Provisions: a Grocery Shop <br> Based on “Virtuous Food”

Provisions: a Grocery Shop
Based on “Virtuous Food”

It seems that chance has been good for Saskia Porretta-Menne and Jill Cousin! When they swapped homes three years ago for a short stay – Marseille for one, Paris for the other – nothing could have predicted that the co-founders of Provisions would become friends… or even establish a company! Even leaving aside their shared love of “good food and drink” and an all-consuming appetite for entrepreneurship. Working together, the two women who have made Marseille their home quickly came up with a sustainable, gourmet project in a “former international bookshop” dating from the 1950s. A place reinvented with the greatest respect for its former architecture, where they now offer their customers a fine selection of products sourced directly from the producers. On the period wooden shelves, a range of natural wines, handcrafted objects and books promote a virtuous and sustainable diet. The books and other items are individually selected by Saskia and Jill, a trained journalist and author specialising in sustainable food and agriculture. But that’s not all! They also organise events involving local producers and food lovers in this intimate setting. “Intimate, original and sincere”, these high points in a limited circle refocus the principle of sharing at the heart of their project while setting the pace of daily life. As does their small-scale catering operation. Every week – on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – the two entrepreneurs create a short menu that makes the most of the produce from the local market gardeners and the goodies from their counter. A “spontaneous, simple” cuisine to share with friends that the two thirtysomethings dream of building upon, having travelled around France and returned loaded with “new treasures”.

Épicerie-librairie Provisions, 95 rue Lodi, 13066 Marseille. Contact: +33 (0)665 859533. Open Thursday from 11am to 7pm and Friday and Saturday from 9am to 7pm.

Adresse Provisions Vitrine Provisions
Librairie Provisions
Signalétique Provisions

Saskia, Jill: Can you introduce yourselves, please?

Jill

Co-founder of Provisions, 29 years old and living in Marseilles for three years now! I am also a journalist and author specialising in sustainable food and agriculture. I mainly work with print media for whom I provide input on these issues.

Saskia

I’m the other co-founder of Provisions! I’m 34 years old, born in Paris, which I left at 19 to study in Italy, then moved to London, where I then stayed for eight years working in the bakery and craft industries. I returned to France, and headed to Marseilles five years ago. The city where, to me, everything seemed possible.

How did you two meet? 

Jill

Three years ago Saskia posted an ad on Instagram offering to swap their little urban property in Marseille for a little nest in Paris for a week. We didn’t know each other but decided, quite happily and spontaneously, to swap our respective homes. One idyllic week in Marseille convinced me, three months later, to move there. Saskia and I found ourselves in the city of Marseille, both sharing the same appetite for good food and drink and the same desire to start a business. 

How did Provisions come into existence?

Saskia

Through a second happy coincidence! A friend of ours who knows us well had visited this place and immediately put us on to it: “It’s made for you”. We had no particular project in mind, just a common passion for good things, dreams and the unlimited desire to create, share and pass things on. As soon as we arrived in this place steeped in memories, we knew we wanted to write the next chapter in its history. A former international bookshop opened in 1952 by a woman ahead of her time, it seemed obvious to us to preserve this heritage, this architecture by offering books in French but also in foreign languages centred around themes that are dear to us: cooking of course, but on agriculture, ecology, wine, bread, and the vegetable garden, too. Faced with all these shelves, we also quickly imagined adding meticulously chosen grocery products, a cellar of natural wines and a few genuine craft items. We think of Provisions as our second home, where we find everything we love and everything that makes sense to us. The warmth of the wooden drawers, the earthenware from another time, the rounded central vault, the ladders that run along the shelves up to four metres high… This warm and surprising ensemble invites you to explore and stroll around.   

Suspensions Provisions
Épicerie-librairie Provisions

A former international bookshop opened in 1952 by a woman ahead of her time, it seemed obvious to us to preserve this heritage (...)

Vitrine Provisions
Table de salle à manger Provisions
Espace cuisine Provisions

How do you choose the products you offer?

Jill

All the sourcing work for the grocery shop and the cellar is the result of several years of work, of meetings with producers when I was writing my reports, of our respective journeys and, above all, of our boundless appetite which drives us to the market stalls or to the shelves of each ethical grocery shop to taste everything that catches our eye. When we opened, naturally we contacted all those people whose products we like, whose work we respect and with whom we share the same philosophy. We like to be able to tell the story of the woman, man or group behind each product. With Provisions, we were keen to be the ambassadors for the kind of agriculture that respects life, and to promote a healthy diet. 

How do you want to develop your selection? 

Jill

By scouring France in search of young winemakers with promising work and artisans concocting as yet undiscovered gems. As far as the bookshop is concerned, we would like to complete our selection soon with books in Spanish and perhaps try out other languages so that we can see more and more languages on our shelves. 

Saskia

Since the beginning, we have dreamed of going to a region with our van and coming back with it stuffed with treasures. This is one of the reasons why Provisions is only open three days a week. To allow us time to explore, to wander about, to meet people, and to bring things back.

Is there a region, an area or a place (…) that has particularly impressed you since your opening or that you would like to highlight on your shelves? 

Jill

Because of their proximity to Marseille, we travelled a lot in the Drôme and Ardèche areas where we discovered a breeding ground for producers. I’m thinking, for example, of Leslie Guyomard, a market gardener and producer of, among other things, delicious preserved gherkins, and Frédéric Chaussy, a new age artisan who concocts a heavenly kombucha. In the coming months, we are dreaming of a grand tour on the other side of the Italian border or in the Basque Country. All we have to do is pass our driving test (Laughter).

You regularly organise tastings, dinners, and talks… Why is this so important to you? 

Saskia

Here it’s all about the way we live and the way we pass things on. What could be more natural than to organise meetings between the people involved in keeping this world alive, consumers and readers? Because the venue is so small, events are always held in small groups. We like the intimate, original and sincere way in which each of them is presented. I shall always remember the very first dinner at Provisions: a large table of 15 guests, all gathered to enjoy a banquet “di Natale” by the Italian chef Erika Blu. One of the participants arrived with a magnum of one of his favourite vintages to share with everyone. At the end of dinner, after bringing large plates of lasagne to the table to share, Erika took out her guitar. It’s this kind of encounter that we like to see taking place. Those that are experienced only once, and that we remember. I’m also beginning to realise that Jill and I are not cut out for routine. We always need to be thinking about the next meeting, the next dinner, the next challenge. We like to think that anything is possible within these walls!

Table en bois chez Provisions
Établis en bois Provisions
Échelle de bibliothèque chez Provisions
Vase chez Provisions
Saskia Porratta-Menne et Jill Cousin Provisions

Soon, you’ll be introducing some small-scale catering at Provisions! What will it be possible to taste? When?

Jill

It’s done now! Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at lunchtime, we offer our customers a short menu that changes every week and features products from our grocery shop and local market gardeners, all of which can be washed down with the many bottles of natural wine in our cellar. We design the menu as a table d’hôte, preparing the dishes we like to share with our friends and anything we might like to take with us for a picnic by the water. Every day we prepare salads, a sandwich and a dish that makes you want to linger at the table for hours. A simple, spontaneous approach to cooking, always enhanced with more familiar or less-known aromatic herbs. 

You are strongly committed to “eating well” and are also the founders of the Hors Champs collective, which organises a market for committed producers, artisans and chefs. Is this a way of maintaining the virtuous circle which began with creation of the Green Market collaborative card? 

Saskia

 Hors Champs was our first experience of a project together. It’s an association that currently has about fifteen volunteers, whose aim is to promote sustainable and committed agriculture in Marseille. The monthly markets in Saint-Victor were just one of many ways to work towards this goal. They were the source of a heavy workload, and we preferred to hand over the baton this summer to another citizens’ collective in September, so that we could concentrate our energies on other projects for Hors Champs and get away from the operational management of the markets.

What are your latest favourite foods in Marseille – or in the surrounding area?  

Saskia

 I love the two Japanese chefs, Yuichiro and Mika Shimatani, who have opened their restaurant, Les couleurs de Shimatani, in La Ciotat together. I haven’t tasted such a tasty, fine and fresh chirashi since my trip to Japan five years ago. The definition of a dream Sunday for me lies in c arrying their chirashi in my basket, heading straight for the calanques, accompanied by a bottle of fresh cider from our cellar and a yuzu pastry from Mika.

Jill

Limmat of course, our favourite canteen, where any excuse is good enough to sit down and enjoy the cuisine prepared by chef Lilian Gadola and the wine selected by her partner Fabien Heitzmann. At lunchtime on Sundays, I like to sit down to the fried chicken at the new Épicerie L’Idéal restaurant. Great big golden potato sticks, lots of mayonnaise and friends; the definition of a perfect Sunday! 

Where will we see you over the coming months?

Saskia

At Provisions, basically! We’re lucky enough to be welcoming the Café du Coin team for a pop-up from Thursday, 29 September to Saturday, 1 October, which is the perfect opportunity to celebrate our first year in style. Several other significant events are in development, and, most importantly, we’re preparing for Christmas with the same excitement as two five-year-olds.

Jill

On the road! My next book, Créer son jardin nourricier, about creating your own food garden (published by First), will be released in a few weeks and will undoubtedly bring me to France to celebrate its release. We also plan to buy a small Provisions van to criss-cross France and return to Marseille with the back full of new treasures.

Magazine Week Abroad Provisions
Bouteilles de vin Provisions
Fauteuil Provisions
Vitrine Provisions

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