Tucked into East Liberty’s growing restaurant scene, Paris 66 is a familiar face among new ones.
The French bistro has been around for eight years, and for five of those years, Renaud Daburon and Marie-Lise Daburon-Girault have been welcoming customers as managers (and more recently as husband and wife). There are plenty of customers who visit time and time again for—not only the authentic food—but for the kind hospitality of the staff.
I sit down with Renaud to talk about wine, France, and Pittsburgh.
Wine & Cocktails
Anyone seeking a wine recommendation is in good hands with Renaud, whose enthusiasm and passion for French wine could rival any connoisseur’s. At Paris 66, he hosts regular wine pairing events, from the Beaujolais event in November, to the Tour de France dinners which pair wines and dishes from region to region following the race. For him, the most important part of a pairing is respecting the region of the wine. “If a customer tries the escargot from Burgundy, and I pair it with Aligoté Bourgogne, they are traveling in Burgundy. I want people to know about the wine, the region… I want them to talk about the wine.” He puts just as much passion into creating cocktails. “You have to find a good balance between the food and the customer. I ask what you like, and create something for your taste.”
When they’re not serving at Paris 66, Marie-Lise and Renaud spend their time traveling, always trying new foods, new wines, and exploring new places. Renaud has always been a seeker of new experiences, which becomes more apparent as he talks about his beginnings as a mixologist and wine connoisseur.
He found inspiration early from his uncle—the Maître d’ of the famous Café de la Gare. His uncle showed him a picture of the restaurant when Renaud was six, and he was hooked. He stoked that fascination with the culinary world early. When he was 11, Renaud went to work in a bakery, recalling: “I wanted to know how they made the bread, the pastries. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to learn.”
Renaud went on to study at Francois Mitterrand Chateau Chinon in Burgundy, studying the culinary arts and serving. His instructor realized his potential in the front of house, and encouraged him to focus on serving, and during his second year he went on to serve in 1 & 2 Michelin Star restaurants. In just two years, Renaud left Chateau Chinon with four degrees: two in Serving and two in Culinary Studies. Settling into one niche has never Renaud’s style. “You can’t create a good wine pairing without a good knowledge of food. You have to try everything to understand everything.” His time in Burgundy shaped his tastes and appreciation for wine, “Drinking Burgundy is patriotic to me. They’re complex wines… When you drink Grand Cru Burgundy from Dujac, Jadot, or Latour, you know it’s going to be good.”
Soon, Renaud was overwhelmed with offers from restaurants all over France, and he took a position at Patriarche in Beaune. Famous for their expansive cellars, Patriarche’s tunnel stretch over 3 miles and they house over three million bottles of wine at a time. Here, he honed his knowledge of wine.
While bartending, he was approached by a representative from Monin, the famous producer of French syrups. They were impressed with his mixology skills and asked to sponsor him to compete in a cocktail competition at the Bar Academie in Paris. “It was a Brandy Alexander,” he explains, “with a special French touch, using all Monin ingredients.” Renaud came in 4th, earning him acclaim in the French culinary scene. He furthered his schooling at the Bar Academie, learning under the famous mixologist Laurent Grecco. He left Paris with his mixology degree and went on to become a mixologist for Monin, creating cocktail menus for restaurants, bars, hotels, and Château all over the world.
After eight years of traveling in their home country, a life abroad called to Renaud and Marie-Lise, and they set their sights on England, Canada, and the United States. From all the inquiries on their resumes, they chose Paris 66 here in Pittsburgh and made the leap to the US.
I ask him how he feels about Pittsburgh after five years. Renaud laughs, “I am more Pittsburgher than French now. [Marie-Lise and I] miss Pittsburgh after 2 or 3 weeks when we are in France. We love Pittsburgh. It’s not too big, not too small. Very welcoming and very kind. We are from the countryside, and an hour outside the city you have this beautiful country with lakes and forests. Pittsburgh is a sports city, it’s a foodie city, and we love [that].”