(VIDEO) Inside the Alain Ducasse Paris Chocolate Factory: La Manufacture

Alain Ducasse is often called the Godfather of French cuisine and for good reason. The multi Michelin-starred chef has opened restaurants across the globe, run a well-liked cooking school in Paris, authored several cookbooks and become a brand unto himself in his illustrious 25+ year career. That he has moved on to open Paris's first bean to bar chocolate manufacture speaks to his unflagging ambition and ever-widening reach.

While Paris has no shortage of renowned chocolatiers, none produce their chocolate from scratch given the complexity of the process which requires expensive, highly specialized machines and the savoir-faire to operate them. And that's saying nothing of the keen sense for sourcing the beans which is equally as important.

The idea for the venture emerged from a conversation with Ducasse's head corporate pastry chef, Nicolas Berger. Unwilling to settle for yet another chocolate shop in a saturated market, he insisted on working with Berger from the very beginning, to focus on releasing the distinct nuances of each bean to produce an intense product that speaks to the most discerning of chocolate lovers.

If you can't make it to Paris anytime soon to visit La Manufacture, take a look at the video below* for an enchanting glimpse into the savoir-faire of Ducasse's modern-day chocolate factory. 

*If reading this in your email, click to be taken to the web version and watch the video. 

Chocolat Alain Ducasse
La Manufacture
40 rue de la Roquette, 75011 

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Eating, Drinking & Seeing: 5 Favorites in November

November always feels like a test of patience. Thanksgiving steals the spotlight every year and the days leading up to this big feast feel like filler, distraction from the turkey countdown. This time, however, the days were swift and sweet. Here are the highlights in the run up to the big, indulgent holiday:

Hosting Fathom's First Paris InstaMeet 
Fathom is one of my favorite collaborative travel websites (I've previously contributed Paris content here and here) so naturally I was honored when they reached out to me with the proposal to co-host their first Paris Instameet with Rome-based writer Erica Firpo- essentially a get together among active Instagrammers in the city.

Get the lowdown on the Paris Instameet HERE and see Fathom's gallery of photo highlights HERE.

Warming up with cortados at Cream 
Two former Ten Belles baristas ventured out on their own to open CREAM this month, a new coffee bar in the Belleville neighborhood that serves excellent pour-overs, sandwiches and a short but sharp selection of cakes. Given their location and history working under the tutelage of Ten Belles lead Thomas Lehoux, it's of little surprise that Joe and Maxime roast Belleville Brûlerie beans exclusively.

50 rue de Belleville
75020, Paris

Catching sunshine in Monaco 
For five days, I got to experience Monaco's royal and somewhat cinematic exuberance. Despite being there strictly for work with virtually no time for play, it was nonetheless refreshing to be close to water and wake up to the unusually warm late November temperatures (think: no coats or scarves and toes submerged in the sand). Given the purpose of my trip, I didn't get to scope anything out that I can truly recommend (save for a decent seaside lunch spot I tried called La Note Bleue) but you can check out Prêt à Voyager's guide for Fathom for tips. 

Tea time at Sébastian Gaudard's new pâtisserie & tea salon 
The last time I saw pastry chef Sébastian Gaudard up close was in 2012 when I went into the kitchen of his rue des Martyrs shop as he walked me and a group of other writers through his Bûche de Noël preparation (recap of that HERE) but our paths crossed again in November at his freshly-opened 1st arrondissement pâtisserie and tea salon. Old-timey candies and pastries await on the ground level but be sure to get comfortable on the upper level with one of his signature teas and a Religieuse.

1 rue des Pyramides
75001 Paris

Thankful for Expat Thanksgivings
Growing up, Thanksgiving was anything but traditional in my house. We went out to dinner while my friends gathered tightly around a lavishly dressed table. It wasn't until I had lived in France for a few years that I established my own tradition, one that would resemble  the type of warm gathering I wanted as a kid. This year was about shared expat connection and saw Swedes, Danes, Americans, French and Australians coming together to celebrate a 22-pound turkey and bafflingly good side dishes. There were hugs, Christmas sweaters, cranberry champagne cocktails and a whole gaggle of thankful friends. It took time to develop these connections and institutionalize the tradition of Thanksgiving Paris-style but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

And for some related reading, check out my essay on food and gathering for Medium!

What were your travel highlights this month? 


Autumn in Paris

Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens

Before we can hold forth about nothing other than bitter temperatures and somber skies, let's celebrate the balmy autumn we've had in Paris this season with a few photos: 

Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens
Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens Paris in Autumn: Place de la Concorde Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens Paris in Autumn: banks of the Seine

How has the season been where you live?
More highlights on Instagram: www.instagram.com/LostNCheeseland


Franco File Friday: David Santori of Frenchie and the Yankee

This is my last Franco File Friday installment of the year and it's a chat with someone I appreciate tremendously, as much for our aligning passions - food, travel and photography - as for our curiously similar paths. 

Like me, David Santori, creator of the blog Frenchie and the Yankee, also left his home to study abroad after falling in love with a foreigner and never left. The primary difference in our stories is that David is French and left Paris to study in Milwaukee, quickly adapting to life in the States with his American chéri. That was in 1999. This year, we both celebrated newfound dual-citizenship within only two months of one another, a step that further anchored us into life away from our origins.  

With indefatigable fervor, we live and breathe our adopted homes and catch up twice a year on his trips back to France to visit family, discussing at length how our chosen environments have deeply informed our identities and swapping expat stories. Given how much we have in common and how grand a time we have when we're together, two times a year is just not frequent enough. For the moment, Charlotte, NC is home base for David but I'm optimistic our journeys will connect in one place down the road. Il faut! 
Get to know my favorite stateside Frenchie below:

Describe what you love about France in three words.
C’est. Chez. Moi.

The most striking difference between life in America and life in France?
Difference… singular! Oh, there are so many! Putting politics or other touchy topics aside, I could go on for days about forks vs. spoons for dessert, how to properly cut a piece of cheese, cheese before or after the meal, plain white or fun colorful socks etc.

So picking one difference only, Americans are a lot more willing to try new things compared to the French. The French tend to enjoy being set in their ways and love their traditions along with their contradictions. Realizing this has taught me tremendously. I still smile when my oui-mais-non personality takes over – quintessentially French.

Speaking about trying new things, a big difference in my opinion is that you will find a lot of new combinations and unexpected pairing of flavors or ingredients in restaurants in the U.S. compared to France although I have been surprised during my recent trip to observe a tiny glimpse of readiness to get out of the rigid French food constraints – like foie gras with a light sprinkle of satay or langostino served with a curried guacamole on a gingerbread loaf at L’Alchimie (34 rue Letellier, Paris 15). It’s different and refreshing to read on a menu.

Having said that Americans still have much to learn when it comes to savoring meals and what we call les arts de la table. Experiencing food and everything that comes with it is still a concept to improve on this side of the pond. And for many of them, the simple idea of gathering around a table with friends, family, good food, wine, well-presented dishes and a properly dressed table continues to be perceived as chic and over-the-top. I tell them oh là là, it does not have to be! You can make it really casual. It just needs to be tasteful – in every sense of the word.

Something the French just simply do better?
So this is going to sound really cliché… bread and pastries. When I move to a new city, my first call to action is to find 1. a cheese shop where I can find artisanal or imported cheeses not already wrapped in plastic or looking like they were made out of wax 2. where the crusty breads and flaky croissants are hiding. The bread and croissants are the tough part because there are lovely cheeses in the U.S., and if you live somewhere big enough, you can find rare imported cheeses.

And after experiencing many margarine-based and brioche-like croissants, soggy, tough, hard, chewy, overly sweetened, or crustless breads and baguettes, it makes me appreciate going home to Paris and walking in a boulangerie for a croissant au beurre or a pain de campagne.

First place you go once you've dropped off your bags in Paris?
 Since I am always famished when I arrive in Paris – I just say non to airline pizza breakfasts – once I get home, drop my bags, say hi to everyone, get kidnapped in conversations by my family, freshen up, and find my dark Parisian scarf, it’s time for lunch. And the first place I want to go to is a Chinese restaurant. Quelle surprise !

The quality of Chinese dishes in France is something else. When my American friends tell me they are going to France I make sure to tell them that they have to try Chinese food during their stay one way or another. Especially if they’ve never experienced it in a bigger city in the U.S. It’s a must have for me.

You should have seen my face the first time I ever looked at a menu in a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. and then saw what was served on the plates. And since I hadn’t moved to San Francisco or New York City where authentic Asian food abounds, the experience wasn’t as thrilling as I had expected with 20 years of Chinese food experience behind me in Paris.

A bowl of riz cantonais and some tasty nems with all the accoutrements and I am a happy Parisian again. Chinese food is actually a family affair. I don’t recall a birthday, and sometimes Christmas, not celebrated at Tricotin (15 avenue de Choisy, Paris 13) when my grandfather was alive. He was very good friends with the owners in the 1980s and 1990s and there was generally an open table for my entire family.

The most amusing or frustrating interaction with Americans who learn you're French?
Well, they never think I’m French to begin with because of my American accent. One day, someone told me that I dress very elegantly and European-like for an American my age – whatever that meant.
The frustrating part is when people assume that I know all of France because I’m from there. There are millions of places I have yet to visit and discover in France but when they talk to me about their French trip in different parts of the country they assume that I know what they are talking about or that I have been there. I see a certain disappointment in their eyes. And it is a fact that I have travelled more in the U.S. than France having left at age 20.

I would say the amusing part is to see their expression and faces when they find out I am really French. “Born and raised? You must have American parents.” It’s quite funny and it happens almost every single time I meet a stranger unless I’ve had too much vin rouge in which case my French accent resurfaces – but that’s another topic of its own.

For more from David, follow him online! 
His blog: www.frenchieandtheyankee.com
On Instagram: www.instagram.com/FrenchieYankee
On Twitter: www.twitter.com/FrenchieYankee

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Eating, Drinking & Seeing in Paris: 5 favorites in October

Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens

I may already be gearing up for another expat Thanksgiving and mapping out my itinerary for a trip stateside in December but October is still on my mind. Though there were moments of frenetic activity, the opportunities for work and play made it a truly unforgettable month. Here are five highlights:

Meeting Frank Gehry at the Fondation Louis Vuitton 
After working on a story on Bordeaux for Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine, my editor offered me the opportunity to cover something far more timely.

The highly anticipated Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne is a veritable work of art inside and out thanks largely to the creative acumen of its architect, Frank Gehry. I'm not an acolyte of contemporary art but I do follow developments in French culture that propel the country forward, this cultural hub included. Gourmet Traveller sent me to the pre-opening where I had the chance to ask one of my many questions to Frank Gehry directly during the interview session. In fact, I was seated only a few feet from him, acutely aware of how much this moment meant to both many of the writers in the room and those who share Gehry's love for France.

To read my piece, check out the December issue of the magazine!

Lunch at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis
Charles Compagnon is one of my favorite restaurateurs in Paris right now. As evidenced by the success of Le Richer and L'Office, his neo-bistrot hot spots within a few meters of one another in the 10th arrondissement, he has a firm grasp on what casual dining should be about: accessible prices, seasonal dishes free of pretension but high on technique and an environment that is welcoming. Now that experience extends a few blocks away at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis where I lunched earlier in the month. The menu was in the same spirit as Le Richer - fresh, flavorful, creative - but the dining room more spacious and breathable.

For photos of Le Richer to give you a feel for what you might expect over at 52, check out David Lebovitz's latest post HERE.

Tea time with Christophe Michalak's Religieuse at the Plaza Athénée 
I may not be able to offer myself many (or any, let's be realistic) nights in Palace Hotels, but I can splurge a bit on cake and a moment of luxury. In the re-opened Galerie tea room and lounge, I tucked into pastry chef Christophe Michalak's signature (and sinful) treat: a salted caramel Religieuse. Ordinarily I find myself gravitating more toward fruit and chocolate-based desserts but this fell within the spectrum of 'perfectly sweet' without slipping into cloying territory.

Halloween Pumpkin cream puffs, Gâteaux Thoumieux

Pumpkin cream puffs for Halloween at Gâteaux Thoumieux 
Paris doesn't DO Halloween. Locals have a passing knowledge of the festivities but ask them when it falls and you'll hear crickets. While you won't find supermarket shelves brimming with Halloween-specific candy or decorations, some attempts have been made to integrate subtle nods to its auxiliary autumn symbols into local culture.

One strong initiative I was most pleased with was the limited edition pumpkin pastries at Gâteaux Thoumieux, Michelin-starred chef Jean-François Piege's 7th arrondissement pâtisserie. He and his head chef Ludovic Chaussard didn't just fashion their cream puffs to look like pumpkins (that would be far too elemental), they crafted a sophisticated treat that also tasted like Halloween - a touch of buttery cinnamon spice from the Speculoos cream filling and a pure pumpkin center. With a decidedly Parisian twist,  this was the perfect way to satisfy my Halloween nostalgia.

(If you visit the shop, try the tarte au citron). 

Paris in Autumn: banks of the Seine

A weekend reconnecting with an old friend 
My friend Sally and I used to have sleepovers, go on vacation together and gossip about our classmates for the better part of our childhoods and then college came and threw off our groove. We drifted and fell completely out of contact until reconnecting last year when she came to Paris for a weekend with a friend. As the only one she knew in Paris, it was a chance to see if the friendship flames could be rekindled. We had such a ball that she came back again this year over Halloween weekend to walk (and eat) the city on what turned out to be the balmiest October weekend on record. What I realized after she left was that Paris has often served as the backdrop to reunions of many kinds. A geographical blessing.

For shots of Paris in gorgeous autumnal colors, check out my Flickr photos HERE. How was your month?


5 Reasons to Love Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse, Miroir d'Eau

There are countless reasons to love Bordeaux - its languid pace, balmy climate, 290,000 some acres of vineyards and its storied architecture. But what's most interesting about the wine capital today is less the ways in which the past is being preserved and rather how the city is defining its future, driven to earn the spotlight as a cultural fixture among leading European capitals. 

In the years following Mayor Alain Juppé's venerated urban regeneration project, which effectively revived a lifeless, soot encrusted town from irrelevancy, Bordeaux has been gestating ambitious plans for continued cultural improvements. 

In 2015, the region will inaugurate a striking new multifunction stadium (the largest on the French Atlantic coast) for sporting events and concerts, a space already set to host the EURO 2016 (European Football Championship). In 2016, their Center for Wine and Civilization will open to honor its century-long tradition of winemaking and 2017 will mark the completion of the TGV high-speed train line, putting Bordeaux only two hours from Paris. And that's saying nothing of the expanding dining and artistic class. 

Last summer was my first introduction to the city and we returned for a long weekend in early September to explore what we missed the first time around, including the obligatory vineyards. We returned to Paris even more smitten with Bordeaux than before and with an updated life plan that includes, down the road a few years, a relocation. Here are a few reasons why:

Bordeaux V3 Bike-Share System

1// The Pace
Bordeaux doesn't have a truly southern pace but the vibe is decidedly more relaxed than in Paris where locals are perpetually agitated and over-hurried. Bordeaux's speed is aided largely by an emphasis on reducing dependence on cars and their attendant disruptions.

As one of Europe's most bike-friendly cities, cycling is widespread as a primary means of transportation. Those who don't bike, walk or use the city's electric tramway. It's all very appealing and certainly pried loose a latent desire for a change of rhythm.

Bordeaux Sunrise in Bordeaux

2// The Architecture 
As beings on the perpetual path to personal distinction and singularity, uniformity is the antithesis to self-achievement (fashion trends come in to complicate this but let's roll with it). Ordinarily I would agree that sameness is dreadfully dull - after all, life in Paris is cosmopolitan, cultural differences legion. But from an architectural perspective, my feelings err toward harmony and consistency. When stainless steel and glass behemoths that lord over the population are lauded in modern, urban architecture, a more vintage interpretation does hold value.

In Bordeaux, that is especially true. The former Sleeping Beauty city underwent a laser scrubbing some years back as part of the mayor's urban refurbishment efforts and revealed 18th century limestone façades fit once again for marveling. They're low-lying (by law, new construction must respect strict height regulations), never obstructing the view, and punctuated by medieval vestiges which are equally as enchanting - one of the oldest belfries in France, the 13th century Grosse Cloche bookends the ancient city centre on one side, the Place des Quinconces on the other.

Most of the newer constructions are emerging on the other side of the river, lending a harmonious balance. For a glimpse at what is to come, check out this recent article in Wallpaper Magazine.

Saint-Emilion, France

3// The proximity to nature 
The city's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is a boon for its winemaking, to be sure, but it's also an appealing attribute for those happiest with a blend of big-city zeal and country calm. The Arcachon Bay, with its beaches, pine forests and tallest sand dune in Europe (La Dune du Pilat) is less than an hour by car. The 8th century village (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) Saint-Emilion and its 5,500 hectares of vineyards are within a 30 minute drive and Barcelona is a mere 1-hour flight.

4// The beating heart of winemaking 
Grapes at Château Figeac
Château des Laudes, Saint-Emilion

With some 8,000 wine producers, the region's rich tradition in winemaking attracts 5 million visitors a year and is climbing rapidly. Chinese youth intrigued by the wine trade are flocking to Bordeaux to learn, then stick around after their studies to guide Château owners with the daunting task of selling to deep-pocketed Chinese wine aficionados. It's lucrative business that solidifies Bordeaux and its wine region as the world's oenological hub.

We visited the very successful Château Figeac, among the top 15 of the 8,000 producers in the region and ranked the 1er grand cru, toured the grounds, compared their wines from three different years and learned about what makes their vineyard so unique (you'll have to visit to find out!). Having gone into the experience with nary a passing knowledge of reds or how to articulate their distinct flavors, the visit made clear why so many people around the world construct careers and passion around Bordeaux wines. But our second Château visit of the day made a much different impression.

Château des Laudes, Saint-Emilion

A moment I'll never forget from my visit to the Château des Laudes in Saint-Emilion was an exchange during the tasting. Owner Christian Gombaud, an older gentleman with a messy shock of gray hair and a cheeky sense of humor, schooled us on the right ways to taste wine (evidently, entire sets of the wine-drinking population have been doing it wrong for ages, including at nearby Châteaux). First, you must smell the wine within the 6-7 seconds that follow the pour, a golden window of opportunity before serving. Then, briskly swirl the wine for a solid 20 seconds to aerate before smelling again and taking the first sip. Before the second, a 10 second swirl and sniff. The difference in taste and aroma, he promised, would be remarkable. He was right.

He continued with his instruction by advising that any wine not for drinking yet (matured) be decanted one hour prior to consuming. Pour into the decanter, put on the top, shake for a few seconds and let settle. After 30 minutes, remove the top and let in air until serving.

All these bits of instruction piqued my curiosity and led me to ask a question that, I'm ashamed to say as a French citizen, attests to my oenological inexperience.

"Do you have to decant white wine too?", I asked with shaky confidence. Either I'd offend him with my sheer ignorance or he'd be amused and react pedagogically. His response fell somewhere in the middle. 
"Ehhhh", he whined "don't drink white wine, it's poison!" 

The entire group, myself included, erupted into laughter. Christian clarified his remark.

"Red wine is the only medicine you need. Both of my grandmothers lived to be over 100 years old and drank a glass of red for breakfast everyday. No bread, no fruit, just wine". 

He smiled widely as he shared his story but he was entirely serious. As his family's lifeblood, wine as a salve for all that ails was anchored in firsthand experience - and became a compelling argument for me to develop a taste for red. I have Christian of Château des Laudes to thank for such an enlightening experience.

Appetizer at Une Cuisine en Ville, Bordeaux
5// The cuisine 
What pairs beautifully with superior wine? Superior eats. Fortunately, Bordeaux is shaping up to be a worthy destination of its own for culinary travelers. Gastronomic tables have always had a presence but lately, it's the accessibly-priced neo-bistrots, wine bars and canteens that have been shaping the city's dining scene. Among my favorites:

La Cagette: a hip canteen at the Place du Palais that plays up seasonal produce on an ever-rotating, eminently affordable menu. Inspired by the abundance of fresh flavors in Californian, Lebanese and Italian cuisines, the owners blended a host of influences to craft a style of their own. On the plate, this translates to veggie-focused salads ($12), hearty baguette sandwiches (Bayonne ham with sheep’s milk cheese and pesto from $8), flavorful mains (think beef tartare with pumpkin, truffle oil and potatoes from $16) and a tapas-style offering in the evening with locally sourced wines.  

Une Cuisine en Villethe Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Philippe Lagraula he moved from Dax to a residential pocket of Bordeaux in 2012. The dining room’s pared back design (think paper napkins, hand-illustrated wallpaper, and Scandinavian-inspired furnishings) keeps the focus on a colorful, market-fresh offering spiced up with South American flavors like rocoto and Aji Amarillo chili.

Miles: a one-year old neo-bistrot from an international crew of young chefs trained at Ferrandi in Paris. The surprise menu varies every two weeks and is entirely inspired by each of their family backgrounds. More on this spot coming soon in my review for the NYT!

For coffee: head straight to Black List Coffee which overlooks the Hôtel de Ville and brews Belleville Brûlerie coffee straight from Paris. 

For more photos, check out my Bordeaux Flickr album. 
Many thanks to Bordeaux Executive Travel for an excellent Château visiting experience! 

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