by Malcolm Jolley

Photo: Andrew French

At a first glance, Mireille Guiliano is nothing like Jamie Oliver. The former CEO of Cliquot, as in Veuve, as in Champagne, is as elegant and reserved and as calm and composed as the Naked Chef is frantic and loquacious. And yet, both communicate the same basic messages: 1) in order to eat sensibly and well you have to learn how to cook, 2) adults have a responsibility to eat well and conscientiously and thus teach the same healthy habits to their children and 3) eating real, proper food isn’t just good for you, it’s fun and delicious. And although, Mde. Guiliano, who splits her time between New York and Paris, explained all this to me calmly imperfectly French-accented English over a Toronto breakfast of Mueslix, a Danish, an espresso and a glass of water, it was quite clear that she is as passionate and committed to helping people eat better (and feel better) than any other figure in the food movement.

Mireille Guiliano rose to fame in 2004 with the publication of French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. I met her on a sunny April morning  on tour to promote The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbbok, an expansion of the franchise and a collection of simple, French food recipes designed to get North Americans into their kitchen. “We must engage people to cook because if you don’t cook, then you don’t connect to food,” she says matter of factly.

Guiliano became interested in North American eating habits when she began working in New York and noticed her staff taking their meals at their desks. Horrified, she set-up a “bistro” in the office where people could sit down and have a proper lunch. At the same time, she noticed many Americans struggled with weight, while having no clue as to how to cook. Her American couldn’t believe she could eat anything she wanted and maintain her trim figure (though Guiliano stresses general health over a body type), so Guiliano decided to put her façon de vivre to paper. After six years, she now has two permanent staffer to help her manage her letters and her website, She is sure she has helped millions of women in the US, UK and Canada learn how to eat. And men, she insists: Guiliano’s message, it seems, transcends gender.

Guiliano’s “secret”, first expounded on in FWDGF, is simple enough: sit down and eat three balanced meals a day. Sitting down at a table is a vital tenet of Guialiano’s. She explains that it takes at least 20 minutes to feel full. Scarfing something down from a box over the kitchen sink will not trigger this mechanism. Guiliano wishes we were more like the smaller towns of France and Italy, where most people still come home for lunch. The rituals of the table, she explains, help slow us down so we can enjoy our meal and digest it properly. In my case she is reaching to the choir, but I am impressed that she is able to make a connection between a sophisticated and elegant life and cooking.

Guiliano’s message seems so commonsensical. I wonder if she doesnt have a few tricks as well? Yes, she looks me directly in the eye and measuredly states: “All French women eat yogurt.” Guiliano is very big on yogurt (and the first recipe in her book is for a yogurty “magic” breakfast concoction she swears by for getting you through the morning. Mind you, it has to be “real yogurt: just milk and culture”. Once, Guiliano took a friend to the supermarket where she found, to her companion’s shock, only two real yogurts out of an entire dairy case full of fake, sugary imposters. She also is big on leeks as a kind of detoxer. And water – too many of us walk around dehydrated, especially in the morning after drying out all night. And, of course, there’s Champagne…

Mais, oui! The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook has an entire chapter on drinking and cooking with Champagne (she concedes you could cook with an ordinary sparkler, but really thinks you’re better off with the good stuff.) Above all, she maintains, we need to enjoy ourselves and our food. She explains her scheme won’t help anyone shed pounds right away, shrugging her shoulders and saying it might take someone two years to lose 30 pounds by merely eating simply. “But,” she adds, “it will stay off and you will enjoy your life while you do it – so get into the kitchen and cook!”

Malcolm Jolley is the editor of Good food Revolution.