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!
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
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!
Our experiences at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon were like a hazy dream – quite literally we were living in a euphoric fantasy.
Fanciful would be an understatement and would suggest an element of the irrational was involved in our experiences.
I wouldn’t put it past me given it is said sometimes I exaggerate, but I had corroborating witnesses, two food obsessed friends from Melbourne who were currently on a gastronomic tour of Europe.
And so after managing the impossible and securing us a reservation at the number 14 restaurant in the world… we finally sat down at this beautiful restaurant on a lazy Saturday afternoon for our highly anticipated meal.
Envisage, if you will, a slick modern bar surrounding an open kitchen where much of the magic happens. Only 40 people per service are able to sit stunned and truly satisfied.
Joël Robuchon is a master chef, a worldwide phenomenon with establishments all over the globe delivering fantastic food, innovation and quality, and consummate service.
We not so secretively peered over our shoulders at the plates of the adjoining couple who seemed to be receiving some particular attention from the chef himself and we were not only definitely interested in the dessert served but even more so excited by our meal to come.
We were reading through the a la carte menu and either fortunately or unfortunately, the former of course more outstanding and fun, we decided as a trio to order the not so inexpensive degustation menu at 160 euros.
I left the wine ordering to a master with a great palate and so we were presented with a gorgeous bottle of white wine from the appelation d’origine controlee, a premier cru from Burgundy.
L’Amuse Bouche: To begin this rollercoaster ride of pleasure and taste we were served an amuse-bouche of fresh crab with a shellish gelee and a cauliflower cream.
Le Premier Assiette: Lobster carpaccio with fine aromatic herbs and oils, subtle, soft, flavours of tomato and nicoise olives and poppy seeds, the raw lobster was
La Soupe: a Fava bean and green pea veloute served with a perfect dollop of fresh crème fraiche – it was smooth, light and creamy, full of flavour and every mouthful a pleasure.
Le Deuxième Assiette: perfectly seared foie gras with warm black cherries, hibiscus sauce and fresh almonds and tart granny smith apple – honestly, the BEST foie gras I have ever ever conceived let alone eaten.
Les Oeuf: a perfectly cooked organic yolk just set, hidden below a foam of light cream with rich earthy sautéed girolles, paired with a peppery herb sauce and a sprinkling of an intense spice powder.
By this stage I was quickly running out of superlatives, both in French and English, and I was overcome with simple facial expressions and sounds of absolutely joy between mouthfuls.
Working my magic with the amazing waitress, we managed to switch one of the courses, the Turbot, for another fish course, something which appealed to us all…
Le Poisson: langoustine ravioli in an almost invisible layer of egg pasta with a creamy truffle sauce and stewed green cabbage.
It was after the ravioli that our individual taste journeys finally diverged as we each indepentently chose a different main course.
Le Plat Principal – Le Viande:
The first option, L’Angneau – the milk-fed lamb
racks glazed with shallots and thyme.
The second choice, Le Veau – the glazed veal roasted to obtain a caramelised finish with potato and spring onion salad, chanterelles and jus.
The final choice, my personal pleasure to consume, La Caille – Quail, expertly deboned and stuffed with a farce of foie gras, caramelised supremely, and served with a potato puree and black truffles.
And to accompany our meats we each had a small dish of the signature mashed potato of Joël Robuchon, 50:50 butter to potato, not surprisingly we each had only a small spoonful as we were already reaching capacity and still had dessert to follow.
Unparalleled though were our final courses – the desserts…
Le Premier Dessert: La Fraise – strawberries marinated in olive oil and vanilla, above an acidulous soft biscuit, paired with the refreshingly floral jasmine and fleur d’orange sorbet pierced by a shard of sugar.
Le Deuxième Dessert: Le Café – coffee sabayon, a tart lemon greek yoghurt, and a strong coffee ice-cream crowned by a fine coffee sugar tuille
Now here comes the ultimate surprise and victory, feeling high on the absolute gratification of a blissful meal, and knowing that when it comes to dessert there is always just a little more room, I made a special request – nothing ventured, nothing gained we always make the most of a situation – could we please have one more dessert…
… MORE, MORE – another dessert, there was no hesitation, no wavering, they had experienced this request before, undoubtedly – and so the chef was asked on our behalf by our incredible waitress to prepare one more plate, to share, of the chocolate creation we had first seen on entering this palace of food.
Only, later, as the doors to the pastry kitchen opened, we were faced with not one but three plates. It seems that my appreciation and praise had indeed been passed onto the pastry chef, as had the fact that I was a pastry graduating student, and feeling extremely generous he had sent us not just one dessert each, but three tasting plates and so we were caught by total surprise and had three more courses to go in our marathon meal.
Le Surprise Assiette de Dessert:
Le Chocolat Tendance: a verrine of four layers and textures of chocolate
Le Tarte aux Chocolat: a yielding rich chocolate and macadamia nut tart
- La Fraise de Bois: strawberries macerated in vanilla with balsamic and port with basil sorbet, wild strawberries, a meringue and a halo of white chocolate
Les Boisson Chaudes: coffee and teas were accompanied by fresh madeleine aux citron and caramel aux buerre salé
Just look at the smug satisfied faces of the three Australian gentlemen … L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has three big fans!
Lets just emphasise the gravity of this sorbet – the jasmine and basil sorbets were perfection, heavenly, light, fresh, with a balanced intensity of natural flavour, they were an absolute triumph and highlight of the meal – so much so that my compatriots requested that I work at L’Atelier to try and learn the secret to their brilliance.
Envisage if you will our meal, visualise the plating, delight in their smell, pleasure in their textures, marvel in their taste – it is not a hallucination if you come to Paris and eat there for yourselves – only there is one requirement invite me to join you or at least take photos for me!
Joël Robuchon and his organisation are aspirational, and it is my ambition to one day achieve even one hundredth of their breadth of brilliance!
THANK YOU to everyone at L’Aterlier de Joël Robuchon – St Germain, especially our South Korean French Waitress Dami and the chefs behind the closed doors the incredible pastry team!
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – St Germain
5 rue de Montalembert
Paris, 75007, France