always in season and mostly French. With a few notable exceptions like coffee, which we want to be traceable and roasted with love in the Paris region!

Désirée advocates slow creation: “15 bouquets a day to ensure every creation is unique”. Where do you get the inspiration for your floral creations?

Audrey & Mathilde

Florists are, above all craftspeople, creators; we’re not bouquet machines. The few companies present today on the Internet have transformed their employees into flower workers and offer bouquets that are reproduced without the slightest variation as long as they are online. This seems to us to be far removed both from the essence of this agricultural product – subject to the vagaries of the weather – and from what florists wanted to do in this profession. Our inspiration always comes from our freshly picked arrivals every other day. You look at them intensely, one after the other, and the inspiration comes from the shades of the flowers that have arrived!

And for your treats?

Audrey & Mathilde

We drew on our childhood memories a lot. We have embellished them with the encounters we’ve enjoyed, always with an extra little touch: plants, flowers or herbs. Our pastry chefs Anna and Pascale are particularly inspired by flowers and nature and have come up with some wonderful seasonal recipes.

Table en bois avec soliflore dans le café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Pâtisseries dans le café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris

Our first principle is the human link. We work with people we love and admire and with whom we want to build over time.

Table en bois avec soliflore dans le café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Compositions florales et pâtisseries dans le café-fleuriste à Paris

Is there a signature creation that you are particularly proud of?

Mathilde

On the flower side, the “ready-to-dry” bouquet: a composition made up of carefully chosen varieties of country species from Ile-de-France that can be dried in its entirety by hanging it upside down after it’s been in a vase for a few days. Rather than buying varieties that are already dried, it’s wonderful to see your bouquet evolve and to be able to keep it for several months or even years. On the coffee side, the Vert-Vert! A gateau dreamed up by Claude Monet with pistachio, sponge cake, kirsch and buttercream, that my grandmother used to prepare for us and that our pastry chef Anna has managed to reinvent. There’s only one catch: it is quite complicated, and so it’s not often on the menu!

You have published a book and you also offer discovery workshops in your shop. How important to you is passing on your knowledge?

Audrey & Mathilde

Passing things on is fundamental for us. First, because we are advocating a much more collaborative and inclusive world, and this requires the exchange of information. Second, because the French flower industry is in a critical situation: we have to work together if we are to have an impact and hope to reverse the trend. Our book “Désirée – pâtisser – cultiver – fleurir” (desire – bake – cultivate – flower) was co-written with Masami Lavault from Plein Air Paris and is like something from another planet. It features recipes, presentations of the species in our gardens, and bouquets, season by season, along with cultivation advice and tutorials… It’s not easy to sell, but the people who come across it absolutely love it, and we’re extremely proud of that. As for our workshops, we really cherish them. They’re an opportunity to pass on what we know and discuss the industry and the issues involved in buying local and seasonal flowers, to preserve all this extraordinary know-how… and, ultimately, to enable us to continue to practice our profession in the years to come.

Where will we find you in the coming months?

Audrey & Mathilde

Working on one heck of a project we’re carrying out hand-in-hand with Masami from Plein Air Paris: the Flowers of Sonchamp! In Sonchamp, in the Yvelines, on land entrusted to us by the City of Paris, we’re going to launch our floricultural school, an experimental operation in the face of climate change, and a resource centre for producers in the Ile-de-France! We want to revive the Ile-de-France horticultural sector and encourage young people to take an interest in it.

Compositions florales chez le café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Gâteau avec glaçage chez Désirée à Paris
Table de bistrot en marbre sur la terrasse du café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris
Terrasse verdoyante au café-fleuriste Désirée à Paris

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