Susan Loomis: Alumna cooking, teaching in France
By MICHAEL J. CARTER
Read any good books lately? How about the one about a journalist who goes to France to learn the language on the arts of cuisine? Try the life of UW alumni Susan Herrmann Loomis, who not only lives and works in France, but operates a cultural and culinary cooking school from her 15th century home in the city of Louviers across the street from Norte Dame.
And what brought Loomis to France?
“Food. I fell in love with the pursuit of excellence in France. I couldn’t settle for anything less. France is genteel, sophisticated, gorgeous and relatively orderly,” she said.
Her school, On Rue Tatin, which offers six-day courses, attracts people from all over the world. The courses range between 2,000 and 2,400 euros (about $2,900-$3,480) to 195 euros ($280) for single-day classes. Participants spend their time cooking and dining on meals they’ve made along with drinking local wines. They also visit local markets and food producers.
“When I thought about opening my home to cooking students, I saw myself in my favorite role as both teacher and guide to all things I love best in life.”
Far away from France a 16-year-old Loomis aspired to be a professional calligrapher who made her own books by hand. She got her start at the University of Oregon in Eugene, but weary of the small-town atmosphere, and lured away by a friend who offered her a job and place to live in Seattle, Loomis moved to what she described as her “dream city” and enrolled at the University of Washington.
“I loved the city. My sister was there, the campus was wonderful and it was a big city I could get lost in,” Loomis said. Writing also held an appeal which led her to the Communications Department where she graduated in 1977 with a degree in editorial journalism.
Her interest in food was sown during high school. Loomis took to reading cookbooks, and continued doing so in college.
“I started reading food magazines and it dawned on me I could be just like the writers in the magazines, but I had to really learn how to cook.” Moving to France therefore seemed like an obvious notion, besides Loomis was interested in becoming proficient in French; the proverbial In 1981, at the age of 25 she moved to France to study cooking and earned a grand diploma, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in cooking. She began combining her studies and in 1984 her first byline appeared in the New York Times.
She covered everything from clams and crab in Seattle, fish in Wisconsin, chili in Cincinnati to finding the best croissants in Paris. She has also contributed to Cooking Light, Metropolitan Home, Gourmet and Bon Appetite.
Besides writing articles, Loomis also began penning her own books.
“I assisted a well-known journalist while I was studying cooking, which led to a job working on a book with her. It was a short step from that to my first book contract and my free-lance career with the New York Times. Once I’d worked on a book I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Loomis has published more than nine books, including her “The creativity comes in waves, first with the concept of the book, then with the actual writing of it,” she said. “One sells a proposal, which must be very detailed. But I know that my book will often have little to do with the proposal, because research and creativity take you places you cannot imagine you might go.”
Loomis began considering opening a school when the publishing business became rocky. Needing to support her family, and realizing people were attracted to her house, the idea of teaching classes where she lived came naturally.
A typical day in her life sees her juggling her role as a business woman and mother as she wakes up early to get her two children ready for school. By 8:30 she’s in her office either finishing writing projects or handling the affairs of the school. By five she switches back to being a mother until late in the evening when she goes back to work until she feels finished.
“I’m never finished!” Loomis said. “It’s a bit like being in finals all the time! Also, I look on with awe at people who are paid by the hour or month. I’m paid when I work and when I don’t, that’s it!”