Paris

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).

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 food in Paris

Dada Biocoop on rue de Paradis in the 10th

I’ve recently received requests from a couple of readers who were about to move to (or spend a little while in) my fair city, and were wondering about natural and organic food in Paris, 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:

Batignolles organic greenmarket

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12 Hours in Paris

Three and a half years ago, I followed my friend Adam’s lead and imagined what I would do if I was given just Twelve Hours in Paris.

I still stand by the choices I made then. But, prompted by reader Patricia’s recent comment on that post, I thought it would be fun to revisit that theme now, and dream up another ideal Parisian day, featuring shops and restaurants that have opened in the meantime.

My twelve hours in Paris, 2012 edition, will begin in late morning with a croissant from Gontran Cherrier’s bakery, which I think is one of the best in Paris, extra flaky and extra good. I will also buy a half loaf of his rye and red miso bread, so good I won’t mind schlepping it around with me all day.

I will then spend a couple of leisurely hours walking up and around the Montmartre hill, which remains full of secrets even when you’ve lived in the neighborhood for many years. I will climb up staircases and down cobblestoned streets, check out the vineyard, peek into courtyards (and tiptoe in for a closer look if the gate happened to be open), and enjoy the village-y quiet and the greenery.

Hopping onto the metro or catching a Vélib’, I will go and have lunch at Bob’s Kitchen, the vegetarian restaurant where I cooked for a short while last year. I will order the day’s veggie stew, the satisfying mix of grains, legumes, roasted vegetables, and crudités I lunched on day in, day out during my stint there. I might also get one of their irresistible maki (garnished with avocado, mango, and daikon radish) to share.

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Omnivore World Tour in Paris

Omnivore World Tour

The Omnivore World Tour — formerly known as the Omnivore Food Festival — is an inspiring event during which an audience of pros and enthusiasts watch live demos by up-and-coming chefs.

The French edition will be held in Paris (rather than Deauville*) this year, from Sunday, March 11 to Tuesday, March 13, and I will be hosting the chocolate masterclasses, a series of chocolate-centric demos and discussions with pastry chefs and chocolatiers.

If you’d like to join in the fun, the tickets are available for purchase online. I hope to meet some of you there!

* See my post about the chicken in a bread crust to read about my experience last year.

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