We meet ‘Paris Match’ editor in chief Olivier Royant at Café de l’Homme to talk journalism, James Ellroy and the joys of crêpes.
“I’m from Brittany; I’m a Celtic guy. We aren’t gastronomes: there’s good produce but the cuisine is not elaborate. Sometimes you have food that gives you a memory: my “madeleine” is probably the crêpe. My grandmother used to make it at the farm – a crêpe for 15 people and you can fill it with whatever you want. Grandmothers used to make it with massive pans they would put on the fire. Our house was a regular suburban house: it had a garden but the kitchen is where we spent most of our time.
When I arrived in the US in 1987 I was a 24-year-old journalist. I missed French food at times but I always found one or two bistros that reminded me of France with one dish in particular: the blanquette de veau (veal stew), something my mum always cooks for me.
Soon I discovered that these French chefs and restaurant managers had great power. They introduced me to people in New York – film stars, politicians and chiefs of staff – who trusted the manager as if he was their doctor. Le Cirque was a major address; one night three former presidents were having dinner there at the same time. In the news industry nowadays you have so many intermediaries but in a restaurant the barriers break down; it’s amazing. What was difficult in the US, though, was covering election campaigns. We went to five or six events a day – from terrible turkey sandwich to terrible chicken sandwich – for months.
It’s not easy to interview people in a restaurant because it’s so distracting; you always freak out about forgetting the big questions. One night I was interviewing James Ellroy in Los Angeles and he picked me up from my hotel and said he would show me the city by night. We exchanged watches (I don’t know why; it was the first thing he did and at the end of the night he gave it back) and he took me to a diner where policemen and detectives used to eat in the 1950s.
I remember eating worms with [Nobel prize-winning author] Nadine Gordimer in Johannesburg after an interview with Nelson Mandela. I was like: “Worms? Sure, let’s do worms.” I also recall speaking to a murderer in a prison in Ohio; he was sentenced to death and everybody was trying to interview him but he said yes to me. “Why me?” I asked him after the interview. “Because I used to have a French boyfriend who cooked me French food and I thought you would remind me of that,” he said.
It was when I was working on my birthday for the fifth year in a row, alone with a glass of wine at Los Angeles airport, that I realised I couldn’t be a reporter forever and that I would become an editor. When I returned to France after 10 years it took me a while to adapt. The country was the same but I hadn’t seen politicians grow, I wasn’t in the network. I was lucky to meet my wife: after a couple of weeks in Paris I was depressed so my friends invited me out for dinner and she was there. Delphine is the ultimate Parisian: she has a bicycle and works for Vogue. She introduced me to the beauty and rhythm of Paris – she made me love it.
I almost died one day. I was heading back to Paris Match a couple of days after Jacques Chirac was appointed prime minister in 1986. You can walk to the office through one of two shopping arcades: I picked one and the moment I stepped out onto the Champs-Élysées a bomb exploded in the other. Instead of running away I went over; there was silence and smoke and I started taking photos. They turned it into a 12-page story. That evening, from the shock, I took 16 people out for dinner and blew my photography fee – I guess that was almost my last meal.
Journalists have a strange relationship with death: we’re always observing the deaths of others. When somebody dies it’s a way for us to revisit their lives. For my last meal I would like to to celebrate life with my friends at Paris Match. It would have to be in Paris, it’s such a great part of our life. I would love to have the crew around me. As news junkies, discovering the world, we had so much fun.
Before becoming editor in chief of weekly news magazine Paris Match, Olivier Royant had spent most of his working life at the French media institution: first as a reporter and then a US correspondent for 10 years. Combining hard news with celebrity scoops, the magazine has a weekly circulation of about 600,000 and a loyal following for its photo-led, on-the-ground journalism. Royant lives in Paris with his wife (and publisher of Vogue Paris) Delphine Royant and their son and daughter.
Starter: salmon tataki with yuzu and wasabi.
Main: whole roast Bresse chicken to share, with roast grenaille potatoes and unpeeled garlic.
Dessert: vanilla cream- filled choux with hot chocolate sauce.
Glass of rosé with ice.
Whole roasted Bresse chicken with roast grenaille potatoes and unpeeled garlic
Serves 3 to 4
2.2kg Bresse chicken
½ handful thyme
200g unpeeled garlic
50g leaves laurel
500g grenaille potatoes
½ handful parsley
3kg chicken wings
Pinch of salt
Ground black pepper
Season chicken with salt and pepper; stuff with thyme, garlic and butter.
Poach bird with wings, carrots, shallots and leeks and simmer with stock for 30 minutes before roasting in oven for another 30 minutes at 180C.
Parboil grenaille potatoes for 20 minutes. Cool, cut in two and roast with parsley butter.
Confit garlic in oven for 20 minutes at 200C.
Add a little sauce to dish and serve rest in saucer. Finish with pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Serve.