French cuisine is known and celebrated the world over, and Paris certainly deserves its status as the centre of the country’s culinary universe. But whether you are seeking the finest in fresh produce or keen to pick up some gastronomic treasures to bring home to friends and family, it helps to have some inside knowledge to keep you on track.
As a local Parisian with a fairly major passion for food, I wouldn’t think twice about travelling halfway across the city to pick up my favourite baguette, or dropping in at my number one boucherie just to say “B’jour!”. After all, it is their produce that is responsible for putting a smile on my friends’ faces when they sit down to dinner at my house.
The proprietors of these gourmet shops are no ordinary traders – they are artisans; passionate professionals who continue long, proud traditions but who are not afraid of innovation, testing themselves and their clientele with new recipes, new flavour combinations inspired by their moods or by the changing seasons. They delight in sharing this love with their customers… give them half a chance and they will regale you with anecdotes, reflections and all manner of poetic evocations that intimately link food and memory. They are proud of the sense of heritage that comes with the fact that many of them are running family businesses, gaining expertise from one generation and passing it carefully on to the next. Their creative esprit is thus accompanied by a strong sense of discipline and commitment to their trade.
In France, the association between gastronomy and life can be neatly summed up by the phrase l’art de vivre, or “the art of living”. The gourmet experience is therefore a life-affirming one that brings about a healthy body and a healthy mind – a healthy smile.
Here are some of my top tips to make sure you get the very best out of your gourmet adventures in Paris.
Bread of heaven: excellence, thy name is…
It is estimated that 95% of French people eat bread (or French bread, to everyone else!) and that 10 billion baguettes are baked each year in the country. But of all the boulangers out there, one stands high above the rest – Gontran Cherrier. He is famous for his iconic multigrain baguette. But in something of a break with tradition, he also creates unusual varieties of bread that can be paired with other types of food: curry-flavoured bread to go with meat or chickpea dishes; or lemon-infused loaves to go with fish. And the good news is that he can be found all over the shop – he has three boulangeries in Paris, one in Tokyo and another in Singapore.
Meat sourced and served with passion
If you are looking for a phenomenal boucherie, look no further than Hugo Desnoyer’s shop. Hugo and his wife Chris have travelled the length and breadth of the country to source the finest meat suppliers around, and a remarkable range of top-class cuts are available for sale. They also sell to some of the city’s best restaurants, and they count a few Michelin-starred chefs as regulars. Don’t be afraid to ask their advice – they are always more than willing to offer tips and recipes, or to tell you more about the different breeds and their provenance.
Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different types of cheese?” Some even say that there are as many as 1000 varieties around the country… By way of introduction, you have got to visit the fromagerie Laurent Dubois. The selection is completely awe-inspiring, and there are lots of helpers on hand to offer invaluable advice to any overwhelmed customers.
Spice up your life…
Olivier Roellinger is half-magician, half-pirate, not to mention a former Michelin-starred chef. He roams the world in search of his treasure, namely the finest spices, herbs and aromatics known to man. Once he has plundered his booty, he creates his own spice powder with the wizardry and artistry of a parfumier making a unique fragrance. Though he works mainly from his base in Brittany opposite Mont St Michel, he has now set up shop in Paris on the rue Sainte-Anne in the 2nd arrondissement.
My darling choux choux
Isn’t it rather sweet that “choux à la crème” is both a yummy, cream-filled pastry and a word “my little darling”? For one that is truly irresistible, pop along to Popelini, a pâtisserie exclusively dedicated to choux (it is appropriately named after the Italian chef who first created the recipe in 1540). There are nine classic flavours to choose from, as well as a range of extremely smart gift boxes.
Everybody’s cup of tea
Mariage Frères is a family-run tea business that has been trading tea since 1660. They opened their first shop selling tea to the public in La Madeleine in 1854, and there are now other salons de thé dotted across Paris which are all beautiful, refined and highly atmospheric. They offer over 500 varieties of tea, exclusive teapots and other tea-related utensils to help you brew your own back at home.
Magali Déchelette is CEO at Family Twist.