French students converse with content experts


Anika Desai, Staff Writer

Upper-level French students visited with a handful of creative local professionals last month when AP French Language and Culture classes welcomed acclaimed author Claire Messud P’22, and French 5 (Honors), Culture and Cuisine in Films and Fiction, spoke with La Voile head chef Jerome Bergere, French pastry chef Clarisse Maugis, and chocolatier Palmer Berry.

As the French 5H course shifted to project-based learning in the winter, the class split into three groups, each charged with interviewing Ms. Maugis, Ms. Berry, or Mr. Bergere. The goals of the project, World Languages Department Head and US French Teacher Cécile Roucher-Greenberg said, were to connect with advanced French speakers in French and learn more about French cuisine.

Chloé Bancel ’21 said interviewing Mr. Bergere was a fun end to the class.

“He was very professional, and he answered all of our questions,” she said. “He also talked about what leadership looks like in the kitchen.

He was clearly a really passionate chef. That was really inspiring, being so passionate about what you do every single day even if you have been doing it for years.”

Bea Scanlon ’21, who interviewed Ms. Maugis, said talking with a native speaker was difficult but rewarding.

“It’s always cool to see someone’s experiences with a different culture, especially one you have been studying for years,” she added.

Julia Maimonis ’21 remarked on Ms. Berry’s story and the influence of France on her personal traditions, like making handmade truffles with her son over the holidays, and on her professional choices, like using only ingredients that come from France.

“She also helped expand our vocabulary by teaching us about the specific techniques she used and about the importance of patience and attention to detail,” Julia said.

Ms. Roucher-Greenberg noted Ms. Berry’s commitment to learning.

“Palmer doesn’t come from a professional background in cooking, yet she knows so much about her chocolate specialty. She is so thorough, just like she is with French: she studies what she loves to become an expert.”

Meanwhile, the AP French classes, having just finished reading Albert Camus’ “L’Étranger,” hosted Ms. Messud, whose family connections to Camus’ world led her to research the novelist and write about him in The New York Review of Books. Like Camus, Ms. Messud’s father and grandfather were French Algerian, and her father attended the same high school as Camus, only 18 years later.

US French Teacher Pascale Torracinta, who teaches one of the two AP French classes, said Ms. Messud was an especially good visitor.

In addition to discussing the novelist’s life and childhood during her presentation, Ms. Messud shared many documents, including photographs of Algerian landscapes and pictures of Camus as a child. She also talked about the relationship between France and Algeria in the 20th century, using maps of European-controlled territories—context that helped students understand Camus’ deep attachment to Algeria, Ms. Torracinta said.

“I particularly enjoyed looking at the pictures of Algeria she shared with us,” she added. “I was able to better visualize certain scenes I had read in ‘L’Étranger.’”

AP French student Lucian Wood ’22, Ms. Messud’s son, said he actually learned from the presentation.

“Her dad, my grandfather, knew a lot about the region, but I didn’t personally, so it was interesting to hear about society in French Algeria,” he said.

Ms. Messud also showed the class a rare first-edition of one of Camus’ earlier books, “Noces,” that she inherited from her father.

AP student Olivia Bancel ’22 said she enjoyed the visit. “It was a nice way to see the story that we just finished reading come alive.”