“Now that it’s over, I realize even something as awful as the quarantine gave me a gift,” says chef Alexia Duchêne, 24. “When everything stopped, all the hype in my life blew away. Alone and quiet, I had the time to let my ego deflate and see what kind of cooking I really want to do.” Duchêne walked away from her first job at the helm of a kitchen, at Datsha Underground, in early May, because in the uncertain new post-lockdown world the restaurant wanted to change the ambitious prix fixe menu that had won her raves to something much simpler.
This spring, Duchêne’s reputation was rising as perfectly as one of the soufflés she first mastered nine years ago as a precocious student at École Grégoire-Ferrandi, France’s most prestigious professional culinary school. Last May, Duchêne broke out as a new French food-media star during the 10th season of the Gallic edition of Top Chef, and most recently the cherubic chef has been reaping rave reviews for her cooking at Datsha Underground, a speakeasy-style hipster supper club in the Upper Marais that opened in January.