22.9.14

Relais Desserts 2014: Bûches de Noël Preview

Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel

Nearly thirty of France's top pastry chefs and twenty-six Bûches de Noël make for one indulgent afternoon well spent. As an insatiable gourmande, I jump at the chance to meet and speak with pastry chefs so you can imagine my excitement when the country's top talents are together in one room.

My blogging pal Carol Gillott kindly invited me along to one such opportunity a couple of weeks ago at the Relais Desserts 2014 Prix d'Excellence, held at the luxuriant Peninsula Paris Hotel, which awards the industry's best pastry chef, best rising-star pastry chef, best pastry book and best pastry blog. And preceding this prestigious ceremony was a presentation of the Relais Desserts members' Bûche de Noël creations for the forthcoming holiday season, each more aesthetic than the next.

Among my favorites was the polar bear (below) from Frédéric Cassel, Relais Desserts president and award-winning pâtissier with namesake boutiques in Fontainebleau, Tokyo, Kyoto, Berlin and Casablanca. Unlike the other yule logs presented, Cassel's was an ice cream cake, composed of a hazelnut crumble, soft caramel and two ice creams: vanilla caramelized pecan and salted butter caramel. A rich-sounding capstone to what is likely to be an already heavy Christmas feast, to be sure, but I was pleasantly surprised by its lightness upon first bite - refreshing with dialed back sweetness. When asked about the form - which he called 'Ourson de Noël', Cassel smiled widely and replied "it's for all kids, big and small. How can you not feel happy when you see it?".

For a sneak peak of some of the other creations, check out a few additional photos below and others on Carol's blog here. (ps. two big wins of the evening: Pierre Hermé took home best pastry book of the year for 'Ispahan' and Claire Heitzler, head pastry chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Lasserre, won best pastry chef of the year!)
  Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de NoelRelais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 - Chocolate Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 Cakes
Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts

15.9.14

New Paris Restaurant: Porte 12


Before September even began, reports of new openings on the Paris dining scene began trickling in, creating an almost unbearable anticipation. But the spot I was most excited to try was Porte 12, a new 32-seat neo-bistrot in the 10th arrondissement just a few blocks over from other standouts in the category - Albion, Abri, Le Richer and L'Office.

Chef Vincent Crepel presides over the narrow open kitchen where he inventively plays up seasonal produce in a style greatly informed both by his travels through Asia and Europe and his experience under the tutelage of venerated chef André Chiang whose eponymous restaurant in Singapore was ranked 6th best in Asia for 2014. Chiang's cooking is anchored in French technique and hinges on a number of tenets - Unique, Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Salt, South, and Artisan - many of which have followed Vincent into his own kitchen.

Tucked into a quiet pocket off the rue Faubourg Poissonnière, the space itself is discreet, subdued in style but with a few design statements that instantly catch your attention, chief among them the corset-shaped light fixtures that recall the structure's former incarnation as a textile and lingerie atelier. This pared down focus translates to the plate where the chef avoids pomp and highlights simplicity in aesthetic. His strength, however, is in the complex marriage of unexpected flavors and a profound respect and command of the local terroir.

I had an opportunity to try Crepel's multi-course meal last week prior to the official opening Tuesday September 16th, my first introduction to his cooking and vision. Each dish was more creative and thoughtful than the next but the meal truly reached a crescendo with a short rib cooked sous vide for 24 hours at 56°c, wonderfully tender and covered in a thin veil of bamboo ash and black tea. No detail of the experience was left unconsidered, right down to the coffee which, thankfully, required more thought than a simple push of a button, and had its own story.

I highly recommend the wine pairing for a complete experience- you'll be in knowledgeable hands with the sommelier Thibault Passinge who showcases artisanal wine producers. Alternatively, reserve time at the end of lunch or dinner for a postprandial drink in the mezzanine lounge.

Porte 12 officially opens its doors tomorrow, make a reservation now!

Lunch: two courses at 28€, three courses at 35€
Dinner: Five courses at 58€, six courses at 65€
Wine pairing option: 30-35€

Porte 12
12 rue des Messageries, 75010 
Métro: Poissonnière (line 7) 
+33 (0)1 42 46 22 64
reservation@porte12.com

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts

7.9.14

Paris Restaurant Report: Café des Abattoirs

As vegetable-driven menus and Anglo-inspired comfort food predominate the Paris dining scene, the future of classic, meat-focused restaurants is ever uncertain. When food trends become inextricably and narrowly tied to how young and innovative the presiding chef is, do classic grills and brasseries still have a place among the rest?

Caroline and Sophie Rostang, daughters of the Michelin-starred chef Michel Rostang, offer a resounding YES! to that ever-abiding question. And because they believe so strongly that steakhouses old and new should and can be preserved in the pantheon of French dining establishments, they opened their own. Cafédes Abattoirs is the Rostang update of a Lyonnaise bouchon with a menu dominated by little-known/forgotten cuts of meat and old school dishes. 

When I asked Caroline Rostang about the decision to create such a venture when what diners appear to seek out these days are lighter, healthier fare, she explained that they don't need to rely on culinary trends to stay relevant. "Meat has always been a fixture of French gastronomy and is still loved, despite periods of unpopularity. We wanted to give it the attention it deserves". 

Can you really argue with that? For more on Café des Abattoirs and what you can expect when you go, check out my full review for New York Times Travel! 

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts

2.9.14

Tous à Table Festival: Cuisine for a Cause

Tous à Table Food Festival

There are a number of attributes that make Paris a fine place to call home (or visit) but chief among them is the food and most of us (locals, bloggers, press....) spend a whole lot of time indulging in it, writing about it and even debating it. I would wager that 60% of my meals are consumed outside of the home, an investment that my husband and I balance out by holding onto our smallapartment. It is not just a life choice that allows us to do so but good fortune, to be sure.

Yet for many, dining out (and Gastronomy-with-a-capital-G) is an empty abstraction, prohibitively expensive and a glaring reminder of the disparity between the haves and the have nots. It matters little that the culinary arts are deeply embedded in the French cultural fiber when eating well - which today equates to eating fresh and predominantly local - requires increasingly deep pockets. But eating well should not be predicated on economic demographics or social capital and won't be if Flavio Nervegna has anything to say about it.

Tous à Table Food FestivalNervegna is the president of Tous à Table, an organization that strives to democratize le bien manger by making culinary experiences accessible to underprivileged or mentally precarious individuals. The concept also brings together people from diverse backgrounds and establishes a link between them through food- the flavors, the sensations, the discovery - for a symbolic contribution.

Last weekend, I had the chance to see the project in action at the first Tous à Table food festival, which was held at the recently refurbished Carreau du Temple. In collaboration with the Observatoire du Pain, whose abiding mission is to promote bread in France as a cultural pillar that bridges generations, the event united some of the food scene's most venerated talents to prepare recipes for the morning pastry brunch, early evening cocktail and special dinner open to all.

I attended the pastry brunch and found myself discussing the merits of Cyril Lignac's éclair selection (photo evidence below) with a young boy seated next to me (who had never tried anything like it before), swapping verdicts of Benoit Castel's Tarte à la Crème with his mother and crowing about Jacques Genin's vanilla cream puffs with nearby volunteers. But even more satisfying than the pastries themselves was witnessing the joy they conferred for guests of all ages.

The festival was only a taste of what lays ahead for Tous à Table and that's a future to get excited about. Scroll below for a few tasty highlights.

Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival
Tous à Table Food Festival

What do you think of the idea? 
To learn more about the Tous à Table organization, visit www.tousatable.com

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts

22.8.14

Franco File Friday: Janice MacLeod, author of 'Paris Letters'

How much money does it take to quit your job and move abroad? That was the abiding question author Janice MacLeod asked herself for over a year when confronted with the stasis and routine of her life working in advertising in Los Angeles. It was also one of the key elements to her personal journey to Paris in her memoirs 'Paris Letters', published earlier this year. What I loved about her story is that it's so universally relatable - who hasn't been in a position to question their life setup? Burdened by an accumulation of material possessions and a stifled imagination, it's easy to see how a bonfired past and a fresh start could be an attractive prospect. Even more so when that fresh start involves new environs, new faces, new encounters.

For Janice, her new beginning in Paris led to the birth of new creative pursuits and a multi-cultural love story the likes of which she could never have anticipated. For the details of her life reboot, you'll have to pick up her book. Until then, learn a little more about Janice below!

Describe what you love about France in three words. 
Charm. History. Artists.

What tactics helped you adjust to your new home (and the administrative hurdles and everyday unfamiliarity)? 
Saying Bonjour every morning to all the market people who met my gaze on my street, rue Mouffetard. I felt like Belle at the beginning of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, singing Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour to everyone. It helped me immediately feel like I lived in Paris rather than feeling like an outsider. I repeated this every evening with Bonsoir, Bonsoir, Bonsoir. Once they accept you as their neighbor they can be the most lovely, funny and helpful people. 
Where did you go when you were writing the book to kickstart creative momentum? 
First, when in the throws of the big writing of the book, I would go for a run each day in Jardin des Plantes. I would always come up with a way to move the story along, to piece together two themes or solve a tricky transition. Then I would return home, get ready and go to one of these cafés depending on the season and chair availability:

// TournBride at 104 rue Mouffetard. The terrasse is a perfect perch for people watching when the weather is warm.

// Café Saint Medard at 53 Rue Censier. The gurgling fountain outside creates the perfect ambient background for writing. 

// Le Comptoir Des Arts at the Censier Daubenton métro. I'd go here when the mornings were cold. The windowed wall along the street acted as a greenhouse inside and kept me toasty. Great for cool winter days. 

Angelina's Hot Chocolate

Favorite place to bring out-of-town guests? 
I get an Angelina hot chocolate to go and we walk across the street to the park and sip it by the carousel. The hot chocolate is cheaper when you get it to go, plus you get an old fashion carousel to watch. It's the epitome of charm and takes guests back in time to their own childhoods. Also, I always work in a boat ride, preferably on their final evening in Paris. It's a great way to end their vacation on a high note. 

Your most amusing or frustrating memory with the French?
Almost all of my frustrating moments with the French happen at the post office (La Poste). I recently needed an international stamp to send a letter. They gave me their world famous shrug and said they had run out and I was out of luck. Try back next week. I explained in very slow and articulate French that I found it impossible to imagine that anyone wanting to send a letter outside of France was out of luck for a week. Three of them conferred. They finally returned with audible sighs and said there was another stamp available but unfortunately it would cost two cents more. I'll take it. Gawd! Common sense isn't always so common at La Poste. They aren't so lovely, funny or helpful no matter how many times I say Bonjour.

-- GIVEAWAY: WIN YOUR OWN PERSONALIZED PARIS LETTER! -- 
To be entered to win a personalized Paris letter from Janice,  leave a comment sharing what you would do with your life if you started over.

Entries close August 28th. A winner will be selected at random on Friday, August 29 and notified in the comments section. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to Jenna Francisco! You'll receive your Paris Letter very soon.

Lost In Cheeseland | Franco File Friday posts

13.8.14

Eating, Drinking & Seeing in Paris (and beyond): 5 Favorites in June & July

Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening)

The first half of summer whipped by with such breakneck speeds that I hardly had a moment to process it all and stay on top of my monthly highlights. Proof of time well spent, no? Below, five highlights from the last two months:

Taking my family to my favorite spots in Paris
Based on discussions with my father before his arrival last month, I was uncertain I'd get to adequately introduce him to the local dining and drinking spots I frequent the most - Fondation Café, Verjus, Willi's Wine Bar, to name a few. All would depend on my little brother's willingness to soldier through action-packed afternoons, museum visits and miles of walking. Setting low expectations in that regard proved to be the right move as I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up being able to show them. And of course, those experiences bore a few lessons. Check those out here!

Hotel Rural Biniarroca, Menorca

Discovering Menorca (aka my future retirement home)
The trouble with vacation is that shortly after it ends and you've returned to a normal routine, the experience feels like an evanescent memory. Fortunately, I have more than Menorca's unspoiled beaches to keep our trip last month front of mind. My friend Will Taylor, whose nuptials we attended, has posted several updates from his wedding weekend that should offer a crisp sense of place.

Part 1: Nautical-chic rehearsal dinner
Part 2: Wedding morning beach trip 
Part 3: The wedding! 

For non-wedding highlights, check out a few of my photos from our trip HERE.


Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening) Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening)

Getting a sneak peek at the Peninsula Paris Hotel before it opened
Paris has no shortage of grand playgrounds for the ultra well-heeled traveler - the Plaza Athenée, the Ritz (still under renovation), Le Bristol, the Mandarin Oriental, etc. - but luxurious lodging has some new competition with the arrival of The Peninsula Paris, the group's 10th hotel and first European outpost. Twenty years in the making, the overhaul of this Haussmannian building on Avenue Kleber is as storied as the structure itself.

As Hotel Majestic, it played host to literary greats and artists like James Joyce, Marcel Proust (who had their first and only meeting here) and George Gershwin whose "An American in Paris" came to life while as a guest in one of the hotel's suites. Once sold to the French government in 1936, the space assumed more political leanings, first as the headquarters to UNESCO, then as the International Conference Center for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Henry Kissinger led peace talks with the North Vietnamese from the ballroom and signed the peace treaty to end the war four years later, in a room that has been repurposed as a bar.

Given the enormity of the space and the historic elements to be preserved, the redesign required an all-star team of artisans, many of whom were accustomed to working on fastidious restorations at the Louvre and Versailles. The investment has truly revived this grand dame to sumptuous effect and while a stay may be hors-budget (nearly $1,000/night to start), most of us can splurge for a cocktail on the rooftop terrace attached to the L'Oiseau Blanc restaurant or a digestif and cigar in the Kleber Lounge. Whatever your tipple of choice, drop by to see the Peninsula's magnificence up close.


Lunching at Bistro Urbain
When I arrived in Paris eight years ago, menu items like Caesar salads, cheeseburgers and cheesecake were not only scarce but unwelcome food additions to the culinary scene. The French had little to learn from Americans about food (or so they thoughts) and strongly resisted what they perceived to be the wayward effects of globalization. But locals were evidently ready for some outside flavor and rushed to try the new and novel. With this rise in international influence, however, came a remarkable downturn in the traditional bistro model. Classic dishes were supplanted by trendy (and to some, mediocre) comfort fare, the chalkboard wall menu replaced by shock white metro tiles and the experience altogether changed.

Many have clamored for a sort of bistro revival,  Alec Lobrano chief among them, and seek out the spots that buck the trends to focus on simple, high-quality French dishes in an environment that channels the past without being bound to it. Bistrot Urbain - Urbain for the owner's last name - is one such place inspired the bistro greats of yesteryear and offers an ever-so-slightly modern update. I had a fantastic lunch, beginning with a fresh heirloom tomato salad, followed by a perfectly-cooked codfish filet and a mixed cheese platter for dessert. The menu rotates regularly but you can count on a short but balanced offering, worthy of the bistro label.

Also check out their sandwich shop a few blocks over, Comptoir Urbain.

Fauchon Fruit Fiction, 2014

Indulging in Fauchon's Fruit Fiction Collection 
Like fashion, French pastry evolves in seasonal collections. Typically this translates to a few new flavors added to the menu or limited edition recipes that follow a theme or inspired by pop culture. Available through September 3rd, Fauchon's latest collection Fruit Fiction marries seasonal fruits and vegetables in an array of goodies from macarons (think: blackcurrant, apricot-lemon, chocolate passionfruit) and tea to jam and éclairs (specifically, raspberry-avocado). Pillowy soft and flavorful, the dozen I picked up vanished within minutes of serving them for friends. The jam, on the other hand, has been gussying up my breakfast every since I picked up a jar. See the collection (and its amusing marketing material resembling a galaxy of flying pastry) and visit their Madeleine boutique on your next visit.

What have been the highlights of your summer? 


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