That’s it, the sheer madness of the end-of-year holidays is taking over our daily lives! The excitement mounts with each passing day. We’re beginning to come up with a thousand ideas a minute to enhance every little thing, every moment. Héloïse Brion excels at this game. A metre of fabric, a few floral arrangements, and her beautiful Opinel knives combined with dazzling china and glass are all she needs to transform the dining room into a reception room in the true sense of the word! This is an aspect of herself she says she inherited from her mother, who used to prepare the Christmas table behind closed doors so that her decoration would come as a surprise. For the creator of Miss Maggie’s Kitchen, being together as a family is sacred. A perspective that takes on even greater significance at Christmas, when young and old come together in the old Norman hunting lodge acquired a few years ago and given the delightful name of Miss Maggie. This is the place from which Heloise draws her inspiration. This place which continues to nourish her and which she regularly brings to life through visits from friends. As she makes the first preparations in December, the former publicist is already thinking about how she will be able to stimulate her visitors’ senses. The crackling of logs in the fireplace, the smell of a fir tree, the chorus of Christmas carols – a little pleasure inherited from a childhood spent between France and the United States – and the promise of an egg-nog to be enjoyed while wearing Scottish pyjamas… So much promise that we are eager to experience soon too.
I like to stimulate all the senses: soft light with pretty candles and the fire lit, the smells of the Christmas tree and the kitchen, Christmas songs, the sweets that you nibble all day long...
Héloïse, who are you? What is your background?
I’m 42 years old, I grew up in the United States. I am Christophe’s wife and lover, and also Gabin and Belthazor’s mother. I am passionate about cooking, travel, the art of living, discovering and meeting people. I am the founder of Miss Maggie’s Kitchen which encompasses all my passions and who I am.
We know you under the name of Miss Maggie’s Kitchen too. Tell us about this second identity of yours.
Miss Maggie’s Kitchen came into being quite naturally a year and a half ago. It started with recipe journals for my friends and family, and then, thanks to word of mouth, it spread to people I didn’t know! It all started with sharing recipes, with the kitchen – the heart of every house in my opinion. Nowadays I also share my discoveries, my favourites, my travels and lifestyle via my website and social networks. I also work with the press and very nice companies!
Why that name?
We named our country house Miss Maggie because it looks a little like an “elderly English lady”. I have always loved cooking, but this house is a massive source of inspiration. When I made the first recipe journal, I needed to put a name on the cover, and I spontaneously called it Miss Maggie’s Kitchen because everyone I know knows about this house. At the time it was just a gift for friends, but the name remained an obvious choice.
How do you prepare for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations at Miss Maggie’s Kitchen?
I like to stimulate all the senses: soft light with pretty candles and the fire lit, the smells of the Christmas tree and the kitchen, Christmas songs (especially American ones), the sweets that you nibble all day long, and a variety of materials: linen, wood, crystal. All this comes to life around the table. This year, for the table, I wanted to combine pretty, Démodé pieces (tablecloth, plates) with my sublime Opinel birch knives and a mixture of glasses from Baccarat and La Soufflerie. I like to balance classical pieces with more artisan-produced ones. I think I inherited that from my mother. For years, she prepared the Christmas table behind closed doors so that her table decoration came as a surprise for the whole family. Now we meet up at Miss Maggie’s for a few days during which we sip egg-nog, nibble nougat and peppermint bark (from Williams Sonoma) and sing our hearts out. A few years ago I gave the whole family the same Scottish pyjamas. These pyjamas have become a ritual, we wear them every year! We decorate the tree and house together, cook the turkey, make hundreds of cookies for ourselves, the neighbours and especially for Father Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, we dress up in our best clothes!
Can you give us an exclusive recipe that is easy to prepare and has impact on a beautiful table?
I’m going to give you the recipe for the caramelised apple and onion pie, which is perfect as a starter! To make it, you will need some puff pastry, two red apples, three medium yellow onions, three tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of honey, four tablespoons of fresh cream and three sprigs of fresh thyme. First, preheat your oven to 200° C. Peel and slice the onions. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions with a good pinch of salt. Stir it, add the honey and let it caramelise for 7-8 minutes. Meanwhile, thinly slice the two apples and add them to the pan. Stir and let it cook for 5 minutes. Roll out your pastry. Cover it with fresh cream and place the onion-apple mixture on top. Bake it in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Everything must be golden! Sprinkle it with fresh thyme. Add pepper. Cut it into small rectangles and serve.
Do you have any decorative accessories, crockery, that you always take out with delight at this time of year?
I light the house with candles, I always use parts of my great-grandmother’s dinner service, the boys help me choose branches and flowers to decorate the table, and I love finding my old decorations to decorate the tree.
What were the inspirations for the decoration in your apartment?
I like that the places have different atmospheres. In Paris, we wanted to live in a classic apartment by decorating it with souvenirs of our travels and moments from our lives – from here or elsewhere. Everything has found its place naturally. The old colourist furniture we found on the island of Ré, the cow’s head from India, CSAO cushions, the palm tree lamp and, of course, Christophe’s photos! Once a year, I like to change the furniture around (it gives new energy). The feeling of the rooms too, according to the seasons. For example, in summer I like light or pastel-coloured sheets, in winter I create a cocoon with a mixture of items from CSAO and Le Monde Sauvage.
Do you have a favourite piece that follows you wherever you move?
The portrait painting of an Indian woman found in an antique shop in Kerala, India. I had seen it during a trip with my brother, then, back in France, I thought about it all the time…. A few months later, I went back to India with Christophe. It was still there. Christophe gave it to me, he felt that I was already very attached to it! And of course my lucky necklace with all my lucky charms. Besides these, I have had something new and very beautiful for a few days, and I’ll share it in my end-of-year box of wonders.
What is coming next for Miss Maggie’s Kitchen?
I’m working on a book project, a series for the web and I’m starting to look for a place in Paris! These are the three big projects in the pipeline, punctuated by others that I look forward to sharing soon.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily
In collaboration with Opinel