James Rhee, a high school teacher, Harvard Law graduate, private equity investor, and the unexpected Chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart, joins Zibby to discuss RED HELICOPTER—A PARABLE FOR OUR TIMES: Lead Change With Kindness (Plus a Little Math), a brilliant business handbook that elevates kindness, joy, and goodwill. James shares what he learned from his Korean immigrant parents and from the black women he worked with. He reflects on the challenges faced by Ashley Stewart, weaving in themes of race, gender, and systemic barriers. He also touches on grief and the importance of embracing emotions in the workplace.


Zibby: Welcome, Jane. Thanks so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss The French Ingredient, a memoir, making a life in Paris. One lesson at a time. 

Jane: Yes. Yes. Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here. 

Zibby: Okay. Well, it's pretty self explanatory basically, but people listening might not know what the cover is and that there's all this food on the cover and that the lessons, what type of lessons you're talking about.

So dive in a little bit and tell readers what to expect in the French ingredient. 

Jane: Okay, fabulous. So I've tried to fine tune this because I started a business in the culinary world. And so people will potentially expect a cookbook or a recipe book and it is not that and I'm not a chef. I hold a small area of expertise that I like to focus on.

So the book I like to think simply is a recipe for doing life in Paris. And hopefully, Hopefully, which I hope maybe you saw a little glimmer of, a recipe for just doing life in general and starting again and falling down and getting up and having faith in yourself. So that's, that's the book. 

Zibby: It's true.

Whether it's your job and just going into like a new, totally new functional area in your industry at first, which even got you to Paris, or. You know, redoing things and saying like, this could be really fun. Maybe I'll just open a cooking school in Paris. 

Jane: I mean, that sounds so ridiculous. 

Zibby: It doesn't sound ridiculous.

It's so fun because so many people have dreams like that, but they don't necessarily do them. They're not like, I'm going to leave and just go to Europe because Europe sounds fun. Or, you know, I'm going to build something exquisite and the way I would want it and then, you know, make it happen despite all obstacles, which you can chronicle in detail here.

You know, the, the difficulty of, of doing anything in Paris and how you show us what that's like and I don't know, it's sort of a hats off moment to you of, of resilience and especially with all the things that happened while you were running the school. You know, you were the ultimate get knocked down, get back up again person here.

Jane: I try to be, sometimes I get up a bit slower, but yeah, I try 

Zibby: As long as you get up. 

Jane: Exactly. 

Zibby: So, talk a little bit about what led you to this idea and then what is it about you or the idea or the environment or whatever that made you be one of the people who takes it from dream to reality. 

Jane: Okay. So I talk a bit about it in the book.

It's not La Cuisine, which is the one of the big characters, which is the school that I created, was not a lifelong dream. And I'm always so happy to share that with people because there's a lot of people at Any age that haven't really figured out what they want to be when they grow up. And I know a few who are in their seventies who are still redefining and recreating themselves.

So La Cuisine came out of the blue during a crisis time, and I don't want to give too much away, but I had a lot going on in with my family and I was living overseas and I just realized that I didn't feel right where I was and over a few glasses of wine, which I talk about in the story, the idea came to me.

And I don't know where to be. It just came to me. Mind you, in that same discussion, I probably said I'd like to be a professional tap dancer, or, you know, I mean, we were just talking about things we could do. What would life look like? And how often do we allow ourselves to even do that? And that's so important.

So La Cuisine came up and, you know, sometimes these little ideas come to you and they just, stalk you. They just sit with you, they harass you, they pick at you, it starts to make you feel not great where you are. So I use that discomfort to try and dream and imagine and then slowly I realized well this dream could be reality because I saw these little sparks or doors with a small opening and and I just chose to go through.

There's no secret sauce to that.

Zibby: I like the word of sauce. No pun intended. 

Jane: I know. I'm trying to keep the food metaphors. 

Zibby: I'm having such a food morning. Before you, I interviewed, Lottie Hazel about her book, Piglet. Have you heard about that book? 

Jane: No, but well, let me... 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. I have to put the two of you in conversation.

I need to like do a mashup sometimes in my podcast because the two of you would learn so much from each other, but anyway, yeah, food on the brain. So when you got started, You realized how difficult it was not only to start a cooking school, which is a thing anywhere, but to do so in Paris. Talk a little bit about that.

Jane: Yes. So this is the classic, sometimes it's best you don't know what you don't know. Because I've understood all the complexities of running a business and running it in Paris, I probably would not have had the courage to get going. So sometimes being a little crazy and moving ahead Whatever ideas you have, there's value in not having to know everything in the beginning.

So I did learn a lot about the structure of setting up a business in general. I learned a lot about trying to have courage in myself because I did not have any free information about the industry. Again, I'm not a chef. I learned to value what I could bring and trust other experts on what they could bring.

So putting those elements together, La Cuisine was finally born and she's changed. I say she because I've, I guess I picked up the habit of law versus law and cuisine is female. She's changed directions many times. A friend did tell me the business that fails is the one that doesn't do what its clients want.

And every year you have to figure out what your clients want. So that's been fun. And I guess what I will realize that my clients want is I'm not selling cooking classes. We are selling memories because we're got a lot of international visitors. And this is a very special moment. And I'm honored that they spend it with us, but that's what they're taking away.

So I try to do that part. My chefs try to do the, there's a beautiful macaroon at the end of it as well. 

Zibby: Wow. Well, not only did you face obstacles, but you faced International crises taking place, you know, the victims of terrorism from the Bataclan, which is literally like a block away from you. And you wrote about that so beautifully and in such vivid detail.

And from the ambulances or whatever the police, like right down your alleyway to finding out about it. And, you know, it's like the, the, the 9 11 of, Paris essentially, um, and how, how you personally were affected and your business, but your emotions and not to say, take me back to this horrific time in your life, but talk a little bit about, you know, being a business owner and being a human being and melding all of those things to get through that time.

Jane: Yeah, that was really such, such a difficult time. Wow. And I think we all learned, uh, so much. I learned so much about resilience of people and I learned a lot about grief and I learned a lot about questioning when you have the right to grieve and why, you know, as a business, it meant that things, because we were in tourism, you know, overnight, Things changed for us.

Nobody travels when they're concerned about safety. And that was hard because I saw something that I created, that I had people relying on me just come to a screeching halt. I did not have any sort of person in my life that was affected by this, so I felt that I didn't have the right to feel so upset and hurt.

And those are so many trying feelings because you kind of, you come to terms with what's appropriate. So trying to grieve and run my business and respect what was happening around me and be fearful at the same time. But be strong for my team. There was just so many things going on. But one thing that I did take away is the resilience of humanity in general and the strength of Parisians is exceptional.

They're very, very strong, proud people. It was really quite beautiful to see them 

Zibby: in this notion that you don't have the right to grieve I could echo the eight million grief counselors out there who would tell you that that's not true, right? But that I know of course you have a right and it doesn't have to be about a person, you know You can have I mean, it's a trauma It's a it's a trauma and that has the grief response a lot of the time, right?

Jane: And those are things we all dealt with, you know, so many people in this city were dealing with that You Feeling and trying to figure out how to contain it, how to hold it, how to honor those that really did have profound, you know, their lives change in such profound, horrible ways, but still feel bad themselves.

So that, you know, it was, it was a, difficult time. 

Zibby: I'm so sorry you went through that. Ugh. Well, you know, the power of the human spirit to get through basically anything is mind blowing, right? 

Jane: Really. 

Zibby: And it's sort of why we're all still here as a species, like, you know? 

Jane: Yeah, I guess we, you know, over a few, you know, A thousand years, I guess, have gone through a few things.

Zibby: I mean, if we, if we laid down and just said, forget it, you know, where would we be? But it's every time it happens, it's a marvel because it feels so insurmountable and yet we somehow do it, you know, and then you had the fire at Notre Dame, which you write about. And then you had COVID affecting your business.

I mean, this is like blow after blow after blow. Um, like how did you keep, you know, how did you just keep your chin up? Which I know at times you didn't, but you know, how did you, I don't know, just like give it. 

Jane: The first thing I asked myself. You know, I know there is the concept of the Bermuda Triangle where just bad stuff happens.

I did ask myself, is Paris this like vortex of beauty but cruelty all at the same time? Because it seems like there was always, you know, always something going on here. And when you're in my industry, which is food and tourism, it gets quickly impacted. How did I get through it? I guess after time you put things in perspective.

And the wonderful, it is wonderful because it teaches you crisis can be so helpful in your personal growth and the challenges you finally start to realize I can get past this, I will get past it, I've been here in some form or another. And your intuition tells you it will be okay, but that intuition is just the previous nine years of things falling apart that you've managed to get through and deal with.

So you slowly build confidence in yourself to pick up and start again. And that, that's all I can really tell you. I wish I could bottle it because of course there's that moment something happens. We've just had something happen recently in Paris with the farmers striking. There's that split second where you're like, Oh, here we go.

It's all going to fall apart. And then you say. Okay, let's be rational. How am I gonna move forward? 

Zibby: Yeah, my gosh, that's really, that's all you can do, but it's still impressive. 

Jane: Exactly, but you know what? We, we do that just in our, the struggle to get up some days. Yeah. When you're just like, I'm not feeling this.

And you say, okay, well, I can get up and this is how I'm going to do it. One, one foot at a time. 

Zibby: My son got up yesterday morning and he was like, I don't want to go to school. I don't have to like put on my clothes and get in the car and brush my hair and brush my teeth. And I was like, Oh, I feel you. I get it.

Jane: That's the one human connection we all have at any age. Some days we're just like, I am not feeling this. Don't want to do it. 

Zibby: So why, what do you find so important about giving people the memory of learning to cook things, teaching them, giving them these experiences where they can partake in maybe learning something new that they didn't know how to make or, you know, Meeting the friends that they make, because community is a huge piece of your company and your school and all of that, right?

It's that sense of home base in a place that's not necessarily yours. Like, tell me, tell me about the importance of that or what, what it means to you and all that. 

Jane: Uh, you know what, this is something I've come to discover over time that was important and so much so, Zibby. You know, it's, we're just so lucky to have people visit from all different parts of the world.

And one thing is true, we all eat. And food, I didn't come up with this quote. I kind of feel like I'd like to say that I did, but I'm sure I read it somewhere. Food is a language we all speak. And I do find it's the one thing that connects people. So when you get people from all over the world, in a kitchen, having fun, building a wonderful memory, creating a meal together, which is beyond just the mise en place, it's the There's something sacred in creating a meal and eating together, I think.

I feel like those little pockets of time change the way people see one another. And I love that, and I'm so honored to be a part of that. that story. So that's become really special to me now that I understand that. And it puts a lot of darn pressure on me and my school because how do you know what, if people are buying a memory, how do you know what you want to deliver them?

You know, like your expectations when you come in are very different than mine. And how do we create consistency where at least people leave having a wonderful time meeting somebody new and, you know, making that such a nice part of their Paris experience. 

Zibby: Wow. Well, not only did you do all of this stuff, but then you turned it into a book, which is a whole nother accomplishment and another skill set and all of that.

Talk about writing this book and when you decided this should be a book. 

Jane: Okay. So this is fun. I've always thought I wanted to write a technical book about doing business in France. So that was kind of my idea. And I did have a few very supportive, loving people that said that's a great book and two people will buy that.

Okay, your mom, and whatever, and whatever best friend feels bad for you. Nobody cares. But what they might be interested in is your experience in running a business. Paris. And I've always been a rather private person, Zibby, so I toyed with that idea. But then, lo and behold, another crisis came, COVID. And that, you know, in Paris, it was really quite tough.

We had a very difficult existence. So, again, food and tourism, vortex of discomfort, and my business was shut, so I had a lot of time to sit and think about how to maintain my sanity. In the fear of everything again falling apart and I took to writing and the wonderful magical thing about this story is as I wrote, I would just, you know, feel like I'm channeling Hemingway and I'm, it's just all beautiful.

I would go back and read it the next day. And I thought, my God, I don't even sound like I have an education. There's like no verb that the sentences are not even hanging together. So called a friend and said, I need a writing coach. I need help. I've got time and I want to write well and how do I do that?

After lots of discussions, the gal that I chose to work with me and help read my stuff and tell me how to improve it, turns out she had already been to La Cuisine three times. over different visits to Paris. So I thought that's just serendipity. So she helped me and writing helped me get through, again, another horrible time.

I tried to channel my energy into something I knew nothing really about and try to enjoy it and take pleasure in it. So thank goodness for that book. It saved me. 

Zibby: Wow. Were there parts of it that you figured would be a lot easier? Like, I know you said the whole thing, you know, with feeling like you barely went to school, but, or what part came the most easily to you?

Jane: That is such a good question. Well, first of all, what I was so bitterly disappointed about to be, it just was like, I imagined myself sitting with a beret, Like red lipstick, maybe my, my martini on the side, just flowing and writing beautifully. That just did not happen. Writing was really hard. The process of it, I thought was hard, but enjoyable and trying to learn about me and my attention to detail and my ability to focus myself.

So it was just a huge, huge learning lesson, but very fun to birth. Very fun to birth. And still challenging. You know, you've, there's a couple of areas I write about family and how that fundamentally changed my path. And those are hard things to evoke and to share. And then I ask myself, why am I sharing these?

Well, the, you know, again, the story is I want people to see that. You can do most anything. It doesn't have to be big scale. It's just about believing in yourself.

Zibby: I love the parts about your family. Talk a little bit about how you decided what to include. I know people are always like, how did your family feel about that?

Or, you know, I know you've lost people, you know, but yes. How do you take somebody who is so important and translate them into a character? 

Jane: Yes, that's hard. Oh, my goodness. So I guess in telling this story, I wanted people to understand important things, like one of the characters that was very important to me is my grandmother.

So she features. And. She's been such a big part of my foundation, but also the loss of her and trying to turn that into me becoming myself, we all deal with grief and we all deal with things that are uncomfortable, but I wanted again to share that you can try to find light in those stories and honor the people that have been a big part of you.

to become a better version of you. So yeah, I tried to pick those things that I think really showed what we all go through, you know, living as an expat. It seems so charming until you get a call at three in the morning that you need to come home and that's hard, but you know, we can all find better versions of ourselves in difficult situations.

Zibby: I always wonder when I'm on a plane, you know, who is rushing to someone's bedside? Who is like, where? Where is that? You know, who's going through that? Who's grieving? Who's, you know, who, most of the time I'm just like going from one place to another. Exactly. Going to LA. But then there, there are the flights where, and I've had a lot of people I've spoken to on the podcast who were like, I just had found out my husband died and I cried the whole flight and I, this and, you know, just all the emotions contained in those planes.

You know. 

Jane: That's so true. You never think, My gosh, who is sitting next to me and what's their story? And hopefully little things like that make us more humble when we come across somebody that is grumpy or doesn't feel good or isn't, you know, there's always a story going on. Yeah. Behind the scenes. And I also wanted to share it because I know sometimes people look in at those of us living in Paris and think, oh my God, life is so perfect.

Well, it's not. We have ups and downs in human existence like everyone else. Yes, there's the Eiffel Tower, but that doesn't stop life from being difficult sometimes. 

Zibby: Well, still, I mean, it's like we can all live vicariously through you, like what it would be like. And I don't know. I'm sort of happy to keep it a dream, you know. 

Jane: I understand, I understand.

But like, so I was just having this discussion with some visitors from Hawaii and they looked at me with such seriousness and it was just so. Beautiful. They said, where do you go on vacation? You leave here. And I'm like, right, I guess that's been stolen from me, hasn't it? So, um, yeah. 

Zibby: Do you have plans to do any more writing?

Jane: I kind of do. I kind of do. 

Zibby: That was a big sigh. 

Jane: I I finished that darn thing, I wanted to toss it out the window, and it's love hate. As with so many things in my life, I love La Cuisine. I hate her some days. I love Paris. I hate it some days. Same with the book. But now I'm having this little bug of just a couple of other fun things I'd like to write about.

We'll see. Nothing, you know, it's, ah, dammit, I feel like I put it in the universe, now it's gonna, you know, it's like, Sorry, sorry! You made me speak it! Oh my god! Ximena, you're a cat that's about, you've made it, you've made it! out there now. 

Zibby: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. 

Jane: This is entirely your fault. Okay. 

Zibby: Well, what if it becomes like this amazing thing and, you know, saying it.

Jane: You're right. You're right. 

Zibby: Manifest it in some way. 

Jane: Exactly. Exactly. 

Zibby: You can put me in your acknowledgments. 

Jane: I absolutely will. 

Zibby: If you write it. I absolutely will. Yes. I'm totally kidding. Well, you never know. It's good to have all those things percolating and I should use a food analogy, baking slowly.

Baking. Exactly. Simmering maybe. Simmering. 

Jane: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. 

Zibby: Well, what advice would you give to aspiring 

Jane: authors? What advice would I give? Uh, I feel so strange calling myself an author, and I felt so strange calling myself a writer. But you are, and don't give up. Just keep pushing through. Don't be afraid to get the support you need.

We don't do things alone in isolation. Get yourself a little community that helps you. Don't feel ashamed about that. Asking someone for help is a gift. To them to participate in your dream, it just keep pushing forward and writing and being an author. It comes in so many forms that that could be keeping a beautiful journal for yourself.

It doesn't have to be published by a publishing house. So that's what I'd say. Love 

Zibby: it. And just to, to tempt me and everyone else who can pretend to be living the life of, I mean, popping into Paris for a class. What classes are coming up? What can people take? What are some things happening? 

Jane: So most days of the week, our most popular class is croissants.

So most days you can sneak into a croissant class. That's quite fun, I think. And I'd say what we always have going on are going to the French market. And I talk about that in a book and it's, that is such a special place and that's where you really see Parisians and the sense of community. You know, the markets are the livelihood of this city.

So that's, that's a fun time. If people love to go to the market with the chef and then come back and cook their meal. Amazing. Yeah. 

Zibby: Well, I feel more chic and cultured just having had this conversation. So, you know, thanks for letting me sort of brush, brush Zoom shoulders with you here. 

Jane: The next time you'll have to do it live from Paris.

I would love to. Wouldn't that be nice? 

Zibby: That would, that would be wonderful. Yes. Now we've put that in the universe as well. I know, I know. 

Jane: Now that we're manifesting things, why not? 

Zibby: Seriously, what else should we put out there? Well, thank you, Jane. Thanks for the experience of reading your book and feeling like I really got to live it with you, the ups and the downs.

And it was quite an escape. And that's what the great books do, right? They just take you on a journey and get you out of your own life and into someone else's. It's like magic. So thank 

Jane: you. Well, you are welcome. Thank you. Thank you for reading it. And thank you for having me on the show. This has been, this is so exciting, of course, because I'm watching you on Instagram.

So just being here feels surreal. I'm so 

Zibby: excited. Thank you. Well, I'll post about it later. All right. Thank you, Jane. Have a great day. Bye. 

Jane: Bye. 



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