“If you get something you want straight away, it probably won’t last,” Alicia Rountree offers as words of wisdom. The multilingual 24 year-old has a soft accent and two-toned eyes that mesmerize, and I’d probably have listened to her advice on getting what one wants all afternoon. After all, she helms a successful modeling career, is well on her way to launching herself as an actor, and is part owner of one of NoLIta’s chicest restaurants, Tartinery.
I met Alicia inside the gorgeous, French-inspired space for a chat about her madly interesting career. Models are meant to regard simple carbs as the arch foe, not open restaurants celebrating them; yet, Tartinery is NYC’s only establishment that bakes the renowned Parisian Poilane bread. To make a tartine, they tend to cover that pain with all ends of fattening deliciousness. And why would someone so young, with a glamorous, on-track career, tie herself to the restaurant business, the biggest time-sucker of an occupation I can think of? With these questions in mind and a slight trepidation at conducting a personal interview with a Victoria’s Secret model, I sat down with Alicia to talk about her motivations.
Once I recovered from devastation by her looks (I suspect she has this effect on men and women alike), I learned that Alicia is wonderful to talk to. I also met two of Tartinery’s three male co-owners, including her boyfriend, Nicolas Dutko; the group of childhood friends with continent-spanning backgrounds is as cool and casual as the cast of a Wes Anderson film. Alicia and I had our chat in the bar area at the front of the restaurant, where autumn afternoon light shined through large windows onto beautiful people, over a frothy cappuccino.
We spoke a bit about her recent Heineken commercial, the buzz it unleashed on the internet, and what it’s like to start being recognized in public as the “boss’s daughter” (see the commercial if you haven’t already). I’d done my research, of course, and determined that Alicia’s image is sparkly. Everything written about her is rainbows and butterflies—speckled with just a few lewdly lustful comments or gossipy mentions of her dates with the likes of Jared Leto and Enrique Iglesias. I wanted to know what thought someone like Alicia, on the cusp of celebrity, gives to what people say about her online and offline, what it felt like to be so wanted by so many. She laughed blithely like it was the first time she’d thought of it that way—Alicia’s confidence prevents her from being bothered with such things.
I’d peeked at Alicia’s blog, an understated little chronicle of special finds and favorite places she’s been lately. She’d just returned from a job in London in time for a lingerie shoot in New York, and she was visibly relaxed to be home in her favorite city. But by what she’s written on her blog, it’s clear Alicia treats any city like home—she finds all the best of everything everywhere, from an eclectic accessory boutique in Dallas to the perfect cupcake in London. With thoughts in my head of learning the ins and outs of how to shop like a model, I asked for her secrets, but Alicia told me no tricks. Apparently, she’s serendipitously drawn to lovely things in a pretty-moth-to-flame type phenomenon. At least, however, she clued me into the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show that took place that weekend. (Alicia’s quite obsessed with vintage couture).
With her pressing model/actor/couture-seeker schedule, I was curious to know how much time she spends in the restaurant. She says she’s been there as much as she could be, especially when she and her partners were still in planning and pre-operations stages. Recalling that time, Alicia again mentions persistence, saying that even though the design and construction seemed to take forever, it was fascinating to watch. She shows adaptability, too; when we jokingly assessed the health of the tree planted in the middle of the space, Alicia cracked that if it dies she’ll just come in with a can and spray-paint it gold.
As what usually happens when I’m talking with anyone, whether you’re a restaurant owner, model, or a CPA, the conversation veered to food. Does she feel an inner struggle when she spends a lot of time at the restaurant, knowing she may be modeling scanty panties the next day? I could barely stand to be there for 45 minutes and not eat everything I saw. Alicia only intoned, “We all have to eat three times a day, so you might as well enjoy it.” She claims mastery in the art of moderation and that she rarely has to deprive herself. She did admit to thinking about what she’d eaten on her trip to London and worrying about whether her tummy was flat during yesterday’s lingerie shoot. I tried not to raise a brow at the suggestion that our lovely model mostly eats what she wants, but her enthusiasm for and healthy relationship with food seem genuine.
And it’s true that the most healthful section of Tartinery’s menu, the freshly squeezed juice bar, was her idea. That doesn’t mean Alicia sips on juice all day; she affirms her love for meat and desserts. In fact, the one item that doesn’t tempt her is seafood, ironic given her upbringing on the shores of the little nation-island of Mauritius. Alicia says she spent “way too much time swimming with fish to want to eat them.”
So, how does a girl make it from childhood on a tiny island to a catapulting fashion career? Truth be told, Alicia’s beginnings are more fairytale than ordinary. She and her three older siblings are the eighth generation of a Mauritian family that owns a massive, 2,500 acre plantation. Italian Vogue once conducted a shoot with Alicia on the idyllic estate among fountains, gardens, tame exotic birds, and a gorgeous beach.
Alicia’s been possessed by fashion since the age of six—she’ll tell the requisite stories of pouring over her mother’s issues of Vogue for hours, cutting out and sorting the models. After quitting Swiss finishing school at the age of 16, Alicia began to jet between London and Paris in search of modeling work. Nicky Haslam, the socialite, interior designer, and Rountree family friend, brought her to a party with a guest list of names like Kate Moss and Elton John. There she met a former model who was setting up a modeling agency, and Alicia was signed instantly.
That’s not to say that everything fell into place from there. Like anyone up-and-coming, Alicia has been through the grueling, de rigueur realities of her chosen profession. But along with endless positivity and determination, Alicia often reflects on her peaceful childhood: her mother, whom she talks with on the phone every day, always told Alicia that “one drop at a time” is the only way to get where you’re going; maybe that patience, no matter what your talents, is always the true virtue.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Dine in New York: Tartinery, of course, and Villa Pacri (a new restaurant on Gansevoort Street)
Favorite Place to Shop in New York: Calypso St. Barth – one of her favorites to model for, too
Favorite New York Moment: Biking up to Central Park in the summer
Favorite New York Sight: The Hudson River at sunset
What You Love About New York: Anything is possible
What You Hate About New York: The smell in August
Bonus question! What Will You Be For Halloween: A ballerina or a punk rocker
See our previous article on Tartinery.