I’m pretty sure my son, Joe, thinks the streets of Paris are paved in chocolate. And if he does, I have only myself to blame. What else could he conclude after hearing of breakfast pastries filled with dark chocolate and entire shops dedicated to selling cones and cups and pyramids and geodes fashioned from this beloved elixir?
A shameless Francophile, I planted the seeds for a love of Parisian food, architecture and style in the developing psyches of my twin sons seven years ago after my first visit to Paris. The city captivates me like no other and I return to it in times when my soul needs to remember that light, beauty, love and the desire to do things with care – even simple tasks like wrapping a lollipop purchase – still exist.
Watching Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris twice pushed me over the edge last fall and prompted me to make a holiday pilgrimage to see this special place dressed up in its holiday finery.
How lucky, then, was I to be able to take a holiday trip to Paris this past New Year’s? I was on a quest to visit some culinary bucket list shops, at least those recommended by two American doyennes of cuisine, Ina Garten and Patricia Wells. Being a California girl who revels in the abundance of my state’s embarrassment of agricultural riches, and as the head of Ketchum West’s Food & Nutrition Practice, nothing seemed more enticing than meandering down the narrow streets of St. Germaine or Les Halles to visit some of the hallmarks of French gastronomy.
My foodie guides did not disappoint, and my sister and I found a few treasures of our own. If you find yourself in this beloved City of Light and you are interested in food, do not miss:
E. Dehillerin Cookware Shop – Le spécialist du matériel de cuisine
18 et 20, rue Coquillière/51, rue J.-J. Rousseau, 75001 PARIS; www.dehillerin.com
Founded in 1820, this cookware shop is the be-all and end-all of cookware stores. We were greeted at the door by at least four salesmen, eager to help us. My jaw dropped at the sheer variety of wares stacked, not “merchandised,” on basic shelves or hung on walls of pegboard. Copper pots of every conceivable shape and size glistened; tart pans, knives, silverware and cooking tools just begged to be taken home and put to use. An older gentleman unobtrusively followed me as I shopped, taking my selections, one by one, to a table. The younger men in the store had a jolly time poking fun at him as he helped this wide-eyed American. When it was time to finalize my purchase, it took no fewer than 5 steps with 4 different salespeople to complete the task: Man one: shadow customer and bring items to table, write-up all items on paper; Man two: hand paper to man behind desk to slowly enter each into a dusty old computer; Man three: take itemized computer-generated invoice to payment counter and extract payment from customer; Man four: bring receipt to table and meticulously wrap each item and place in bag. Man one returned to escort this customer to door (after said customer gave him an American hug and thank you, to hoots and howls from younger staff) and wish a Bonne Anné.
Poilâne – 8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th arrondissement (www.Poilane.com)
If the Barefoot Contessa says “it’s my favorite place in Paris,” it’s good enough for me. And it will be for you, too, trust me. Tucked into a jewel box shop on a charming street in St. Germaine (is there any other kind, really?), this bakery will now be my “happy place” to visit in my mind during stressful moments. Star- and moon-shaped cookies dangled in the windows and were woven into fresh greenery behind the counter as if to remind us that the edible delights sold here came directly from heaven.
We visited on New Year’s Eve day, where Parisians were busily stocking up on bread for their evening feasts. My favorite item was the individual loaf decorated with a Bonne Anné greeting on top. In this city, even the bread wishes one well.
La Grande Epicerie de Paris at Bon Marché
38, rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement
This specialty food store is a must see for any serious foodie, but on my trip it provided my sister and I with one of our best, gut-busting laughing sessions. The giant store is absolutely brimming with every imaginable foodstuff and food-related product produced in France. And it’s all beautifully merchandised. Jacques Pépin himself might weep at the assortment. Amidst the splendor I noticed two aisles, one labeled Italie and the other Les Etats-Unis. Well, I just had to drag my sister over to the U.S. aisle to see what specialty food items from our country made the cut in this gustatory mecca. When what to our wondering eyes should appear, but CANNED processed cheese, bottled Thousand Island dressing and other such manufactured products that might be at home in an astronaut’s picnic basket! With all the artisanal food products being crafted in the U.S. these days, it was as if some store manager with a distaste for les Americans purposely made these selections as a private snub. But, that’s okay. The sheer audaciousness of the exhibit elicited peals of laughter and a memory that’s sure to be long lived in my family.
In the spirit of the 99.9% of the Parisians who graciously wished us a Happy New Year, I wish any reader of this post a very Bonne Anné in 2012!