Expat Diaries: Laura Jalbert, Jaja Food Studio
Get a glimpse of what it’s like to start a new life in the UK through our Expat Diaries series. A self-taught recipe developer, food stylist and photographer, Jaja Food Studio and Franquette supperclub founder Laura Jalbert is embracing her freelance life in East London.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing in France
I grew up in a small village close to Nîmes in the South of France. My dad works in the environment-preserving field and my mum is a painter. I’ve always loved eating and spending time in my grandparent’s vegetable patch. I guess I was the perfect baby — having a taste of everything.
How did you fall in love with food and wine?
I was studying art business to become a gallery manager when I had a revelation — this is not at all what I wanted to do with my life! I launched ‘Les Dents du Bonheur’, my recipe blog, in April 2016. As I was starting all over again in a totally different industry, I would use my platform as a portfolio, showcasing everything I could do: writing, developing recipes using local ingredients with a strong focus on zero waste, taking pictures… I spent countless hours watching online tutorials and groping around!
In parallel, I started looking after comms for a mobile pantry and then an organic grocery delivery service in Lyon. I would create all the content, visit the producers, manage their social handles… I had so much fun and I learnt so much: it was the school of life really.
Tell us about your first visit to London
I first came to London when I was 19 with a friend. We stayed at her friends’ shared flat in Whitechapel, there was a lot of partying involved. That’s when I got my first tattoo! I have a memory of a very dark, dirty city, a weird atmosphere… Not really love at first sight, but I kept on coming back once in a while.
What inspired you to move to London?
My best friend moved here three years ago. She was living with her brother and at some point we fell in love. I moved to London in June 2018 to be closer to them both.
Professionally, I was starting to feel at ease, so it was time to get out of my comfort zone and go freelance in London!
Was it hard at first? How did you make a community for yourself?
On a personal level, it was great! I moved here at the beginning of the summer, the weather was beautiful, it was perfect.
Work-wise, I went headfirst for this freelance life, but it was pretty hard for me to get the word out there and find clients at first. I was working at The Deli Downstairs on the side, which proved a good opportunity to help practice my English and understand the various accents.
Tell us a bit about Jaja Food Studio and your sustainability approach
Jaja Food Studio is the umbrella under which I gather all my work: content creation (recipe development, food styling, photography…) and social media management. I wasn’t really planning on offering the latter, but because my own Instagram handle @jajafoodstudio was not doing too bad, some of my clients asked for it so it’s now part of my services.
My clients are all in food and drinks, some in London (Provisions cheese and wine shop...) and others in France (Franc-Tireur distillery, Oé wines... ). I support sustainable agriculture, local and seasonal products as well as natural — or at least organic — wines. So when it eventually picked up, I started working with small, human-scale companies creating mission-driven projects promoting the same values. It was a natural fit.
Tell us a bit about Franquette and what’s the future like
I had just landed in London and was offered to create a French pop-up dinner. I wasn’t so keen at first, it seemed too cliché. But then I found this name and the whole supperclub project was kind of built around it: welcoming, friendly, no-fuss dinner parties with sharing plates and an easy-going French playlist. A bit like your Sunday lunch in France with friends and family, but with checkered red tablecloths and candles. À la bonne franquette!
I hosted three events in 2019, and then Covid decided otherwise. I’m trying to figure out how to bring the supperclub back to life, but it’s hard to see how Franquette could happen in a different form, as gathering and sharing are at its core. We’ll see!
What do you love the most about freelance life?
My freedom! I can work whenever I want, wherever I want, with whoever I want. Especially right now, it’s so precious to have that flexibility — I was able to lockdown in France with my mum and work even more than usual from there. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to go on holidays…
Also, no day is the same! You learn so much, every project brings some new skills and education to the table. It’s like a continuous opportunity to reinvent yourself. The only downside would be that when you’re off, no one is paying for that, so you have to make it work.
What do you love most about life in London?
I live near Victoria Park Village in Hackney and it’s a great neighbourhood. The food scene in London is so demanding, it's brimming with amazing restaurants! I also love that people here come from everywhere. They keep a very open mind and there’s a spark of life in their look — it’s truly motivating.
What do you miss most about France?
Mediteranean weather aside, I miss the laid-back village farmer’s markets full of local, affordable quality produce. The gramps shucking some oysters and downing a glass of white in the morning at Les Halles de Nîmes (covered market hall, Ed.) whilst you buy the catch of the day… The simplicity of it all.
What piece of advice would you give to someone considering food photography?
Practice tirelessly! Take as many pictures as you can, look out for inspiration, train yourself, contact people… In food photography, there are many elements that need taking into account. I would recommend starting with lighting: natural light can be your best friend or your worst enemy. You need to tame it and learn how to play with diffusers and reflectors.
Never stop learning! No need to invest in very complex gear to start with, there’s an awful lot you can do with a small reflex camera on manual mode.