Hey everyone! Welcome back to Living Abroad, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Our latest interview features pastry chef Molly, who moved from Dallas to Paris to attend pastry school at the Cordon Bleu. She now lives in Versailles, France, with François, her French partner and their adorable dog, Elliot.
Here’s a peek into her dreamy life in France…
Hi! My name is Molly Wilkinson. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas and I teach pastry classes in Versailles! I live in an 18th-century apartment with François, my French partner, and Eliott, our dog.
I moved to attend pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu and really fell in love with the city, particularly the culture around food and the amazing ingredients. I ended up going back to Texas once my visa expired, then I returned and worked at several pâtisseries — and even a château — to gain experience.
On her old-world apartment: Our apartment is about five minutes walk from the Versailles Château in the Saint Louis neighborhood. The building was built in the 18th century and is full of charm. Our apartment is full of light, still has the original parquet floors and huge mirrors on the mantles. I use one of the rooms for teaching my pastry classes. I’ve planted red geraniums in the flower boxes and filled the cabinets with pastry tools and antique cake stands. In the middle of the room is a big antique French farm table where I create.
On moving to Versailles: Versailles is full of history and charm. There is so much more to the city than just the Château. It’s quite expansive and doesn’t have the small windy medieval streets like some of the towns nearby. It’s quiet, traditional, and has beautiful architecture. It’s situated just 30 minutes from Paris by train, so we have the peacefulness of living outside the big city but also the proximity to easily go in whenever we need to. There are two main neighborhoods in Versailles, the Saint Louis Quarter and the Notre Dame Quarter. Both have impressive churches and markets! There’s also the horse carriage museum to explore and even a local flour mill.
On becoming a pastry chef: I’ve been baking since I was very young, but it was all American treats – like my favorite chocolate chip cookies and brownies. It wasn’t until I came to Paris at the age of 26 that I started to learn the art of French pâtisserie. Going to school for the culinary arts is difficult; you’re on your feet all day, and there’s a certain amount of pressure to get things right the first time. I loved it though. I learned more with each creation and got more confident.
After I graduated, I did an internship at a tiny pastry shop in the 10th arrondissement in Paris where I was the only person besides the two women pastry chefs running the place. I learned so much and went on from there to work at several bakeries in both the US and France. The culinary arts is a field where you are constantly learning, which makes it quite interesting.
I focus on pâtisserie. Within pâtisserie, you have several different specialties, like candy, chocolate, and even ice cream. Separate from patisserie is bread-making (boulangerie), and yeasted pastries (viennoiserie), like croissants. In the US, the word pastry often refers to anything sweet that is French, like eclairs and tarts, but croissants as well, whereas they are actually two entirely different fields.
On learning French: I consider myself intermediate level in French. Learning the language when you live in any foreign country is so important. It opens doors but also allows you to experience more of the culture and feel more like you belong. In terms of tips, I’d say to get a French boyfriend and try to surround yourself with French-speaking people. I also work with a tutor on a regular basis. When I lived in Paris, I took French through the Mairie (city hall). This is a GREAT tip for people living there. It’s very inexpensive and a good way to get into learning asap.
On making friends: Joining different activity groups helps, but I’ve even made friends in the area through Instagram! Eliott is quite the mascot and conversation starter too.
On dating: Dating in France is very different than in the US. Essentially there isn’t dating – either you’re together or not! Yes, the first 1-2 dates are trials to see what you think, then pretty soon thereafter, you’re in a relationship. Also, there isn’t “the discussion” aka the “are we boyfriend and girlfriend?”. I once tried to do this with François, and it was pretty hilarious. He was like, well we are together, we’re happy, and that’s what matters – no need to ask or label.
On the cost of living: I find living in Versailles similar to living in Dallas. I shop a lot at the market for fruits and vegetables and they’re so much cheaper than even buying them in the supermarkets here.
On living in France as an American: It’s been great! But it’s also all about how you approach things. I love living here and try to spread that positivity into all areas of my life and maybe they can sense it? Also, I am familiar with the customs after living here for more than six years and speak the language.
Even visiting though, Americans are very much so welcome! Just great people with a “Bonjour” when going into a shop or restaurant, or starting any conversation. That is the best advice. Add “Madame or Monsieur” and you’ll get a smile for your efforts.
On French fashion: Fashion will vary in France from town to town, and of course the different generations. Fashion in Versailles is a lot different than in Paris. In Versailles, it’s pretty traditional, longer skirts, slacks, nice blouses or dresses, in neutral tones or florals. There’s also a thing with red pants here? Seriously. In Paris, it’s very fashion-forward, trendy, and pretty much anything goes. That’s what makes people-watching such fun!
On living in France during Covid-19: It’s been very quiet. During the confinements, especially the first one, we really just stayed inside, did big shops for food and watched a lot of movies. Thankfully we have a bit more space than the 9m2 (100sqft) apartment I had in Paris! The pandemic also forced me to quickly pivot my business model from in-person pastry classes to online classes, and it’s been incredible. I now reach more people than I ever did before, and folks that live all over the world!
On missing home: Besides my family and friends, I miss tacos the most!
On the best part about living in Versailles: I love how I call it home now. I walk down the streets and see people I know. I have my favorite haunts and feel comfortable here. Also, there’s something pretty special about having the Versailles gardens as the place where I walk my dog.
On the worst part about living in Versailles: The bureaucracy is quite daunting. I like to say that France makes you work for it!
On wanting to living in Versaille long-term: Oui!
(Photos by Molly Krystal Kenney, Joann Pai, and Claire Emmaline.)