People ask if my eating habits have changed since moving to France, assuming that Americans live off processed junk and shop in giant supermarkets. Thankfully my upbringing was nothing like that and not all that different from how I eat in France.
My mother worked full time, but managed to make a home-cooked dinner for four kids every night. We had a milk man who left fresh milk and eggs on our porch and a butcher named Tony who wrapped my mom’s packages in brown paper, tied up with string. My parents weren’t foodies, but for some reason we never bought meat from the supermarket, only from the butcher. I remember one night my father asking with suspicion if my mom had bought that night’s steak at the Acme, and you knew from the tone of his voice that this was not something you wanted to do. Produce came from the Amish farmers market up the street and we had a vegetable garden in the summer. We had all sorts of tomatoes in that garden and I have never tasted better tomatoes than the one’s my father grew. I learned that eating fresh local food was better. No one told me it was better, but it certainly tasted better.
There’s a myth that everyone in France shops at outdoor markets or their neighbourhood butcher, cheesemonger and baker. Sadly this isn’t always the case. While many still shop at family run shops, more and more people are opting for the ease and convenience of hypermarchés or giant supermarkets just like Americans. And even if you do shop at outdoor markets in France, it is by no means a guarantee that what you’re buying is from a local farm and may very well be from some industrial farm in Spain. Click Here To Keep Reading
Alexandre Drouard and Samuel Nahon of Terroirs d’Avenir, are back selling their beautiful local vegetables, this time in front of my favorite neighborhood bakery-Du Pain et Des Ideés, who makes one of the best baguettes in Paris.
Terroirs d’Avenir is a Paris- based company which sources artisan products in France–often local and hard to find. Normally they sell to Paris’s big-name chefs but from time to time you’ll find them setting up a pop-up market, or marché éphémère as they say in French. Unfortunately it’s difficult to know where and when as they don’t seem to announce anything and have no website. Somehow I have been lucky enough to stumble upon them at the 104, Spring Boutique and now Du Pain et Des Idées.
Last week I bought Jackie Mercier’s incredible tomatoes, gorgeous purple eggplants, green beans, butter beans, peppers, yellow squash, champignon de Paris, wild plums, raspberries and blackberries. All of them local and many organic.
For now they say they will be at Du Pain et Des Ideés until further notice every Friday from 13H00-18h00 (or I suppose until they run out of produce). I will try to post back here when the market closes.
Update 27 September: I went to the market again on Friday and bought delicious fresh picked corn on the cob which is a rarity in Paris. It rivaled the corn I used to buy from the Amish farmer’s market back home. They still had Jacky Mercier’s tomatoes as well.
Terroir d’Avenir at Du Pain et Des Idées
34 rue Yves Toudic
Metro: Republique or Jacques Bonsergent
It’s August, which means like most Parisians I’m en vacances and writing from the sunny Côte Vermeille along the Mediterranean. When I first arrived in France, I felt no need to flee the city in the summer months, however, I soon tired of explaining to literally everyone—from the bus driver to the baker—that no, I wasn’t going en vacances. I now head south in the summer like everyone else to avoid the bemused looks from Parisians who can’t understand how anyone could possibly stay in Paris over the summer.
While heading to the coast this year, we crossed the Viaduc de Millau, the highest bridge in the world at a stunning 1,125 feet high. Should you find yourself in the area, be sure to stop for lunch at the rest stop which lies just at the foot of the bridge. I promise, you’ll be glad you did. You see, this is not your average rest stop, but is overseen by none other than 3-Star Michelin Chef Michel Bras, one of the greatest chefs of his generation.
Bras, along with his brother André and son Sébastien, serve their own version of fast food, using only the best of local ingredients. They invented an interesting device which makes warm, crisp crepe-like cones called capucins to order and then fill them with ingredients like truffle and potatoes, aligot and sausage, foie gras with mushrooms, Laguiole cheese with apricots, Roquefort and pears, smoked trout, and Bernard Greffeuille’s Allaiton lamb, the same lamb used at Michel Bras’ restaurant. They’re delicious and a welcome change from the plastic containers of jambon beurre sandwiches you normally find along the highways of France.
Even the drinks are local with an amazing cherry nectar, local cola, lemonade and sparkling grape juice.
We finished up with an espresso topped with salted butter caramel whipped cream for dessert, but they also have homemade ice creams made from local ingredients. You won’t find vanilla, which isn’t native to the Aveyron, but instead can try hazelnut, salted caramel and honey gingerbread ice cream topped with fresh berries, Bonneval Abbey chocolate, caramel or whipped cream.
Our lunch with 3 capucines, 2 salted butter caramel coffees, chips with Roquefort cheese and 2 drinks was about 30 € ,so more than we would have spent at an ordinary rest stop, but considering the quality, it was worth it.
With the Aire de Millau, Michel Bras has shown that fast food doesn’t have to mean junk and has created a wonderful place to showcase the region’s products which he clearly loves. As the locavore movement picks up speed and chefs become more focused on ingredient-driven food foods, I hope we will see more of such places all over France. For now, just hope you find yourself crossing the Viaduc de Millau in the near future.
Millau Viaduct Service Area
Open 7 days a week
I’ve wanted to go to Le Kolo, Asafumi Yamashita’s vegetable garden and table d’hôte, located about 45 minutes from Paris in the Yvelines, ever since I read about it in Wasabi, sometime last year. For someone who goes out of their way to find interesting local products, Yamashita’s garden sounded fascinating.
He grows remarkable Japanese vegetables like Kabu (white turnips), hinona (long purple turnips), komatsuma (similar to spinach), beautiful white and purple eggplants, snap peas, micro tomatoes and other unusual vegetables in his garden in Chapet and hand delivers them twice a week to a very select group of chefs in Paris. The group is so exclusive that you can count its members on two hands and they include three-star chefs like Pascal Barbot, Pierre Gagnaire, and Eric Briffard.
His vegetables are highly sought after and his waiting list includes Paris’s top chefs. But rather than expand, Yamashita prefers to work his small parcel of land alone with his wife, which means production is kept low. The small space enables him to work by hand and use minimal chemical interventions. He uses his knowledge of Bonsai gardening, which he learned from his father and grew commercially before turning to vegetables, to carefully trim each vine, checking the roots to determine when to water and treating each plant according to its unique needs. The seeds are brought directly from Japan and, unlike industrial growers, are chosen for flavour rather than durability.
The result? Beautiful, intensely flavoured vegetables. click here to keep reading
I never intended to write about ice cream. As summer approaches, everyone writes about ice cream in Paris, but aside from Grom, the Italian gelato maker who moved on to the rue de Seine earlier this year, the ice cream scene hasn’t changed all that much in years. With nothing new to add, I didn’t feel very inspired.
That is, until @thatparisguy announced that @tavallai (this all took place on Twitter in case you aren’t following) had uncovered a new gelato place in the 3rd and was claiming that it was the best in Paris. I should confess, I know very little about gelato, except that it’s Italian for ice cream, but @tavalli sounded like he knew what he was talking about and so right before dinner, to my boyfriend’s dismay, I took our dog for a walk in search of Mary, who, as @tavalli claimed, was making the best gelato in Paris. Click Here to Keep Reading
Exceptional cooking requires outstanding products and even in a city like Paris where markets abound, they are not always easy to find. Even worse, the products often used in three-star kitchens like Le Meurice and Astrance are just not available to the public.
Luckily this weekend, you have the chance to buy some of the best products available in Paris at Spring Boutique, thanks to Alexandre Drouard and Samuel Nahon of Terroirs d’Avenir, a Parisian based company which sources the best artisanal products in France–often local and hard to find.
If you are lucky enough to be alerted to one of their “marchés éphemères (pop-up markets), you might find “Jacky Mercier’s beautiful heirloom tomatoes, Laurent Berrurier’s incredible choux de Pontoise (cabbage) or, real champignons de Paris, which have been cultivated by the Spinelli family for over 3 generations and taste nothing like ordinary white button mushrooms.
This weekend at Spring Boutique, Alexandre and Samuel will be selling Berrurier’s wonderful small production Argenteuil asparagus, for 14 € a kilo.
In addition, Spring Boutique always carries many of their products including their intense dried peppermint from the Milly forest which makes an incredible tisane, Brigitte Verdaguer Rancio white wine vinegar which will transform your salad dressings, or the only real jambon de Paris, made in the 11th arrondissement. I have tried most of their products and they are truly outstanding.
So, if you want to buy some excellent asparagus, don’t miss this marché éphemère on Saturday.
52 rue de l’Arbre Sec,
More about Spring Boutique can be found here
Today marked the 17th “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris” which translates to the “Best Baguette in Paris” contest. By luck of the draw, I managed to be selected as one of the jury members and spent an incredible 4 hours sitting next to Ghislaine Arabian tasting close to 150 baguettes.
It may seem hard to believe, but a lot of mediocre bread can be found in France. Walk into your average corner bakery and if you don’t know what to look for, or to ask for, you risk walking away with a very average, and at times inedible, baguette.
Bread has a long and intricate history in France and was once the main sustenance for a large part of the population. Bread consumption began to rapidly dwindle in the 20th century falling from 620 grams per person in the early 1900s to just 150 grams in the early 1990s. Unfortunately quality began to suffer as well. Bread quality plummeted during the two World Wars when rations and conditions made bread making particularly difficult.
Modernisation of the industry in the 1960s didn’t help. The thirst for “white” bread made from flour enhanced with additives like ascorbic acid and fava bean flour, over kneaded and quickly churned-out without long fermentation, produced a white, but tasteless crumb, and almost spelled the end of a century’s old tradition.
Thankfully, a handful of artisan bakers, millers and experts fought to preserve the integrity of French bread and insure that truly good bread remained a part of French heritage. The State had a hand as well and in 1993 enacted a “French bread law” which stated that “baguettes de tradition” must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on premises, without ever being frozen. They must also be additive-free and can contain only four precious ingredients–wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. So, if you are going to buy a baguette, make sure it’s a baguette de tradition.
But even the “baguette de tradition” label doesn’t guarantee a superior product. So how does one judge good bread? According to Steven Kaplan, an American who is considered the world’s authority on bread, there are several things to look for: appearance, aroma, a dense yet aerated cream-colored crumb, and of course the taste.
Ever since the 1993 decree, Paris has held a competition for the best baguette, which brings together some of the city’s best bakers all vying to win the coveted prize which brings not only prestige and 4000 Euros but the chance to supply the French Presidential palace with bread for the year. This year’s competition boasted a record 163 entries. 22 were eliminated off the bat, which left 141 baguettes to judge by the 15 member jury, which included several prestigious bakers (Franck Tombarel, last year’s big winner, and the runner up, Benjamin Turquier); a big name chef (Ghislaine Arabian), a Englishman (Stephen Clark), a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (butcher Thierry Michaud who has some of the best lamb in Paris), other notable members of the food community, and five lucky winners, myself included, who entered a contest sponsored by the Mairie de Paris.
It was an absolutely incredible experience and for now I can’t imagine looking at another baguette. Mound after mound of baguettes were brought as we noted 4 points each for: appearance, baking, aroma, the crumb, and of course, the taste. Panel members argued, for some certain baguettes were “trop cuite!” or too cooked, while for others it was just right. On and on it went until the last baguette was tasted and the Mayor’s office went to tally the vote. Surprisingly only a handful of us stayed on to hear the final results. I had tasted an ungodly amount of bread and wasn’t going to leave until I heard the winner’s name pronounced.
At last it was made known that number 86 had the best overall score and the sealed envelop revealed that it was Djibril Bodian of Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement, who incidentally placed 5th last year. Minutes later a phone call from the mayor’s office announced the news to which a very moved and surprised Mr. Bodian replied “Vous êtes sur de que vous dîtes?” “Are you sure of what you are saying?”.
I can’t say if Mr. Bodian’s bread was indeed the very best because we tasted many wonderful baguettes today. I can say however that the top ten chosen all produce a very fine baguette and are worthy of a visit.
And the top scores for 2010 are:
1) Djibril Bodian (Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses), 38 rue des Abbesses, 75018
2) Daniel Pouphary, (La Parisienne) 28 rue Monge, 75005
3) Dominique Saibron, 77 Avenue du Général Leclerc, 75014
4) Yves Desgranges, 6 Rue de Passy, 75016,
5) Philippe Gosselin, 258 Boulevard Saint-Germain,75007
6) Xavier Doué, 163 avenue de versaillais, 75016
9) Mohamed Zerzour, 50 rue de l’Amiral Roussin 75015
10) SARL Zerzour II, 324, rue Lecourbe, 75014 (SARL can be roughly translated as incorporated)
 Watch Kaplan’s hysterical, yet informative, appearance on Conan O’Brien, instructing what to look out for (http://www.noob.us/humor/conan-obrien-and-the-bread-professor)
McCafés are popping up all over France, serving 25 different specialty hot drinks and macarons, those chic, bite-sized, cream-filled cakes which are apparently taking the US by storm.
They’re no Pierre Hermé or Ladurée you might say, but rumor has it that all of the macarons and cakes are provided by Holder, the same company that owns Ladurée. I stopped by the McCafé at the Louvre today and tried the caramel; it wasn’t bad, but a bit too heavy and sweet for my taste. The cheesecake and café con panna, however, were pretty good.
Tucked into a funky street in a seldomly visited part of the 10th, not too far from the Canal, you’ll find La Tête dans Les Olives, where Cédric Casanova, a former tight-rope walker, sells amazing hand-picked Sicilian olive oil and other seasonal products.
The shop itself is miniscule, with shiny metal vats lining the walls, tagged with names like Angelo, Bianca and Nunzio, evoking the artisans who produced these fragrant, delicious olive oils, each with their own distinctive taste. Depending on the season you might also find organic lemons, wild oregano, fennel seeds, pink peppercorns, heads of garlic, divine sun-dried tomatoes, salted capers, ricotta salata, bresaola and bottarga of tuna, and—not surprisingly—olives. Each product has a story and name behind it and you get the sense that Casanova knows each producer well.
Happily, the store has begun doubling as a table d’hôte during lunch and dinner with one—yes one—lone table of five squeezed into the middle of the shop. The 30€ menu takes you through most, if not all, the offerings Casanova has on hand. If you want to try the tuna and anchovies, it will cost a bit more, but not much.
On the day that I visited, Marco presented us with an antipasti of olives, tomatoes, tapenade, cucunci, and oil-soaked bread infused with salt, oregano and fennel seed. Next up was minted carrots and ricotta salta, stuffed mushrooms, and a truly incredible Sicilian sweet and sour pumpkin. We opted to try the fish plate with anchovies, and two types of tuna–bresaola and a tuna “saucisson” –all caught by Captain Cangemi, a fisherman Casanova met in Italy. Then, miraculously, our host Marco whipped up some buccoli pasta with tomatoes, eggplant, pesto and ricotta salata, all this with no real kitchen in sight and only a hot plate to cook on. We lingered a bit with espresso and almond cookies, taking in the unique experience.
I was a bit worried that with one single table it might be impossible to get in, but at least for now it didn’t seem too difficult. Perhaps the fact that you need to have a party of five in order to book is a detterent.
To reserve send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
La Tête dans Les Olives
Lunch served from 12-13h30 (the shop opens at 14h00)
Dinner from 20h00
Closed: Sunday and Monday
2 rue Sainte Marthe, Paris 10th.
Strangely, it appears that honey bees the world over are suffering from a mysterious illness named Colony Collapse Disorder and are disappearing at a rather alarming rate. Bee keepers are finding their bee hives disserted and speculate that pesticides may be destroying the bee’s natural homing powers leaving them unable to find their way home. You may wonder why this is such a big deal, but bees are a pretty big part of the food chain and play a major role in agriculture by pollinating crops. In other words–no bees, no crops. Interestingly, at the same time country bees are disappearing, their urban neighbors seem to be thriving and more and more city dwellers are getting into apiculture.
Paris, with all of its magnificent parks, turns out to be a perfect place to be a bee and hives are being found throughout the city. In fact, there are said to be some 300 registered hives in Paris. I had already heard of the glamorous honey bees found on the rooftops of the Paris Opera and Grand Palais, but was delighted to find an even closer producer in my own backyard thanks to Spring Boutique who carries Remy Vanbremeersch’s honey.
Vanbremeersch’s honey is produced in hives found in the 19th and 20th arrondissements of Paris and, in addition to Spring Boutique, it can be found on certain days at his stand at the marché aux Place des Fêtes. Thanks to the thousands of species of plants and flowers which can be found in Paris parks, the honey has a delicious fragrant taste, which is unlike the honey of bees who often feast on mono-culture crops.
If you insist on the more chic honey from the Opéra de Paris, it can be bought at the Opera’s boutique and also from Fauchon. You can also find Parisian honey at Les Abeilles a shop devoted to all things bee related in the charming Buttes aux Cailles. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until autumn of 2010 to taste the “miel de Grand Palais” whose hives were only installed this past May.
Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris
21, rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, 75013 Paris