Jean-Marie Lacroix, in many circles, is considered the founding father of Philadelphia’s culinary industry. Lacroix’s inception in 1983 catalyzed a new perspective on food for locals, while setting the gold standard for fine dining in Philadelphia. All that aside, it is no wonder that his refined palate was able to identify the unforeseen potential of a young Frenchman and a Washington state native.
Jean-Marie on La Colombe.
T: How did you get involved with La Colombe?
J: (Laughs) So, 15-16 years ago is it, I was walking along 19th Street, and I see a café open, La Colombe. I walked in, and this roaster was working. The smell of the coffee roasting was incredible. I tasted the coffee, and it was very good. This is what I wanted it.
From the time I opened the Four Seasons to the time La Colombe flourished, I was switching from one coffee brand to the next. The coffee was all imported, but they were never good. My machine was fairly good, but it was automatic, and could have been better. When I tasted the coffee at La Colombe, I asked if I could buy the coffee, and of course, they said yes. I bought maybe 2 or 4 lbs. of coffee, and that’s how I met La Colombe.
T: Would you say it was the start of a beautiful relationship?
J: Yeah, I’m pleased to see it. To have some good espresso! (laughing)
T: You have been here since ‘83, which means you had to use other coffee for the 10 years before Todd and JP.
J: Yeah, it was what I was looking for. That’s what I wanted. That’s what you drink in Europe. We used to sell one espresso a day… we went from one to… 20. People became interested… Even if they didn’t like coffee, they had to taste it. And they knew what was good. I was lucky enough to have them (Jean Philippe, Todd) there to help me train the people. So, the relationship was good, from the beginning and it’s still good.
T: What’s the perfect coffee for you?
J: The perfect coffee to me is… mild, not too acidic. Strong, but nice flavor. Chocolate coffee, which you know, is Nizza. I think it changes sometimes. Some days are better than others. Otherwise, I like Monaco. What I do for myself, I don’t know if I should tell Todd and JP, but I mix Monaco and Nizza.
T: What do you make with it?
J: I make an espresso. I like it. I like the taste of it. It will be my own blend actually (laughs). But I do like a more European taste. I don’t like coffee with flavor in it, and I’m not keen on acidity.
Jean-Marie on human nature and leaving the planet better than how he found it.
Henry Miller said, “What are we here for if not to enjoy life eternal, solve what problems we can, give light, peace and joy to our fellow-man, and leave this dear fucked-up planet a little healthier than when we were born.”
J: (Laughs) Can we do that?
T: Do you think that most human beings believe in that sentiment that they try to make the world a little bit better and enjoy it while they can, or do you think that individuals are trying to destroy the beauty of what’s here?
J: I think that human beings start out as good people… I suppose greed must be the thing you know. Power must be the other thing. But beside, if you take those two out, a human being is a good person… But the world in my view is not what it should be. I think we should worry more about the future. I don’t think people worry too much about the future. They say they do, but they don’t actually. I’m worried about the kids… about my kids, you know. What’s going to happen? That, to me, that’s the worry.
T: For what reasons?
J: You know what, even young people don’t worry about the world. They worry about money. I didn’t worry about money when I was young. I wanted to change the world. So I think to change that, I think kids should travel. There should be a program worldwide where kids could learn from each other, but in different countries. That’s how you could change the world I think.
T: By assimilating them into other people’s cultures…
J: Yeah, because you don’t realize what’s going on, on the other side… you don’t know the way they live. And I think it makes you realize when you travel how lucky you are and you should be able to share more.
J: I’m glad at the same time I reached this age because I’m comfortable. But I don’t know if I was young if I would… I don’t know. I wonder what I would think. You know, it’s nice to be comfortable, but there are so many things around the world you could make better. And that’s what I would want to do if I was younger. I don’t know. It was exciting… you know in the 60s and the 70s… things were happening… good and bad. Some very bad actually, but in a sense, very young people wanted to be engaged. They wanted to change the world. And they did actually, but you go back to your routine, I suppose. I suppose you cannot blame them. You have no responsibility, no children… you know… no money problems and whatever. I’ve been lucky, I think, very lucky. It was the right time, I think.
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
Introduction & Editing by Zach Bove
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