French food, a Frenchwoman, and savoir faire
My guest for dinner at Paname restaurant was Elsa
Anikinow, the owner of Publika Project, the PR and events company.
Elsa's business card reads, "Give a new breath to your brand," and
with her glamorous presence she herself is the best advertisement
for her very unique, creative business skills.
Elsa knows Paname very well, "It's very popular with the French
crowd." Also, I can add, with lots of other nationalities, and
plenty of Russians. It is a very French restaurant, by which I mean
that the young owner, Amaury Tremblay, is French, he loves the
restaurant business, and he knows his food (he is a master baker).
The decor is traditional, with dark-red velvet curtains, photographs
of Paris on the walls, and Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour singing
in the background. Paname, by the way, if you do not already know,
is the slang word for Paris.
My Bouchee a la reine came with perfect puff pastry; the
sauce, with champignons and cepes mushrooms, was rich and creamy.
Elsa said that the Coquille St Jacques salad was
"absolutely not bad." I pressed her for more detail, "ok, the
arugula and endive are very crisp, the scallops soft."
We talked a lot and ate very slowly, a compliment to the fact
that Paname lets you get on with enjoying yourself. Looking at Elsa
taking occasional mouthfuls of her salad, I was going to talk about
a new book that's come out called French Women Don't Get Fat:
The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, by Mireille Guiliano, but I
became too absorbed in the history of Elsa's grandfather. "He was
from Russia. He was only sixteen when the Second World War started,
but he wanted to fight. He joined the army and then he was captured
in Poland. He was put in a labour camp, making bricks. One day he
and a friend stole a piglet, and when they were caught red-handed
they were told to hang themselves. At the moment my grandfather had
the rope around his neck, a general drove by, asked what was
happening, and said that they needed live workers, not dead ones.
Because my grandfather spoke French and German he was too useful. He
managed to run away and joined the Maquis French Resistance. When
the war ended he wanted to go back, but his friends said that it was
too dangerous, that the Soviets didn't want Russians coming back who
knew what life was like in the West. So he stayed and then he met my
mother, who is Polish - my grandmother is Ukrainian by the way."
"A romantic story."
'I'm proud of my roots, that's why I came back."
We had been sitting there I am sure for nearly an hour, drinking
Chablis and chatting; Elsa was still on her salad, and we felt no
pressure from the waiters to hurry. I asked her how she came to
Moscow? "I was working in sales and PR for Chantelle, the lingerie
company, in Paris. They asked me to run the Moscow office, which I
did for two years. Then I started Publika Project."
Our main courses arrived; for me, veal kidneys in mustard sauce,
and for Elsa, duck filet.
The kidneys were wonderfully soft, served with mashed potatoes
and haricots vert wrapped in bacon. The duck filet was crisp on the
outside, and looked perfectly pink on the inside; it was served with
a honey and coriander sauce (a nice combination, I tried it myself),
and came with spinach and pommes dauphines. Elsa described it in an
individual way, "it's one of those touchy dishes."
"Touchy?" I asked. "Yes, you know, how to choose meat in Russia
is not very easy."
"What made you decide to run your own business?"
"I was running Chantelle and at the same time people were asking
me to arrange promotional events, catwalk shows. Then I went to
"Say that again?"
"Mongolia. I wanted to think about what I was going to do in a
big wide open space. I am a multiple-task person. The hardest thing
in life is to choose."
I wanted to try the cheeseboard, and the creme brulee.
If it was going to be a French evening, then I was going to do
things by the book.
"How did you get your first clients?"
"I started with lingerie clients. My big break, as you
call it, was organising the fifteenth birthday party for Ark
Thompson. It was very wild - juggling barmen, that sort of thing.
After the party I was overwhelmed with work."
"Do you have only glamorous clients?"
Elsa laughed, "No! I have a client who is big in the storage
business. I am always commercial; I was in sales before, and I know
that PR is about helping your client to sell more products."
The cheeseboard came on a wooden platter, with walnuts and
grapes. I recognised all of the cheeses - Sainte Maure,
Camembert, Brie, Bleu d'Auvergne - except
one. I asked the waiter what it was? Boulette d'Avesnes was
the answer. After dinner, at home, I checked my cheese book; it is
named after Avesnes, a village near the Belgian border. It is made
from buttermilk, flavoured with parsley, pepper, tarragon, and
cloves, then shaped by hand and dyed with annatto or covered with
paprika. Delicious. We talked in general about doing business in
Russia. Elsa agreed with me that it's an exciting place for
entrepreneurs, "The country is so huge; it is the land of
opportunity. Not just in Moscow and St Petersburg. A lot of my
clients are becoming interested in the regions."
I noticed that I was eating all the cheese. I have been reading
the book about French women never getting fat, because they are
brought up with an in-built discipline, and at Paname, having dinner
with Elsa, I understood that the myth is true. Elsa interrupted my
musing, "But in PR you have to be a diplomat, because your client
doesn't always have good ideas."
The creme brulee arrived and the first thing I noticed
was that it was not served in those little pots that you see
everywhere, but in a very plain white dish. What can you say about a
perfect creme brulee? I could have eaten another one.
Elsa has a very clear understanding as to why her business is so
successful: "Russia is at the turning point of creativity in
business. Now you can't just put any advert on television and sell
the product; you have to plan a strategy, you need ideas, you need
to be creative."
An evening at Paname - good French food, a beautiful Frenchwoman
: life is good.
If you would like to know more about my guest, Elsa Anikinow, or
if you need some good PR, please visit her at: www.publikaproject.com