UT alumna drawn to Paris to lead luxury culinary tours

Sarah-Grace Sweeney

The need to have a post-college plan is increasing lately for students. There is pressure to get out of college as quickly as possible and work that nine-to-five job as quickly as possible. But that was never Danika Boyle.

Boyle is the creator of luxury travel company Petit Pêche & Co., where she takes people on intimate culinary tours of France and Italy. But she also collaborates with her husband to host old, European-style musical salons. She is passionate about cooking and occasionally holds private cooking classes. Sometimes, she blogs for the Huffington Post about French cuisine.

“A lot of people feel like their work is their life, and the French are great at knowing that it’s really not,” Boyle said. “That’s why no one else asks you in the rest of the world, ‘What do you do?’ What do you do outside of how you make a living, that’s what’s most relevant.”

There was no checklist or direct path that led Boyle to where she is today. Instead she has focused her energy on always having a new project centered on the skill she feels is her most valuable: connecting people using food and art.

“There’s an idea that service is déclassé or something,” Boyle said. “But I’m the opposite. I think you can comfort people and comfort their deeper hungers with a meal and with hospitality more than anything.”

Boyle graduated from UT in 2001 with a degree in Communication Studies. She spent a semester of her junior year at the Paris-Sorbonne University studying French, international business and French philosophy.

“Nothing was going to stop me [from traveling],” Boyle said. “And I definitely freaked out the night before I left. I was so petrified. And I got on the plane and as soon as I got there, I was like ‘What was I so afraid of?’”

And so Boyle’s love affair with Paris began.

“I immediately felt at home with the way people responded to each other [there]. They were very sensitive,” Boyle said. “There’s obviously the fact that everyone sits in cafés all day long and drinks coffee. Though I learned very quickly that there’s no such thing as a free refill during my first study session.”

Charlotte Warren has traveled with Boyle on one of her tours and had similar experiences, becoming wrapped up in the French culture.

“Once you get out into the French countryside and start experiencing the true culture and the closeness of the people, it’s just an enriching experience,” Warren said. “And Danika makes every day a new adventure. And then in the evenings when she cooks, the food is just outstanding.”

Boyle lived in New York City for a few years after college, but returned to Austin to regroup. She successfully sold real estate for a while and taught cooking classes for a year, but looked at her life and at 30 years old, felt like it had ended.

Boyle shrugged her shoulders, realizing the cliché when she said she could feel “Paris calling.” She saw a photo of the Eiffel Tower in a magazine, considered her love of the city and the culinary arts and her next steps were natural, she said. She went to work creating her business.

Today she travels with small groups to areas of France during their best seasons. They travel to Bordeaux for wine season or Provence in May for the cherries. Boyle offers up her insider knowledge of the area, cooks meals during the trip and takes the group for wine tastings and other excursions.

Sandi Reinlie has traveled with Boyle a few times as a pastry chef for the culinary tours. Reinlie said she returns home with new inspiration and skills after every trip.

“You appreciate the amenities of American life, but there is something very special about slowing down,” Reinlie said. “These trips make me a much better chef.”

It was that study abroad semester in 1999 that Boyle will always have to thank for “[fertilizing] the seed” of her love for French culture and lifestyle.

“There’s nothing that formal education can teach you that trumps experiential education,” Boyle said. “With all the things that life presents us, having a really complete understanding of other cultures, and yourself in context with other cultures, is really powerful.”

And as far as answering the age-old question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,’ Boyle just prefers not to answer that one.

“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Boyle laughed. “But I think success is just always having an interesting project ahead of you. It’s up to us to make this journey pleasurable and inspiring.”

Published on November 4, 2011 as: UT alumnus finds calling in France