J’ai les goûts les plus simples du monde, je me contente du meilleur
I have the simplest taste in the world, I am satisfied with the best
He was so close to the truth, so close to the secret way to live life – at least in Paris, that is, when in search of the ultimate in pastry glory and the taste to make your mouth water a thousand lifetimes.
My gastronomic tour of Paris Patisseries began my very first day in Paris as I took that initial glorious bight into a warm, flaky buttery croissant from a local boulangerie.
It was that captivating bite which sent me on a rollercoaster like journey through dessert brilliance and boredom, satisfaction and disappointment.
Corner family run patisseries and world famous institutions, I have been to them all, and tasted both their gourmet glory and their frustrating fiascos.
Sometimes the random cravings lead to the best possible rewards – unforgettable pastries to make even the sceptical cry from pure sugary bliss.
More often though, rather than random brilliance, our journey took the form of planned outings with clear goals, touring the city sometimes visiting up to three patisseries in just one afternoon.
All the walking from arrondissement to arrondissement across all of Paris you would hope that we began working off the tip of the mountain of calories we were ingesting, and not too infrequently the mention of prophylactic Lipitor, a cholesterol lowering agent, was rightfully brought up by those of us with concerns for our health.
Everything in moderation should be enjoyed, as my incredible grandmother would have said, and although we tried to listen to her trusted advice we may have passed the point of excess more than a handful of times.
My partners in these rapturous crimes of gluttony, most often other pastry and cuisine students, but on the rare occasion it would be family or friends visiting from overseas.
Joined by these fellow intrepid travellers, together we discovered and tested our might against these strongholds of French Pastry gold.
Name it, we have ventured into the famed tourist traps and also the local hidden treasure troves, and so I am here to be your guide to my Grand Tour de Goût.
And so, welcome to the new age of Le Cooking Bible, moving on from my education to a new focus – hunting and gathering. The pleasurable spotlight of efforts, gastronomic research and development, all for the purpose of growing and learning even more, so that eventually I can make even my wildest pastry dreams a reality.
By now I have completed 8 months of work and study in the field of French Pastry, graduating from both Le Cordon Bleu and Ecole Ritz Escoffier as well as completing my internship in the Pastry kitchens of the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Now visiting patisseries has taken on a completely new dimension. I have training and knowledge from school and insight and experience from the pastry kitchen.
I’m developing a new way of thinking and appreciating the business, products and service of the patisserie industry.
I can already tell you in good conscience what is in store for me – months of gorging myself and encouraging others, just one more cake, another viennoiserie, all in the name of research. I couldn’t help myself, my time was limited, and in this city of gold, I too must make sacrifices for the greater good.
So take care as I share some of my greatest finds, take heed, catch your breath and just imagine the possibilities.
Welcome to the Gastronomic Milestones of Le Grand Tour de Goût!
In the far far away land of dreary old England, an expeditious and intrepid art and design major left her high powered job to pursue her passion for pastry in Paris.
Like me she attended the famed bastion of Le Cordon Bleu Paris only she has managed to fashion her way into a very bright and promising future.
A mere four years after completing Pastry school she is capturing hearts and minds, as well as businesses, across the world with her creativity and design instincts paired perfectly with her sense of taste and cooking skills.
Describing herself as a Food Creative she is that and so much more.
But as I find myself walking towards her tiny apartment for lunch one Wednesday afternoon after months of trying to secure a booking in her unique lunchtime locale I am simply excited and it didn’t take long for my expectations to be exceeded.
Rachel Khoo Rocks – some people just have the great ideas, the skills to pull them off, and the personality that sets them far apart from the rest.
Rachel has all that and more … Guts -and not just in regards to bravery but the inner sense that guides her and makes things work.
I was so lucky to secure a spot at her tiny apartment come invite only restaurant, sharing with another lucky someone a table for three with Rachel Khoo herself – who had lovingly prepared a three course meal for us. Working on her new cookbook she was in need of test subjects and I will always willingly volunteer.
It is a brilliant venture to obtain live and practical feedback, meet new people and make people exceedingly happy whilst drumming up huge amount of buzz and word of mouth – the best type of advertising.
First off, a moreish Autumn Salad with lardon, figs, fresh chestnuts, walnuts and beetroot to tempt even the saddest tastebuds into a celebration.
Second on the line freshly oven roasted Coq au Vin with roasted vegetables and beans to make your heart smile.
Sitting at the small table in her lounge/bedroom/office the day seemed to speed by as we enjoyed mouthfuls of delicious food and the most fascinating conversations not only about food but all the world has to offer.
And finally a long pepper crème brulee with raspberries the perfect way to end an amazing meal.
This city seems to attract these unique individuals here to live the life in this fabled city. Watching her at work in the kitchen was such a pleasure. Using all fresh organic produce, together with a technical eye, the flavours were perfect.
But like everything, even good things must come to an end, and the busy Rachel had literally a mountain of tasks to get done before yet another project in her busy schedule and I hope it stays that way as a measure of her ever evolving success.
I personally can’t wait till one day I receive a special present in the mail post-marked PARIS – a signed copy of her latest cookbook!
Rachel Khoo’s Links:
The Little Paris Kitchen
Her Consulting and Food Styling Business
Let the name say it all – SMOKING HOT DUCK!
Here is a little sneak peak at what I made for myself for dinner last night – one of the best things I have ever eaten and I made it in a tiny terrifying excuse for a kitchen!! (No offense intended to the feelings of my eighty centimetre wide kitchen nook slash cupboard slash sink slash no oven slash old electric hotplate)
Smoked Duck Breast Salad served on Crisp Breads
(Mesculun and Rocket salad with golden shallots, granny smith apple, sour cherries, and roasted hazelnuts served with a luscious sour cherry vinaigrette)
There is no doubt that I have a deep seated weakness for duck, I too often order it if it is on a restaurant’s menu, and when I think of my favourite meals it is often involving the juicy flavourful duck meat and crisp skin.
Whether it be Chinese style Peking Duck, or a Whole Roast Duck, or French Duck á L’Orange or modern interpretations there can be nothing better – well since my experience at Laduree I have a new style to add to my insatiable appetite for duck – thinly sliced Smoked Duck Breast.
I have since had grand plans of buying the equipment required to properly smoke your own meats and fishes at home, but this will have to wait for now, and so I went to my local distributor of duck products – yes in Paris there are shops entirely devoted to the glory of duck related gourmet food products – only in France!
I walked past the rows of every type of foie gras imaginable, and headed straight for the fridge where I was faced by not one but three different types of sliced duck breast and found my holy grail of a sealed packet of artisanal smoked duck breast and so the beginning of a long night of cooking and taste testing began.
I didn’t stop at one dish, no, how could I, I thought of how it could be presented at a more casual gastro pub or café, and also came up with ways to make it into cool canapés.
The funniest thing was that I recorded my findings as if it was a scientific experiment – jotting down notes of each preparation and step. (these are unadulterated except the last comment)
Fine brunoise two shallots, and one large granny smith tart crunchy apple, fine dice of cerise griotte (morello cherries).
EVOO, syrup de griotte, butter, reduce. Add vinegar and lemon juice.
Use dirty pan to warm thru some cherries.
Use dirty pan plus extra oil and butter to cook mix then add a further half apple of brunoise granny smith, use other half for julienned skin on match sticks.
Roasted hazelnuts, halved, some crushed others whole for garnish, mix.
Mixed mesculun lettuce and rocket plus chervil
Mix cooled cherry, apple, shallot mix with salad leaves and the hazelnuts then add extra vinaigrette
Crisp breads made from great bread dried out then fried in olive oil and butter.
Smoked duck taken out of the packet (FOR NOW THAT IS UNTIL MY GRAND SCHEME BECOMES A REALITY AND I WILL HAVE MY OWN SMOKED DUCK!)
I don’t quite know how to describe the tastes and textures and could never really do it justice, so I will leave it to your imaginations, let us just say that I inadvertently ate everything, yes everything, enough for about 3 people to comfortably share. I also know there is a lot more work that needs to go into this dish if it were to ever make it onto any menu or be served at any dinner party but there is definite potential in this space!
There once was a tale of two sisters and a brother who each owned a restaurant in Paris. They fought and they fought until their businesses were highly successful with multiple locations throughout Paris and the world. All their successes hinged on a secret sauce and a very simple concept.
No real menu, no choice at all – you would think it was doomed to fail, how could a restaurant that provides no choice to a paying customer really be successful – well you would be incredibly wrong to discount these siblings – they absolutely rake in the profits!
L’Entrecôte is the contre-filet cut of sirloin, a cut I was completely unfamiliar with in Australia, given like everything else in France they do things slightly differently and have unique trade-marked uninfringeable names for the way that only they can produce them. Besides it’s particular naming rights, we know it better as the basis of the classical bistro meal of steak-frites which is quite literally butchered by most cafés in Paris.
I have tried desperately to keep up my red-meet intake in Paris and yet at almost every turn it has been trying very hard to disappoint me.
The meat here is nothing compared to a juicy melt in your mouth huge cut of grass fed beef from Argentina, or a wagyu beef cheek from Japan that has been massaged on a daily basis and fed beer, or a perfectly aged piece of Australian Beef fillet. More often than not it is tough, chewy, full of gristle and overly rare for even those of us that like their meat rare.
Yet there are a few hidden gems, these one’s being overtly famous and well known, which try their best to provide a real piece of meat to the cheers of the public.
Getting back to the siblings, who have each tried to stand out on their own two feet and create enviable empires, well they have done themselves very proud, been extremely successful along the way, but I can assure you they have not strayed far from their father’s footsteps. In fact, until I found out the true history of their family and the businesses I was entirely confused as to why their menus looked as if they came out of the same printer.
The formula is strict, FIRST, WAIT IN LINE FOR A VERY LONG TIME, this place is popular people and with a no-reservations policy you will usually have to wait half-an-hour to an hour on the pavement outside, but do not fear this place is a factory and moves through the tables at a rapid rate as the cash register rings in the profits.
SECOND, the waitress, always female, wearing a black uniform with a white apron, with or without a smile and friendly face, this is optional of course, will come and take your order – Bleu, Saignant, À point, Cuit, Bien Cuit. Just remember in case you don’t want your steak to have questionable origins and treatment do not at all costs order bien cuit, or well cooked, it is cardboard. In France rare, medium-rare and medium have no common meaning to what you are used to in countries other than France. Remember Bleu or blue, is quite literally blue, and cool in the centre, uncooked except for a seared crust; Saignant is what we would consider quite rare, À point is slightly more cooked than medium-rare, and the rest shall go unmentioned for they are an unmentionable curse in the kitchen. She will scrawl your order on the white paper which covers your table.
THIRD, after expediently taking your simplified food and drink orders she will masterfully bring plates of a moreish lettuce and walnut salad with a spicy Dijon vinaigrette served with baguette, and from experience I can tell you that inevitably you cannot control your bread intake as you salivate waiting for the meat.
FOURTH, your metal tray passes the table carrying the salacious secret sauce, and the meat, and the other tray literally piled high with gloriously crispy French fries, or pomme frites. It is served onto your plates with silver service spoon and fork just like the good-old-days and placed into reaching distance of your already raised cutlery.
FIFTH, you eat your steak served with that perfect, luscious, rich sauce and mounds of the most unimaginably perfect crisp potatoes and when you feel like you just cannot go on any longer, yet crave even more, both your worst nightmare and your unrequited fantasies, do in fact come true as an entire second helping is heaped in front of your greedy mouth and eyes.
SIXTH, sadly your now completely empty and wiped clean plate, yes you not so surreptitiously soaked up the last skerrick of sauce with the left over bread, is removed from the table by your waitress as you ponder if there is any room left in your engorged stomach for dessert.
SEVENTH, your dessert, if you were game enough to order one, arrives and sadly usually disappoints after your sublime meal but you finish it off anyway.
EIGHTH, you pay the bill, which although not unreasonable given the servings, you would have had no idea up until then just how much your meal would cost. Although, most of us would have eaten there way to many times not to have a vague recollection of the last bill.
NINTH, you walk away from this institution completely satisfied and having a heated discussion about which one of the competing outlets has the best pomme frites or the juiciest steak, or most importantly the most authentic sauce.
TENTH, this is of course optional, for us cuisine aficionados, otherwise known as food nerds/snobs, argue into the night about how exactly you imagine they make that miraculous sauce!
There are many theories and much conjecture behind this institutional sauce – after way too many dinners at a few incarnations of the L’Entrecôte restaurants, with a variety of friends and family, we have together come up with a pretty good idea – chicken livers, fresh thyme, cream, butter, Dijon mustard, butter and salt and pepper.
On a Sunday night when you just can’t decide where to go for dinner and you’re really hungry, you’ll know where to find me, and a large proportion of Parisian’s.
Le Relais de Venise – Porte-Maillot
271 Boulevard Pereire, Porte-Maillot
+33 1 45 74 27 97
Le Relais de L’Entrecôte – Saint Germain
20, rue Saint-Benoît
+33 1 45 49 16 00
4 Cours 30 Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux, France
+33 5 56 81 76 10
On one of those seldom days when it was actually warm, in Paris, in so called Summer, I came home exhausted from a full day in the kitchens, and having purchased one of the amazing roasted chickens from the local butcher, Boucherie Becquerel, I managed to scrape together a quick and healthy dinner.
I use this saying lightly, because as you all well know, I never really scrape things together. I do often cook quickly and simply, but always with thought into balancing the textures and flavours of the dish and tailoring it to what I feel like and to best suit the purpose of the final dish.
This dish was created to satisfy my hunger and inspire my tastebuds.
And it did all that and more – and was a complete fluke, well not really.
It was all instigated by my hoarding of spices from around the world, and a definite favourite was in dire need of usage – Ras Al Hanout, meaning “Top of the Shop” is the foundation of my favourite tagines, pastillas and cous-cous dishes from Morocco. Sometimes blending up to 50 rare spices in secret variations, it is highly aromatic, warm, spicy and sweet tones meld perfectly with the incredible cuisine of morocco.
And so I was able to take full advantage of these savoury, sweet and spicy notes of the Ras al Hanout to instantly lift my salad to incredible heights. Combining shredded roasted chicken with sweet crunchy apple, the nuttiness of toasted pinenuts, the sweetness of shallots and baby spinach, lamb’s lettuce and the pepperiness rocket made the greatest mix and fulfilled every requirement and desire.
The dressing was so simple and just ideal – lemon juice, olive oil and ras al hanout.
Moroccan Spiced Chicken Salad with Apple and Ras Al Hanout
113 rue St. Antoine, 75004, Paris
Lille too, like all French cities, is populated by incredible Patisseries, and two especially famous ones have been touted to me by my family who are literally obsessed with their products.
A certain establishment that makes just 1 famous cake in three outstanding flavours, has been expressly hyped by my cousin who is intent on me recreating this specific cake and opening up a similar business based entirely on these cakes in Australia.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred began fifteen years ago in Lille and has since spread its wings to Paris as always with huge devotion from their loyal public. Their concept is simple crispy light meringue covered in tonnes of light cream and sprinkled with shavings of chocolate, flavoured with coffee, or spiced with crushed speculoos.
And so I was introduced to their three flavours over multiple occasions, firstly the original Le Merveilleux, the marvellous, a chocolate marvel, secondly L’Incroyable, the incredible, crunchy with spiced cinnamon and brown sugar speculoos and finally L’Impensable, the unthinkable, a coffee creation. I didn’t quite grasp the pinnacle and the magnetism that these three cakes hold over people, but they were incredibly tasty and texturally interesting.
Meert began creating pastries for the Flemish nobility in Lille in 1761, and since then has become one of the oldest and most celebrated French-Belgian pastry shops so much so that it was even named the official supplier to the kings of Belgium.
Meert’s fame has come at a cost, very high prices, but for many its unique version of the gaufre, a delicate waffle filled with a creamy vanilla centre has the ability to entice even the greatest sceptics. Have no doubt though, that it’s other pastries including a pistachio palmier and a sublime pain aux raisin are hard to beat. Their confiserie, patisserie and salon de thé protected behind an old style glass masterpiece are a haven filled with delicate sweets and there is always a line to follow into this must see establishment.
Finally making its way to Paris, there is now an even greater chance that you too can try their delicacies.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred – Lille
67, rue de la Monnaie, Lille
+33 3 20 51 99 59
Meert – Lille
27 rue Esquermoise, Lille
SALON DE THÉ, PÂTISSERIE–CONFISERIE
+33 3 20 57 07 44
Aux Merveilleux de Fred – Paris
29 rue de l’Annonciation, 75016
+33 1 45 20 13 82
129 bis, rue Saint-Charles, 75015
+33 1 45 79 72 47
Meert – Paris
16 rue Elzévir, 75003, Paris
+33 1 49 96 56 94
Lille, a quiet city in the north of France, becomes a hive of crazed activity for two days a year as two to three million people descend onto the streets to buy trash.
Dating back to the twelfth century, the origins of the popular festival lie in the large gatherings of traders and producers selling their wears in a fire sale and morphed into a garage sale and flea market by the sixteenth century. It all started with servants being granted the right to sell used items from their bosses’ houses and as it grew it became famous throughout all of Europe. It ceased to exist after the wars but was reborn in our growing consumer society as students, youth and the elderly began selling their old belongings for a pittance. But by the time I arrived this festival has transformed from a fire sale to a full on commercial industry with sellers and buyers from all over Europe and the local public is now interspersed with many professionals.
And so we arrived on Friday afternoon by two cars packed to the brim and on trains with massive suitcases. Together we had amassed a considerable collection of belongings. In order to make this event a success we had to devise a plan, a concerted effort to sell as many of our goods as possible.
We believed in our product, and we were ready to have some fun. Despite being mainly previously worn clothes, they were all from good brands sometimes even being unworn with tags and all! And we also had under our purview some exciting if junky paraphernalia.
Not wanting to waste any time I headed out with the master of Braderie himself, to explore the town and some of the professional stalls by the river.
As the city prepared itself for this huge festival I managed to sneak through some of the most beautiful buildings.
Returning to the apartment we settled into our home of the next two days and prepared for the hard work ahead.
Besides my position as junior seller, given my questionable obviously foreign simplistic French and the fact that this was my first Braderie, I had been tasked with the unique job of feeding the workers during our weekend stay in the north.
We had champagne and dinner and all tried to sleep which was surprisingly difficult given the excitement and the terrible mattresses…
Waking early to get a fresh start the tables were set up as we watched the marathon runners tackle the traditional warm up race to the big sale.
Although even before everything started we had to tackle a turf war. It seems that some professionals with big vans had illegally taken our reserved positions in a scare tactic ploy against the little guys. But they did not quite guess just who they were messing with – seasoned professionals, with attitude, and aware of their rights, and willing to defend them – these are not people to be messed with lightly. And so after a mere 5 minutes they had begrudgingly admitted defeat and moved on to steal someone else’s spot.
Setting up at least seven tables and two racks our stores were ready almost as the starting gun was blasted at 11am – but even as the clothes were being laid out a few early customers were coming in ready to snap up that elusive early choice bargain.
As time passed we began moving product quickly and with success, the five of us each on a drive to make people happy and sell at the same time!
Trying to beat the competition we used our passion, loud voices, multilingual capabilities, multinational charms and may have employed a few tricks and attention grabbing gimmicks. There may have been a questionable looseness from our mascot, and the maestro also repeatedly advertised, encouraged and instructed his adoring public to come and see his wares and buy buy buy – Le Grand Marques for le Premier et Dernier Prix!
Overall we were charismatic, but as our stomachs began to grumble I was sent on my way to produce a nutritious and delicious lunch to reinvigorate our energy levels!
And so following the requests of the busy sales staff I made smoked salmon sandwiches and cherry tomato and cheese toasted sandwiches to the cheers of my family who ate them quickly and also received the necessary caffeine hits.
Everywhere you looked there were hoards of people, in every direction.
Despite all this the city’s beauty and history shone through.
We dealt with some interesting characters during the day selling hello kitty bags to hello kitty enthusiasts, children’s dresses as Halloween outfits and customised jackets as haute couture – it was all about the pitch, how best to sell a piece by appealing to the needs or dreams of the client.
By finding our niche markets we were able to inflate the prices beyond rock bottom, to the realm of reasonable profits!
But we found our match as a group of Nigerian women descended onto our meagre shop ready to bargain their way into free purchases, with tactics including distraction, frustration and sheer persistence – I decided to take the brunt of the attack and protect my cousin – I faced our collective lynchpin as they tried to laugh and smile off their confronting shopping assault – they had little chance of disturbing my peace and after a good 45 minutes of negotiation they purchased their selection and we rejoiced in our freedom!
By nightfall we had been selling like madmen for a good 10 hours and the place was looking like a warzone!
After a late dinner we all headed to bed exhausted.
Waking late, I made a special breakfast of pain perdu made from croissants served with a black fig and sour cherry confit and a spiced speculoos crumble.
But for most of the visitors to Lille a bowl of Moules-Frites, the classic, and also a major part of the history of La Braderie, is the dish of choice – the restaurants all enter a challenge, to create the largest pile of empty mussel shells, with over five-hundred tonnes of mussels and 30 tonnes of chips sold, I just don’t want to be the one to clean up all the mess.
And so we said goodbye to Lille after an extremely successful Braderie, selling thousands of euros worth of old belongings to the public and making all of us very proud – I had achieved my goals, exploring Lille, being in the centre of this once in a lifetime festival, spending time with my family, and finally the unexpected twist of being an incredible salesman!
BRING ON THE NEXT BRADERIE!