Do you ever wonder about the lurid details of other human beings’ lives — not in a creepy way — but just who they really are?
For a while, I’d been wondering about the identity of Chef Jacques La Merde, a nutty Instagram sensation who creates impossibly soigné dishes out of casual snacks and everyday food products, accompanied by exuberant all-caps captions.
The elusive Chef La Merde revealed his identity on an episode of Top Chef last January: He was the alter ego of Christine Flynn, a Toronto-based executive chef.
On an overcast morning in March, Flynn welcomed my coworker Steven and I into her home to show us an even deeper glimpse into her identity: her pantry. What lay beyond those mysterious wooden doors? What did Chefs Flynn and La Merde really like to chow down on?
To my surprise, the only overt semblance of Jacques is a bag of Doritos. “I only used it for the styling,” Flynn explains, referring to the gas-station snacks often featured in Jacques La Merde dishes. “It just sat in the cupboard, so anyone who came over was like, wow, you really like junk food.”
These days, Flynn’s pantry is more reflective of her everyday life — but she still likes to keep a bag of Doritos on hand, for both the early ‘90s nostalgia that helped inspire Jacques’ character, and because “you never know when you’re going to need them.”
Nut butters are another mainstay. Food-industry workers tend to get home late, she explains, and work is often too busy to allow for proper meals. Thus, late-night snacking is common. “I don’t eat a ton of super-processed stuff because you don’t want that in you at, like, midnight,” she says. Instead, handfuls of almonds and apples with nut butter are easy go-tos.
She also loves tinned fish — so much so that an entire corner of her pantry is dedicated to the stuff. The highlights: mussels en escabeche, baby eels in a jar (“These are delicious!”), razor clams, bonito from a recent trip to Spain. She loves to have them on a cracker or a baguette.
Is there anything Flynn hates? “Balsamic reduction. I don’t know why everyone has to put balsamic on everything,” she says intently (with the caveat that high-quality balsamic drizzled over vanilla ice cream is still delicious). “And black pepper. Also overdone.” Otherwise, Flynn likes to keep an open mind. Folks give her weird stuff, and she doesn’t like to limit herself.
Some of the “weird stuff” Flynn receives from others are obscure condiments. Her pantry is home to numerous jars of distinctive honeys (many of them acquired as samples from work), including therapeutic mānuka from New Zealand, and raw honey from a fir tree. “It tastes… kinda like a fir tree,” she says. Other varied ingredients line the top and bottom shelves: esoteric flours, oils, and extracts.
Flynn’s home kitchen is somewhat akin to a test kitchen — a quiet refuge where she can work on menu development away from the chaos of her restaurant kitchens. She composes Jacques La Merde’s dishes in the comfort of her home, too, casually photographing them on her dining-room table with her smartphone camera.
Jacques’ latest creation features a new snack we’ve invited Flynn to try: Nature Valley Granola Cups. The cups are made of crunchy whole-grain oats, complemented with peanut butter and chocolate — and they look damn good next to hibiscus meringues and baby sorrel leaves.
Angela Wang is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.
Photos by Steven Polletta.