Paris

Where To Get Your Knives Sharpened in Paris

A few months ago I read an interview with Yves Charles, owner of Perceval knives, whose handsome 9.47 I have often coveted while dining out at some of the nicer Parisian tables.

In the interview he talked about knife sharpening, and how important it is to have a real pro do it, lest your blades be shot in the process. I could only agree, having had limited success with the different sharpening tools I tried over the years.

I got the same message at the knife store I visited in California last fall: if you take good care of your knives, wash them by hand and put them away mindfully — slipped in a knife block, stashed in the box they came in, or sheathed in a blade guard if you need to put them in a drawer — you can keep a sharp edge on them for months and months, and bring them in for sharpening once a year. It isn’t very costly, and heightens the longevity of your knives.

The truth is, I had been wanting to get mine professionally sharpened for a while, but I wasn’t sure where to go. So when I read Yves Charles saying, “In Paris, there are no more than three good places to get your knives sharpened,” I had to find out what they were.

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Paris Restaurant Picks: Bones, Walaku, Jeanne B., Septime @ Wanderlust

Dispatches from my favorite Paris restaurants for April.

BONES

My top pick this month! Bones is a bare-bones (ha!) bistro that operates half as a wine bar, with many natural wine choices by the glass and lots of sharable nibbles, and half as a gastronomic restaurant, showcasing Aussie chef James Henry’s inspired cuisine.

The single tasting menu is composed of four courses for 40€ (add 8€ for the cheese course) with a bonus four amuse-bouche, making this an incredibly good deal.

I especially like that the butter, bread, and charcuterie are all homemade (and very good), which shows a rare commitment, and I fell in love with the Dutch ceramics that they use.

The service is bearded, sweet and attentive, the atmosphere vibrates with voices and music in an exhilarating way, and we had an excellent, excellent time.

Smoked mackerel

Smoked mackerel

Grilled shrimp

Grilled shrimp

Housemade black pig saucisson and cured duck magret

Housemade black pig saucisson and cured duck magret

Black pig bouillon with foie gras

Black pig bouillon with foie gras

Housemade butter

Housemade butter

Housemade bread

Housemade bread

Eel / Trout / Beet / Horseradish @ Bones

Eel / Trout / Beet / Horseradish @ Bones

Salt cod / Asparagus / Egg

Salt cod / Asparagus / Egg

Pigeon / Salsify / Cherry from La Guinelle

Pigeon / Salsify / Cherry from La Guinelle

Gariguette strawberries / Goat's milk yogurt

Gariguette strawberries / Goat’s milk yogurt

Bones, 43 rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 75011 Paris, M° Voltaire, 09 80 75 32 08.

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2013 Omnivore Festival: Inspiration Notes

Omnivore 2013

The 2013 edition of the Omnivore Food Festival (officially called Omnivore World Tour now that it’s a traveling festival) was held at Paris’s Palais de la Mutualité last week. I spent two days out of time in a dark auditorium, watching chefs cook on stage and jotting down notes in a handwriting that looks considerably more pulled together, I’ve only recently found out, if I use felt-tip rather than ball-point pens.

Every year a few common themes or ingredients emerge, and this time we saw a lot of oysters, cabbages, onions, and vegetables cooked to the point of being charred.

Aside from the excitement of climbing into a chef’s brain, seeing him (overwhelmingly more than her, regrettably) do his thing, and listening to him talk about his craft, what I love about those sessions is being inspired by details, pairings, or techniques that I can take away and perhaps rig into my own cooking sometime.

Looking through my notes a few days later, I thought I would wring out a list of these ideas to share with you, in the hope that they may inspire you, too.

From Guillaume Foucault, formerly at L’Artémise in Uzès, soon to open Pertica in Vendôme, in the Perche region:

– A pork belly, cooked for 30 minutes in the skillet, then soaked for 1 1/2 hours at warm room temperature in nuoc mam infused with star anise, cinnamon, and clove (pictured below).

Talauma, a Vietnamese spice that you grate (a bit like nutmeg), pairs well with game meats.

– Fresh, uncooked green beans layered with coarse salt and meadowsweet flowers in a barrel and left to rest for a while. He then cuts the beans in small slices and uses them as a condiment or seasoning, especially with fresh cheese.

Omnivore 2013

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Alain Ducasse Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Paris

Mendiant chocolate bar with candied pistachios (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

Mendiant chocolate bar with candied pistachios (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

When I get into the details of the chocolate craft with people who may not have given it much thought before, one thing that always disillusions them is this: the overwhelming majority of chocolate artisans don’t actually make their own chocolate.

Indeed, making chocolate from scratch is an elaborate process that involves a whole set of specialized machines that roast, crush, sort, grind, blend, and conch, turning the fermented and dried cacao beans into what we think of as chocolate.

When you think about it, it is therefore unrealistic — and wouldn’t make either economical or environmental sense — for every single chocolatier to acquire those machines, the workshop to install them, and the know-how to operate them, and then to source his own beans and process his own chocolate.

This is why a few companies — big ones like Barry Callebaut, smaller ones like Valrhona or La Chocolaterie de l’Opéra — have devoted themselves to this first part of the process. They’re usually refered to as couverturiers: they provide couverture chocolate of varying flavor profiles, origins, cacao content, and format to chocolate artisans, who in turn melt it and use it to create their bonbons de chocolat (chocolate bites garnished with ganache or other fillings), chocolate bars, and miscellaneous chocolate confections.

I’ve always sensed that this wasn’t something chocolatiers rushed to clarify. When you discuss this aspect of their work, some get hazy on the details, not wanting to reveal which couverturiers they work with (although they’re proud to tell you where their hazelnuts and citrus come from), or get defensive, saying, “Well, you don’t expect the baker to mill his own flour, do you?”

Chocolate
“Découverte” chocolate box (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

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Where to buy organic foods in Paris

I’ve recently received requests from a couple of readers who were about to move to (or spend a little while in) Paris, and were wondering about natural and organic foods, and where to find them.

Agriculture biologique is French for organic farming, and organic goods are referred to as produits bio. Organic produce, grains, dairy, and meat are increasingly popular with French consumers, and although they still come at a higher price than conventionally grown goods, they are now more widely available than ever.

In Paris, here are the sources you can choose from:

Greenmarkets

There are three all-organic open-air greenmarkets in Paris: Batignolles (Saturday mornings on boulevard des Batignolles outside the Rome métro station in the 17th — my favorite), Raspail (Sunday mornings on boulevard Raspail, between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes in the 6th), and Brancusi (Saturday mornings on Place Constantin in the 14th).

At these you will find produce, meat, fish, cheese, bread, and various specialty stalls that may be devoted to dried fruits and nuts, rôtisserie poultry, baked goods, potted herbs, flavored salts, herbal remedies, etc.

These are not, strictly speaking, farmers markets, as they welcome both growers and retailers (and growers who complement their own offerings with produce purchased from elsewhere), so it’s worth asking for clarification if you’d rather buy your produce directly from the grower.

Prices also vary widely from stall to stall and can reach ridiculous heights, so it’s good to take a full walk around the market and compare prices, and to have about you a general sense of how much you’re willing to pay for your multicolored radishes and your goat cheese faisselle.

Beyond the organic nature of the produce, the secondary benefit of these markets is that they’re great places to discover unusual varieties of herbs, fruits, and vegetables that you would never find in conventional stores.

Note that other, conventional greenmarkets (see full list) are likely to have one or two vendors selling organic produce.

Batignolles organic greenmarket

Organic grocery stores

Several chains of organic grocery stores are represented in Paris, with locations sprinkled throughout the city: Naturalia (owned by the Monoprix group), Biocoop (my favorite, I just wish there was a location closer to me), Bio c’ Bon (a newish and promising chain despite the ridiculous name), Les Nouveaux Robinsons (who recently opened their first Paris location and acquired the Bio Génération chain), and La Vie Claire.

In them you will find everything from fresh and packaged foods, to cleaning supplies, to beauty products. They will be your best shot if you’re trying to find alternative flours and sweeteners, unrefined sugars, whole grains, legumes, nuts, oils, non-dairy milks, soy products, gluten-free ingredients, and anything remotely granola.

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