Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Eating and shopping my way through Paris....

So, I'm home - and it's great - really great.  Hard to believe that just a few short weeks ago I was in was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I did it (more to come about that in a future post).  I was sitting down to write a post about settling back into life in Atlanta - but, I got caught up in my pictures from Paris - and just couldn't stop myself from writing one last post about my time in France.  As I looked at my pictures, I was struck by how many pictures I had of food - no, seriously, I mean alot of them feature pastry, markets or a food store.  Looking at this collection of pictures, you might be tempted to think that all I did was eat in Paris - and, quite honestly, I would be hard pressed to TOTALLY disagree with you.  In my defense, I was there as a culinary student - so, I think I can classify all of that eating as part of my "studies".  I know, that's pretty lame - but I thought it was worth a shot!  Well - I guess I'll own up to it - when I wasn't working at the patisserie for my stagiere, I pretty much ate and shopped my way through Paris - and I loved it! 

So, here it is - one last post about my time in France - and, quite fittingly, it's filled with pictures and reminiscences of food! 

While we were in school we put together a Paris Pastry Hit List - a list of 15 or so top pastry shops we planned to visit once we got to Paris, often with a signature item from that shop that we wanted to try.  So, on our days off, we would head out, a marked up map of Paris in hand, determined to work our way down the list.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to all of them, but I made a valiant effort ...and I have the pictures to prove it!

A favorite was Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki - a sleek, elegant and peaceful shop that featured slices of layered cakes with a rainbow of colors and unique flavors.  Aoki's masterful blend of Asian influences and French pastry techniques resulted in lovely pastries presented with an artful aesthetic. 

And, of course, we had to make a visit to the famed Le Notre...ok, I confess, maybe more than one visit.  They deserve the fame - both the look and the taste of the pastries was sublime.

After quite a bit of searching, we finally found Cafe Pouchkine - it's actually tucked inside the Printemps department store on Boulevard Hausman.  The small, ornate boutique presents classic French pastry with a decidedly Russian influence - the result is elegant and delicious.

On the other end of the spectrum is Chez Bogato - this homey pastry shop (located in the 14th Arr, outside of the main tourist area) is focused on making cakes, petit fours and treats for children (and adults who want to feel like kids for a moment).  The owner, a graphic designer turned pastry chef, creates a world of fantasy and fun with pastry - it was colorful, imaginative and quite a treat!

No visit to Paris would be complete without a stop at Laduree - the folks who made macarons famous!  Although the line to get in is always long, it's worth the wait.

My favorite chocolate in Paris came from Hugo & Victor, a sleek, high-end boutique in the 7th Arr.  Their chocolate bonbons were beatiful to look at and and even more lovely to eat - decorated with splashes of bright colors and filled with smooth, rich ganache in all sorts of flavors (raspberry, cassis, salted caramel, hazelnut...the list goes on and on). 

Additionally, their packaging was quite unique and impressive - rows of their brightly colored half-spheres lined up in a "little black book". I have to admit, the picture of the chocolates below is from their website - I don't usually post pictures I didn't take - but I had no choice.  When I was trying to snap a shot of these delectable chocolates I was sternly reprimanded in French by Hugo  - or was it Victor?  But - it doesn't matter where the picture came from - these chocolate bonbons were stunning.
The minute you step into Patisserie des Reves - literally, Pastry Shop of Dreams - you are drawn in by the futuristic and inviting displays - bright colors, lights, glass, metal - all highlighting sleek, architectural and modern versions of classic French pastries.  Even if you don't try a pastry, you need to visit Patisserie des Reves just to experience the boutique...

...but, I wouldn't recommend this - it would be quite a travesty to visit this shop without indulging in at least one of their delicious pastries.

It's not all about pastries - sometimes I went in search of bread!  The unmistakable Parisian champion of bread is Poilane, best known for their large, round sourdough loaves, marked with their signature swirling P.  This bread is delicious just as it is, but it is perhaps most famous for its use in restaurants throughout Paris as the base for tartines, rustic, usually open-faced sandwiches that can be covered with all sorts of toppings. 

By far, my favorite pastry shop in Paris was Pierre Herme.  He is known for his macarons - he was part of the Laduree dynasty - but, he's much more than just the King of Macarons - every pastry in his shop is simply amazing.  Fresh flavors, bright colors, beautiful designs - ooh la la! If you can only stop at one pastry shop in Paris, Pierre Herme gets my vote.

I must confess, these are just a few of the pastry shops we visited...but, they are some of the best.  When we weren't "studying" at Parisian pastry shops, we did a little other shopping.  One of my favorite places to shop in Paris (actually, just about anywhere in the world) is E. Dehillerin - a cookware store that is crammed to the rafters with every sort of pan, gadget, serving dish and utensil you might ever need or want- from the smallest dessert fork to a copper pot that will hold soup for 200.  It's kind of dark, musty and crowded and the salesmen (all men, of course) are a little condescending - it's Cooks Warehouse with a French accent and attitude.  None of that matters, though - it's a wonderland of cookware and everytime I go in there I just want to get one of everything!   

One of my other favorite places to shop in Paris is Place de la Madeleine - this lovely neighborhood has some amazing food boutiques, like Hediard and Fauchon, where you can get everything from house-made fois gras to fruit pastes to champagne to petit fours to fresh raspberries to chocolate mousse cakes.  This little corner is a must for any foodie who visits Paris.

Not all shopping has to happen indoors, however, the weekly outdoor markets in Paris are not to be missed.  I spent a few mornings roaming around some of these markets (like the one below in Place Monge) and enjoying all the fresh flowers, produce, breads, cheeses and meats - but, most of all, enjoying watching the Parisians as they shopped for their provisions for the week.

I really felt like a local when we spent a Saturday morning at the Marche aux Puces (flea market) de la Porte de Vanves.  We rode the Metro out to the fringe of the 14th Arr and dove into the swirling mass of people and goods that stretched for several blocks.  This wasn't a touristy market - this was a real, neighborhood flea market where you could find everything from chandeliers to rugs to buttons to hammers to dog sweaters to soap -- ranging in price from 5 to 500 Euros. 

After a enjoying some local color at the Marche aux Puces, we spent the next day at the opposite end of the city - in more ways than one - strolling the magnificent Champs Elysees.  This wide boulevard, lined with some of the most luxurious shops in Paris,  is a must for people-watching and window shopping.  It ends at the Arc de Triomphe - which was lovely at dusk.

Of course, all that shopping can make a girl hungry...and, you can't survive on pastry alone!  I made a point of stopping for some fortification while shopping - always looking for a place that would offer a true taste of the city. After a busy day of strolling the shops along Boulevard Saint Germaine des Pres, I made a lunch stop at the touristy, but famous Cafe de Flore.  This crowded, bustling cafe is quintessential Paris...and, of course, I had to have the quiche du jour.

And, although I did love to take a cafe au lait break during shopping, it was quite a treat one day to stop at the Mariage Freres Salon du The for a pot of afternoon tea.  This serene tea salon is surrounded by a peaceful and aromatic shop that is lined with hundreds of tins of tea - different blends, flavors, colors and fragrances from around the world.   

Cheers to Paris - after all, where else can you stop for a champagne cocktail in the middle of the afternoon for a little shopping break - it just seemed like the thing to do!

Now, lest you think I didn't do anything cultural in Paris, you must know that I visited a few museums during my time there. Both the Rodin Museum and the Musee D'Orsay were food for my soul.
I wish I could capture all that I saw, felt and tasted in Paris - it was such a beautiful and captivating experience!  I loved every minute of shopping and eating my way through Paris and I feel very lucky to have had such a delicious adventure.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

des Gateaux et du Pain

One of the reasons I chose the pastry program at ENSP was that it offered the option to do a one-month stagiaire after the course work was finished. Stagiaire is a French word that essentially means internship or a stagiaire, or stage, you work in a kitchen to watch, learn and grow your skills. Oh, and by the way, did I mention it's usually unpaid....after all, this time is really for your's about learning and building for your culinary future. It's a culinary practice that has its roots in French tradition.

I thought that a stagiaire in France would be a great way for me to really get a view into what it would be like to work in a pastry kitchen...after all, that was one of my major motivations for this trip -- to help me make some decisions about what I wanted to do in the culinary field. So, given the option, I signed up!!

When we were about halfway into our program at ENSP we began to discuss options for our stagiaire...what type of program would we like (restaurant? hotel? bakery? pastry shop?), is there an area we wanted to specialize in (chocolate? breads? pastries?) and where in France did we want to go (small town? big city?). I knew that I wanted a boulangerie/patisserie....a bakery/pastry shop....somewhere that would allow me to work with both pastries and breads, and, I was pretty sure I wanted to go to Paris. After all, it's hard to imagine getting the opportunity to work in France for a month and NOT choosing Paris. I knew there were challenges with choosing Paris...the biggest being that many of the recurring stagiaire options for our school were closer to Yssingeaux and Lyon. It would also be more expensive to live there, harder to find accommodations... nevertheless, I still opted for Paris....seriously - wouldn't you?

We were told to submit two or three potential places to the school stagiaire coordinator and they would work to see what spots were available that fit our criteria. In addition to a few interesting shops from the school's "list of regulars", I added an option of my own...a shop that I had seen while doing some searching on "best pastry shops in Paris" and other research... des Gateaux et du Pain. I was interested in this shop for several reasons....first, as the name suggests  (des gateaux et du pain literally translates in English to cakes and bread) it provided an option for both breads and pastry; second, it was mentioned in several Frenchie food blogs I regularly read (Dorie Greenspan, Dave Leibowitz, and others); and, finally, I was very intrigued by the fact that it was run by a female pastry chef, quite a rarity in Paris. (Actually, a female pastry chef is quite a rarity in general...this is still a field mainly dominated by men, especially in France) Well, as luck would have it, there was an opening for a stage at des Gateaux...I was set...I would start there a few days after finishing my course at ENSP...I was going to Paris!!!!

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous...I didn't really know what to expect. I've spent plenty of time in kitchens, and I've even done a few days as a stage here and there in Atlanta...but I was still nervous. I knew that I would be relegated to pretty mundane work, but I hoped I would at least get to do try my hand at some real pastry...and I hoped I wouldn't totally embarrass myself by catching croissants on fire or burning brioche. I also hoped that I would at least be able to communicate at a basic level...I would say my French is "passable"...I hoped they would think the same thing at des Gateaux et du Pain.

So, I show up my first day with my chef jacket in hand and knock on the back door (it's early, so the shop isn't open yet)...when someone answers I blurt out in French "my name is Crystal and I am here to stagiaire" (I had practiced that phrase in French multiple times the night before). I'm quickly escorted inside and shown to the dishwasher...and so the day's a whirlwind of French and dishes and peeling KILOS and KILOS of apples ...and more dishes. By the end of that first day I am exhausted, my chef jacket that had started the day all white and freshly ironed is wet and dirty, and my head is spinning with French kitchen phrases...I shuffle out to the Metro, my chef shoes dragging...head home and collapse....what a day!

des Gateaux et du Pain...a beautiful, sleek and upscale Paris patisserie

the kitchen at des Gateaux et du Pain, including the dishwashing
area - my own little home away from home

Well, I'd love to write a French culinary Cinderella story...tell you it all turned out magnifique, that I was swept from the dishpit and peeling duty to pipe meringues and make beautiful tarts, all the while chattering with my pastry coworkers in fluent French....all under the nurturing and gentle guidance of my Fairy Godmother Pastry Chef....umm, no...sorry, but I can' story didn't turn out quite that way.

Truth is, I washed ALOT of dishes this month - I mean, ALOT of dishes. I did get to do plenty of other things as well...peel apples, zest and juice lemons, butter molds, weigh and prep recipes of all sorts, prepare a few simple items (creams, quiches, Pain Perdu), and help fill and assemble cakes, entremets and tarts...I just didn't do any of the fancy stuff...pretty much, I didn't do any finish work that would be visible to the customer.

And my French...well, I think "passable" may have been a little generous on my part! I'd say I understood about 60% of what was said and I could communicate back to people about 40% of the time...that averages out to 50%....I'm not sure if the French grade on a curve or not, but, even being generous, I don't think that's a passing grade. But, I got by...lots of hand gestures and one-word phrases...several of the staff spoke some English, and were able to translate when I looked totally confused (which, if you follow the math above, was about 50% of the time!).

Although my Chef was petite, blond and dressed in white, you can't really compare her to the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella...nope....think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada instead...just trade the Prada for a starched chef coat and chef clogs. No magic wand here...she is one tough cookie. She is an amazingly talented chef and a very savvy businesswoman...but very exacting (for example, I was chastised once for improper zesting, told the corners on the paper lining my cake molds were not crisp enough, while one of my fellow stages was sharply reprimanded for unevenly slicing the choux puffs for Paris Brest). In general, the sous-chefs, apprentices and other stages were all quite nice, but, the atmosphere in the kitchen got very tense when the Chef was there...there was no "whistling while you worked" at des Gateaux et du Pain.

But...I made it! While it was pretty challenging at times, all in all, it was a good experience...and I'm glad I stuck it out. I really learned a lot about how a pastry shop runs...the scheduling and planning for filling the cases each day, prepping and finishing the recipes, the staff and work required. I got to see the recipes and techniques for some absolutely beautiful and delicious breads and pastries. While it was only for a month, I got an up-close and personal view of life in a pastry shop and the life of a pastry chef, which is exactly what I wanted out of my stagiaire. So, while it may not have been a fairytale experience, it was certainly a great learning experience.

And, best of all...I got to live in Paris! I was no longer a tourist...for a month, I was actually a Parisienne....riding the Metro to work everyday, coming home to my charming apartment in the Marais and then walking to a cafe for a late dinner. And, on my days off, I got to shop at Place Madeline, stroll along Blvd Saint-Germain, hang out in the Luxembourg Gardens, or visit the Orsay...not such a bad gig, huh?

My daily trip to work on the Metro - Line 1 to Line 12, then I hopped off at Pasteur

While many of my days in Paris were gray and cloudy, every once in awhile it was sunny - and when that happened, my commute was glorious!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Loving Life in the 4th!!

When I finally decided that I wanted to do my stagiere (internship) in Paris, I was pretty excited...a month in Paris...c'mon, it doesn't get much better than that! There was another one of my classmates, Jen (the very fun, former-engineer Aussie) who was also planning to do her stageiere in Paris - so, we decided we would look for a place to live together. We were so excited...we had visions of historic buildings, markets and sidewalk cafes just waiting for us in shouldn't be so hard to find a charming place to stay in the midst of all of this, we assumed. Boy, were we seems that in Paris, like in any big city, it's pretty challenging to find a decent place to stay for only a month...especially if we wanted to be anywhere near the center of the city...which, of course we did. After all, we were only there for a month and we wanted to experience as much of Paris as we could, and we also didn't want to spend hours a day on the metro going back and forth to our stagieres, which were near the center. There were plenty of closet-sized studios available...we would be fine as long as one/both of us didn't mind sleeping on a pull-out sofa, after we had spent an hour on the metro to get out to the suburbs...heavy sigh...not quite the vision of Gay Paris we had in mind. We were pretty discouraged when, after a week of endless Internet searching and sending literally hundreds of email inquiries, we were still homeless. Finally, one day after class I was greeted with a positive response in my inbox...actually, yes, the 2 bedroom apartment in the 4th arrondissement I had inquired about was available....WOOHOO!! OK, it was expensive, but, quite frankly, we'd given up on "reasonably priced" as a requirement about 200 email requests ago. So, we snatched it this point we only had two weeks until we were supposed to arrive in Paris, as long as it was at least half as nice as the pictures in the rental website, we would be least we had a place to sleep.

You know how you have that gnawing worry in the back of your mind that things really won't work out as well as you hope...well, I had that feeling in spades as we headed to Paris to settle into the apartment....what if it was a dump, in an unsafe neighborhood, dirty....we would have paid LOTS of euros (a big chunk of which was a non-refundable deposit) to live in French squalor for a month....these were the worries that went through my mind as we got into a taxi at Gare de Lyon and headed for 4 rue du Tresor, in the 4th arrondissement.

That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach began to subside as our cab pulled into our neighborhood - it looked pretty nice - no squalor or French ghettos to be a matter of fact, it actually looked pretty nice and fun....

I began to relax even more when we pulled up to our apartment was smack-dab in the middle of this very fun neighborhood, but tucked away in a small dead-end sidestreet lined with shops and far, so good.

When we finally made it up to the apartment, all nervousness and worries slipped away - our apartment was fantastic - no, really - fantastic!  It was absolutely gorgeous - seriously, gorgeous - it really looked like the pictures on the rental website - how unbelievable is that?  High ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful moldings and trim, French-shabby-chic furnishings, lots of space (for an apartment in Paris) - it was perfect! We couldn't believe it - after lots of worrying and searching, we had actually ended up in an amazing apartment in a great part of Paris - INCROYABLE!!

So, I have to tell you, life in the 4th Arrondissement has been pretty cool.  The center of Paris is divided into sections, or neighborhoods, called Arrondissements (abbreviated Arr)- there are 20 of them, and each has its own unique character.  We happen to be lucky enough to have landed in the 4th Arr - on the right bank of the Seine river, in the heart of the city - our neighborhood is called Le Marais and it's known to be "trendy, bustling, and throbbing". 

Our neighborhood is anchored by major two major landmarks - the Hotel de Ville...

...and the Place des Vosges.

We are right across the river from Notre Dame...

...and you can see the Bastille as you head down the Rue de Rivoli. 

One of the best parts about living in this area is that we have everything we need right at our doorstep - or just a very short walk away.  Conveniently, there were 2 metro stops within a 10  minute walk - this made it very convenient for getting to work and for zipping around Paris.

There was no shortage of places to eat - there were patisseries, cafes, bistros, restaurants, markets - you name it, the Marais has it.  There were multiple boulangerie/patisseries (bakery/pastry shops) on our block - I grew quite partial to one just around the corner from our apartment - stopping here many mornings for a cafe au lait and pain au chocolate...

Lucky for me, there was also a Starbucks around the corner for those mornings when I didn't have time for a French-style breakfast.
I am finding it hard to actually describe how many cafes there were around us - they were everywhere - there were 5 on our little street alone!  And there were always full - it's just like you imagine Paris would be - people sitting in tiny little tables lining the streets (yes, even in winter), drinking coffee and wine, smoking, and chatting in French (with some English and other languages thrown in for good measure) at all hours of the day and night. 

And, of course, there is great shopping in the Marais...this neighborhood is known for its' shopping - filled with boutiques of all kinds - clothes, food, books - you name it, there's a shop selling it somewhere within a kilometer of my apartment.

Most days our neighborhood was packed with people - locals and tourists - shopping, eating, strolling.  We had a few days, however, when it quieted down - about half-way through my time in Paris, we woke up to quite a surprise - snow falling outside our window and blanketing the streets.  While it was a little colder than I would have liked, I must admit that the 4th Arr looks charming covered in snow!

My roommate Jen - bundled up and ready for a day of shopping in the snow in Paris!
So, I have to admit, I really feel that we lucked out - I mean, really lucked out - our apartment in Paris was quite a find. We loved the our apartment and we loved living in the 4th Arr.  I really feel that I got to move beyond being a tourist and enjoyed a true taste of life in Paris...C'est Bon!