Shops & Markets

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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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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Twelve Hours in Paris

Café chair

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 — except for the Caramella gelato shop, now sadly defunct. 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, would begin in late morning with a croissant from Gontran Cherrier’s bakery: he makes it with feuilletage inversé, the puff pastry that’s typically used for millefeuilles (napoleons), and it is extra flaky and extra good. I would also buy a half loaf of his rye and red miso bread, if I didn’t mind schlepping it around with me all day.

I would 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 (gasp!) nine years. I would 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 would go and have lunch at Bob’s Kitchen, the vegetarian restaurant where I cooked for a short while last year. I would 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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Gontran Cherrier’s Rye and Red Miso Bread

My biggest heartache as a temporarily nomadic cook, traveling from kitchen to kitchen while my own is being renovated, is that I’ve had to put my bread baking aspirations on hiatus.

I’d been baking a weekly loaf of pain au levain since I first got my sourdough starter two years ago, so not being able to do so leaves a gaping hole in my routine.

And while my starter Philémon marks the days on the wall inside the fridge (poor thing), I’ve had to go back to bakery-bought bread.

The flavor of this bread is unlike any rye bread I’ve ever had, thanks to the the genius pairing of the malty aromas of rye with the umami sweetness of red miso.

You might think that would be bliss, living in Paris and in an arrondissement where bakers win more awards than in any other. But the truth is I’m quite particular about my bread, and we’ve suffered through a few disappointing loaves, including a rapidly staling Paume that had evidently not been baked on the day I bought it.

Fortunately, our friend Gontran Cherrier, whom we’ve known for a few years, had the brilliant idea of opening his bakery right in our neighborhood last December, and his breads have shed a much happier light on our breakfast tartines.

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