Wafting into the bar and baguette station through a tiny kitchen window are the smells of sizzling oil and sauce –- a signal that Marie Dargnat is cooking. Dargnat is the one of the few female chefs in the city and runs the Catalan restaurant and bar Le Tire-Bouchon in Perpignan.
Dargnat has been cooking professionally for almost 11 years and manages the bistro with her husband. Over the last decade, Le Tire-Bouchon has become both her breadwinning business and home away from home.
Her pedicured feet quickly take her from one end of the tiny, stuffy kitchen to the other, moving from the salad bar to the stove to the counter and back. One hand stirs a pot while another flips pork sausages. Without fear, Dargnat caramelizes a plate of Catalan cream with a scorching hot burner by rotating the flat iron in perfect circles.
After finishing each creation, she pushes a dish through the little window. A loud tap on the table bell signals the waitress and food is immediately brought to the customers.
Dargnat, who uses fresh ingredients to create simple traditional Catalan meals, is well known in the area for such dishes as her famous grilled scallops and homemade foie gras.
“Catalan cuisine is really inspired by the products we find and produce here. For example, we use old plants from the vineyards as kindling for barbeque grills, whereas other regions of France would throw them away,” she says. “The little aspects, such as the vines, give a special taste to what we cook and are specific to the region.”
Her restaurant has gained the attention of local celebrities, such as broadcasters, media personalities and the local rugby team, the Catalans Dragons. Dozens of autographed rugby balls line the top of the liquor cabinet at the wine bar while framed pictures and posters of glamorous people adorn pale yellow walls.
Because it is situated only a couple blocks away from the Perpignan train station, Le Tire-Bouchon has an ideal location. Tired passengers mingle with residents at the bright yellow bistro after a long day’s traveling. New customers find dining at Dargnat’s place to be a memorable experience in a neighborhood surrounded by fast food kebab shops and mini cafes.
Although everyday cooking is viewed as a feminine task, men still make up the vast majority of certified chefs in France. While there is competition in the field, Dargnat is not discouraged. She sees her gender as an asset in business.
“Sometimes when I walk outside to write down the menu in front, people pass by, stop and ask me, ‘Are you the cook?’ I say, ‘Yes’ and they immediately book a reservation,” she says.
Dargnat believes dishes prepared by female chefs often remind customers of their childhood and the comforts of home. By stirring those feelings in patrons, she regularly gains praise for her food.
“My favorite compliment is when clients tell me my cooking reminds them of how their mother or grandmother cooks,” she jokes. “I love it.”
One such memory that Dargnat fondly treasures came almost a year after a customer took one of her homemade jams out of the country as a gift and through networking, informed her he still remembered tasting it.
“I enjoy the process of creating and having the pleasure of pleasing others,” Dargnat says.
You can find Le Tire-Bouchon at 20, Avenue du Général de Gaulle, 66000 Perpignan. It is open for lunch from 12 to 3 p.m. and dinner from 7 to 9 p.m. Contact 04 68 34 31 91 for dinner reservations.