From: Montpellier, France
Lives in: Palermo Hollywood
Profession: Co-owner of Boulangerie Cocu
Education: Business administration degree at Audencia Business School, Nantes
Reading: La génération Y par elle-même by Myriam Levain and Julia Tissier
Last film seen: Life of Pi
Anaïs Gasset had already contracted the living-abroad bug before she reached Argentina; living in the Far East and Middle East among other places, it was time spent in Colombia that confirmed her desire to check out more of the continent. That led to her eventually setting up her own business, Boulangerie Cocu, in the heart of Palermo.
Anaïs says: “The first time I came to Buenos Aires was in October 2010, and it was with the idea of setting up a business in Argentina. I knew that I wanted to start up my own thing, although I wasn’t quite sure in what area – but that was my intention.
“I went to Bogotá for four months but ended up staying there for a year, and after that I returned to France to work for a year. But I didn’t feel like I was completely satisfied there so I decided to return to Latin America.
“I’ve travelled a huge amount in my life and lived abroad in various places – my elder brother has lived in Cambodia for 20 years – so I’ve been to South-East Asia lots of times. So travelling is a part of my family culture. I’ve also lived in Dubai, working for an electricity company for practical experience, and in Thailand for the French embassy within the same context for the economic mission. So after I returned to France following that year in Colombia, I very much felt that my adventure wasn’t yet over.
“I really liked my experience in Colombia – the Latin culture, the language – and everyone in France has a positive impression of Argentina, so it was an easy decision to make.”
After staying in La Plata for a few weeks with a friend while she got settled, Anaïs got stuck into a new life early on, helped out by the French community when she started going to Café du Commerce, a monthly meeting organized by the French-Argentine business chamber.
“La Plata was super isolated, in a residential area that was hard to move around in, but I liked it. Not long after I arrived here, I started to work for a boutique hotel – I met the French owner at Café du Commerce – but the idea for my own project remained. During that time, I shared an apartment in Abasto neighbourhood and started to meet people from the French community quickly, which was really helpful. There is a large and active community of us here, especially entrepreneurs and young people!
“Although I didn’t really enjoy working in hotelery, it was an important moment for me as I was adapting to the country, creating my network and getting to know the culture, so all that helped prepare me for opening Boulangerie Cocu – even just simple things like how to speak to customers or how to deal with suppliers.
“I then went part-time at the hotel when I got involved with producing an illuminated drums show, called Drums y Luz. But I wasn’t really into that, as it mainly took place at night and I just couldn’t see myself working in that sector either. That’s when my now business partners Morgan and Adrian – who is now a more silent business partner as he moved to London – suggested that we open up a café and bakery together. We’ve now run Cocu together for just over a year, although we started planning in February 2012 and opened in December that year.”
Although it might sound unusual that a young French woman would make a beeline to invest in a complicated economic environment such as Argentina, Anaïs’s degree in business administration means that she always had her eye on the main game.
“But why Argentina? I always had an idea about the country, with the European vibe that it has, Buenos Aires in particular, the wine and beef, so I was always attracted to it. Plus I lived in Colombia for a year on a degree exchange programme and I met a lot of Argentines as well as travellers who had visited. I always liked what I heard and that’s the reason I came, to see what I could achieve in this country.”
However, no matter how much preparation and experience she had, setting up shop had its ups and downs, as she recalls. “On a positive side, we’ve learned so much – from how to manage staff to running a business on a day-to-day basis and giving it your identity – but on the negative side, trámites are complex, our partnership has run into various legal problems to do with ownership and the price of raw materials. For example, flour can vary in quality and price from day to day – it’s terrible. I might call a supplier and they’ll say, ‘from such and such date, this product won’t be available.’ What can you do? All chefs are in the same position but it’s very difficult, and we’ve been surprised when it happened and have had to adapt.”
After a few years, she now has a tight-knit group of friends that includes Argentines as well as fellow French expats, and moved on from Abasto to Palermo Hollywood. She says: “My best friend here is Jimena, who is Argentine from La Pampa, and we worked at the hotel together. Then my flatmate José is from Entre Ríos, and I have other porteño friends – we are a close group and call ourselves La Flia – the family. We used to meet up for dinner every Sunday although it’s a bit more difficult now.
“I’ve been living in the same house for almost three years now, and I really like it. But while I was living in Abasto, I realized I spent a lot of my time in Palermo so I moved! It’s very dynamic, there are a lot of restaurants, so I go out to dinner a lot, perhaps to Azema Exotic Bistro, Chan Chan or Green Bamboo. And for a Sex and the City moment, I go to Crizia. And for French cuisine I might go to Les Amours or La Pétanque.
“Given that everything happens in Palermo for me, and I have a lot of friends who live in the neighbourhood, I don’t leave very often apart from trámite reasons in the centre, which I hate, or maybe to go out in San Telmo. But I also love going back to Abasto – there are lots of cool little bars that are really interesting there, and Belgrano has some good restaurants. But I’m in the middle of both Almagro and Belgrano so I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.
“In my spare time I attempt to go to the gym and even though we are now open seven days a week, I try to go out to dinner with friends. I also like salsa dancing from time to time although there aren’t many places here. But I’m a person who likes to organize things, so in that sense I’m also quite entrepreneurial so I’ll put together a barbecue at home or a weekend away. I’m organizing a weekend in Mar del Plata for 15 people at the moment! I love the countryside and try to leave the city when I can because it can be very tiring being here – simply walking around the countryside makes me very happy.”
Despite being well-travelled and versed in living away from her country of birth, there are still some things that Anaïs misses France, namely food. “I miss products that I can’t buy here, such as cheese, foie gras, paté… At Cocu we prepare blanquette de veau and other really French dishes, which I love although I don’t eat them every day. But I also miss the possibility to travel easily. It’s cheap to take a flight to Italy or Greece, while everything is much more expensive here.”
Buenos Aires Herald, January 11, 2014