Diane Montoriol Is Blending up L.A.'s Hottest New Healthy Habit–Raw Vegan Chilled Soups

Her brand Merci Maman sells bright-colored concoctions that are made with local organic produce and delivered to Angelenos' doors in glass jars reminiscent of the milkman days.

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When Paris-born Diane Montoriol was a child she spent summers near Cannes, the celebrity-frequented resort town in the South of France, at her grandma's house where she ensured Montoriol got her daily intake of vitamins through – no, not bribing or hiding veggies in tasty treats – chilled soups she made with vegetables from her garden.

"The first spoonful was like a poem of flavors coming together and the colors were so naturally bold it looked like I was eating a bowl of ice cream," Montoriol told UncoverLA.

Fast-forward to 2018 and 2019 when Montoriol experienced two back-to-back challenging life events. And then the pandemic. Many would call these setbacks – Montoriol saw them as opportunities to take a leap of faith and live her best life. So, in her grandma's honor, she decided to launch a raw chilled soup business called Merci Maman featuring spin-offs of her grandma's recipes, transforming soups from a simple appetizer to a delicious, healthy, wholesome meal.

Merci Maman was introduced to the world at the Melrose Place Farmers Market in the thick of the pandemic when vendors were prohibited from serving samples. After receiving positive responses from shoppers, Montoriol traded in her suits (she had a prior career in management consulting for financial institutions) for overalls and got busy making cold soups freshly blended with flavorful local organic produce, which she then poured into glass jars reminiscent of the milkman days. Today, she sells her chilled soups in seven L.A. stores, at select farmer's markets, and delivers them straight to Angelenos' doors in glass jars that the brand picks up when empty in exchange for a $1 credit to the customer's account.

Thanks to the vibrant colors that fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs lend them, Merci Maman soups are easy on the eyes, vegan, gluten-free, cold-blended for 30 seconds, and never heated – which means all the vitamins are retained. Most of the soup options use 10 ingredients or less. For example, the cerise-colored "Cool Beets" chilled soup is made of tomato, cucumber, beet, raspberry, onion, gluten-free bread, celery, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sunflower seed, fig, Himalayan salt, parsley, and garlic. "Hello Yellow" delights several senses with yellow tomato, non-GMO corn, yellow bell pepper, olive oil, sherry vinegar, onion, Himalayan salt, jalapeno, garlic, and cilantro.

Photo: Courtesy of Merci Maman

Merci Maman's individual chilled soups range from $12.99 to $13.99, toppings range from $3.99 to $7.99, soup bundles range from $24.99 to $88.99, and party packages range from $148.99 to $184.99. The brand's VIP membership costs $99 per year and includes free unlimited delivery, first dibs on small batch new flavors and collab flavors, and points with every order.

We spoke with the Parisian cold soup pro to learn more about her journey to L.A., the inspiration for creating Merci Maman, how our bodies can benefit from her brand's raw chilled soups, her favorite places to eat and shop when she's feeling homesick for France, and more.

Where'd you live before moving to L.A. and what was the "a-ha" moment that inspired you to relocate?

I lived and worked in London, and then New York. I was always a city girl. But then I discovered Los Angeles, and it was such a happy place and it reminded me of my childhood summers with my grandmother in Cannes. My grandmother always encouraged me to be creative, enjoy the little things and be more playful.

For some reason in L.A. I started reconnecting with these feelings and I think there was some personal growth for me here. Also, did you know that Cannes and Beverly Hills (close enough!) are "sister cities"?!

When did you make the move?

About eight years ago from NYC. I remember it was in August, a few days after I was officially sworn in as an American citizen after holding my green card for four years and nine months!

Of course, I kept my French citizenship too. I actually celebrated Bastille Day on July 14th in NYC with my French friends, and then on the morning of July 15th, I walked down to the Federal Plaza building in lower Manhattan to take the oath of allegiance and become American. It was an unreal and wonderful experience. A few weeks later I moved to L.A.

Photo: Courtesy of Merci Maman

How did you finalize the chilled soup recipes for Merci Maman?

The recipes are heavily inspired by my grandmother who was my motherly figure. She had a vegetable garden in the South of France and I used to spend my childhood summers with her. When I didn't want to eat my vegetables, she would grab ingredients from her garden and make me these incredible soups. Because the soups were chilled and super bold in color, I was really drawn to them. It felt like I was in an ice cream shop or getting frozen yogurt. So I always got all my veggies intake!

I loved the recipe crafting part because it felt like being in an art studio, not just a kitchen. I thought about what my grandmother taught me and I designed the recipes with my heart, not with my head. I think that's why a lot of people say that it feels like love in a bottle.

I always started first by picturing the color I wanted each soup to be. The most vibrantly colored vegetables and fruits are the richest in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. So I started there and I let it guide me through the process. Our first soup is called the Hello Yellow, this is why our logo is yellow and it represents everything that makes you happy under the sun. I also focused on which ingredients we should combine together to create symbiosis between them. Through this symbiosis we can increase our body's absorption rate of the antioxidants. I never had Covid even though I have to interact with so many people on a daily basis, so I keep telling people – eat the soups! ☺

I wanted the soups to trigger a reaction of surprise to all your senses, make you smile at the first spoonful, and transport you to the South of France, like Proust and his madeleine. So that was my driver when testing with my friends. When I started noticing that they would go straight to my fridge when they'd come to visit before even saying hello, I knew the soups were ready to be shared on a bigger scale.

Where was the first place you ever sold your soups?

During the first few weeks of the lockdown, I had an urge to launch the business. The soups were ready and I was ready. I didn't want to wait any longer. I had been held back in 2018 and 2019 due to challenging life events and I was not going to let 2020 slow me down.

I first introduced the soups at Melrose Place farmers market in the heat of the pandemic, in October, and without samples being allowed.

I put up a tent and asked people if they thought I should give up my job to make chilled soups instead. By the end of the second week, I got so much love and excitement from people, so much more than I ever got in my regular boring job, that I decided to donate my suits, invest in overalls, and get cracking with that blender.

Tell us more about how your soups are made.

Our product is unique and unseen anywhere else: It's raw chilled soup, vegan, and gluten-free, super bold in colors from the local produce, packaged in glass bottles, and served chilled with or without toppings.

The soups are blended for less than 30 seconds so we avoid any heat ever being applied. This means all our ingredients are raw and we preserve their integrity so that we can retain a maximum of nutrients, vitamins, and fibers. Blending makes it more nutrient-dense than a salad, and you retain all fibers from the produce. We also focus primarily on ingredients with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties to fill you up with everything you need.

As I mentioned earlier, we also focus on which ingredients we should combine together to create symbiosis between them. Through this symbiosis we can increase our body's absorption rate of antioxidants.

Is it true that chilled soups are common in France and in other parts of Europe?

Yes, the Europeans love them. You can buy them year-round in most supermarkets, and find them in restaurants, often time as appetizers. They can also be served as amuse-bouche at cocktail parties.

However, they are mostly red tomato-based and do not have a ton of variety in flavors. It's my grandmother who served them the way we serve them. She really played with the colors of the vegetables so that they would really pop. And that's how I fell in love with them as a child. This is because I would be tricked into thinking it was frozen yogurt or a dessert and so I would eat them up and get all my veggies in!

When you look at our menu we have yellow, pink, red, green, purple, orange…They're all very bold and look like pots of paint, or like you're in an ice cream shop.

Also, we want to re-glorify chilled soups into complete meals, not just appetizers like in Europe. So we teach you how to have fun with infinite possibilities of toppings combinations. And you can also create swirls of colors by combining several color soups into one bowl.

I always tell our customers: "Be your own soup artist! All ages welcome!"

What does a typical day look like for you?

This is going to sound cliché but I don't have a typical day. I'm still trying to master the art of getting it all in. But as an entrepreneur, it's messy, and you got to learn how to be flexible and go with the flow. Each day is full of compromises, new turns, and shifting priorities and you can't drop the ball. It's like holding a baby in your arms.

What's your professional background and what were you doing before you started Merci Maman?

Merci Maman was born in the heat of the pandemic in 2020 when time slowed down and I decided to share the best I had in me.

I started Merci Maman soon after being exposed to two serious life events back to back. These events resulted in my completely re-evaluating how precious and fragile our lives are. I decided to live more fearlessly and follow what made me feel alive and connected.

I had a prior career in management consulting for financial institutions in London and New York for over 10 years but did not feel that I was putting my life to the best use. I decided to take a leap of faith in myself and created Merci Maman.

Where do you find inspiration for your soup flavor combinations?

At the incredible farmers markets Los Angeles has to offer, in my grandmother's heart, in my heart, in my French influences, in nature, and in color.

What's a rare ingredient that you'd love to get your hands on?

I'm always looking for new things. Lately, a couple of ingredients have caught my eye: kakadu plum and guanabana. They're not easy to get! But they have the highest concentration in antioxidants and specifically vitamin C. I like to get my vitamins directly from my food so these ingredients are definitely on my radar. Also, guanabana will boost your collagen production.

Photo: Courtesy of Merci Maman

What are the top three songs you listen to while preparing soups?

I listen to the Merci Maman evergrowing playlist of cool French songs we compiled, and that we play at all our Farmers Markets. In the spirit of our woman-owned business, I try to have a majority of women artists. It has a mix of classics like Birkin or Bardot, the latest cool stuff like Angèle or l'Imperatrice, and the avant-garde stuff too, like Yelle. I love our playlist. People have asked us many times to make it public on Spotify and we might just do that soon.

Where do you eat, shop, or visit in L.A. when you feel homesick and want a taste of France?

I go to Monsieur Marcel at the Grove. They have a restaurant but also an incredible gourmet market. And honestly, it feels like a Christmas store because it's so colorful, and packed with wonders everywhere. We carry our soups there too. This is where I can find all my favorite French classics. For example, they carry my favorite tea brand, Mariage Frères, or classic French biscuits and cider, and of course all the French candy! They have all the candy! I do the same thing when I go to Loupiotte in Silverlake. I love this place: Sarah and Antoine run the cutest French restaurant of all time and you can also get authentic French staples from their gourmet corner including French shower gel!

What's your favorite cheat day meal?

I love Chef Tara Punzone's vegan pomodoro with polpettine, extra cashew ricotta and gluten-free penne. You can find it at any of her Pura Vita locations. You don't need the extra cashew ricotta or the add-on polpettine but you asked me about a treat meal, and that would be it! I don't consider any day should be perceived by oneself as a cheat day. I am a firm believer that you should always enjoy your food in full conscience with zero guilt, it's always a good thing.

Do you or Merci Maman have any new projects, collabs, or flavors coming out soon or this year?

Yes! We love to do collabs with local chefs that support our company! I'll go see them with a palette of colors and say, "Hey let's do a purple soup or let's do an orange soup", and we'll sit down and have some fun with the colors in the kitchen until we find something that we both love.

We did it in the past with our Spicy Cool soup with the wonderful chef Lionel Pigeard. We also have one collab we're about to release any day now with the super cool cheffe Virginie Degryse. I named it the "Deep Purple" soup.

As we speak we are working on a new recipe collab with Brian Reimer, the talented culinary director at Farmshop. It's going to be a nutritional bomb! And we might even have it on their restaurant menu at the end of the summer, or for back-to-school season.

There are more exciting things on the way that I can't talk about just yet.

What would be your dream collaboration?

Well, we're having one right now with Farmshop at the beautiful Brentwood Country Mart that makes me so happy. Farmshop is all about supporting small artisans. They've really come through and showed up for us in many ways that we did not expect. We are incredibly touched by their support.

Another dream collab I have is with chef Ludo Lefebvre. To tell you the truth I already created a chilled soup that I would like to present to him that we could refine together as a collab. It's inspired by one of his hot recipes. I already have a name for the soup. It would be called L'Américaine. I thought it would be ironic to call it this and have two French people behind its creation. The second reason for calling it this is that it will have some nuances that will make you think about a burger's flavors, even though it will be a vegan chilled soup! Fingers crossed Chef Ludo will like the idea!

I'd also love to do a collab with Clare Vivier. Merci Maman loves Clare V.! Actually, I have been wearing their "oui oui!" bandanas around the clock at Farmers Markets for the last year. And they just released a handbag in the form of a tomato! How cool is that? Clare Vivier, if you're reading this, I think we should collab, and we'll have so much fun!

What's your ultimate goal/dream for Merci Maman?

I am not taking any shortcuts. Merci Maman embodies my ideal of 3 important aspects of a rich life, with the ambitions of being nurturing like a mother and we're in it for the long run:
-Learning how to be present and more playful, as I firmly believe it's the quickest way to personal growth.
-Creating experiences through nutritious foods that boost your mood and make you happy.
-Contributing to the future by finding ways to help others be more mindful of our planet. I was nostalgic of the milkman, 20 years ago, who used to come to your door and pick up your empty glass bottles to give them a second chance. I wondered if the milkman could do it 20 years ago, why aren't we doing it now? So we're offering our customers to pick up all their empty bottles at their door each time Merci Maman delivers. And we credit our customers for each returned bottle. This way everybody participates!

Ultimately, we'd love to revolutionize the way you eat soup and become a staple for anyone who wants to live a nutritious delicious plant-based lifestyle without compromising on taste. Someone once said to me that we could become the "hottest" chilled soup in America. I love this idea of shooting for the stars. After all, we're in Hollywood!

Every decision we make at Merci Maman is towards building a brand that will have a very long life.

What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs trying to make it in L.A. with a food business?

I think the food business can sometimes be a little intimidating and it's a tightknit inner circle when you start up as an outsider. Without prior extensive culinary experience, however passionate and talented you are, you must really prove yourself and earn your respect. I'm always looking for new mentors who will believe in us enough to cheer us on, and will be willing to teach us what we need to learn. I ask a lot of questions. Constantly. Probably too many, but I want to constantly learn and better myself. The increasingly growing adoption of personalized nutrition is changing people's health and the food industry. If you want to be part of this industry, you have to keep up and be willing to constantly expand your knowledge.

Your bangs are the epitome of French girl-cool so we have to ask—what are your tips and favorite products for getting that effortless wispy look?

Get someone you trust to trim your bangs! I don't use products on my bangs because otherwise they'll get dirty too quickly.

If you have one, what's your go-to hair salon in L.A. and/or Europe?

I go to Jose Eber in Beverly Hills, because of the French connection! They are my friends, French, super talented, and kind.

If you have one, what's your go-to spa or facialist in L.A. and/or Europe?

I haven't had a facial in 15 years. I'll just do face masks at home and make sure to always drink extensive amounts of water from the moment I wake up, and of course water-rich ingredients like the ones in our soups.

Photo: Courtesy of Merci Maman

Check out the list of stores that carry Merci Maman's raw chilled soups and the L.A. farmers markets the brand pops up at.

Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market at The Grove 6333 W. 3rd St. #150, L.A., 90036
Farmshop Country Mart 225 26th St #25, Santa Monica, 90402
Lifehouse Tonics + Elixirs 7515 Sunset Blvd., L.A., 90476
Bravo Toast 632 1/2 N Doheny Dr., West Hollywood, 90069
Zinque 1440 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, 90291
Gjusta Grocer 105 Windward Ave., Venice, 90291
LifeFood Organics 1507 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., 90028

Farmers markets:
Melrose Place Farmers Market: Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Brentwood Village Farmers Market: Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Larchmont Farmers Market: Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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