I've come to realize that the local bakery is to Parisians what Tupperware is for Americans.
I grew up going to dinner parties with my parents and never had to ask what we would bring (we rarely hosted). An oversized plastic salad bowl covered in aluminum foil with its diminutive tupperware companion that stored the dressing. Dessert was never our contribution to the meal, always greens. Arriving with our arms full, we'd be greeted at the door by a woman with a soiled apron and slightly tousled hair (that may or may not have sheltered bits of dangling crumbs) who would lead us to the table where we would set down our salad, right next to a heap of other rainbow-colored Tupperware containers.
The fact that my French mother-in-law still boasts the wonders of Tupperware, and the tradition of their parties, is not only amusing to me but somewhat indicative of how novel certain American products are in foreign markets - particular those with business models targeting at stay-at-home women.
When I'm invited to someone's home for a meal in Paris, it inevitably requires a trip to the bakery and/or wine shop. Would the host enjoy a simple baguette? A bagful of chouquette? Or maybe a mixed berry fruit tart, a French favorite. The possibilities are endless. You can always tell when someone is off to a party when they exit a bakery with a bottle of red in one hand and a pastry box in the other. Of course, the French also prepare quiches and vegetable platters to bring on occasion, but more often than not they aren't transported in Tupperware containers but rather the molds in which they were prepared.
That covers dinner parties, but what do you bring when you're staying in someone's home or visiting family abroad? Chouquette harden too quickly to transport on long journeys, baguettes are barely edible by day's end, and fruit tarts? Don't even think about it. Ladurée or Pierre Hermé macarons are common go-to gifts for those who don't readily have access to them otherwise, but they don't stay fresh very long - 4 to 5 days max, refrigerated. Chocolates are a better option - but how do you choose among the Parisian cocoa-arsenal?
I've tried many chocolates in Paris, some stellar, some unforgettable, but the only confiseur/chocolatier that makes me smile when I think of them is Fouquet. Just before our trip to Istanbul I was personally invited by Frédéric Chambeau, the owner, to a private tasting at their third and newest boutique in Paris.
I listened intently alongside Meg Zimbeck, David Lebovitz, Heather Stimmler-Hall and a handful of other bloggers as Chambeau described the family business, their process of making candies and the identity of each of their chocolates. Frédéric was engaging and warm and was able to laugh as we drooled over the trays of chocolates, candies and marshmallows that lay before us.
Aside from the impressive selection of candied fruits, dragées and chocolates, I was most taken with Fouquet's modesty. Perhaps it's a result of their rich history as the oldest candy shop in Paris or the palpable dedication to the business (Chambeau left his position as an engineer to take over the company with his sister, Catherine Vaz) but I felt a hospitality and genuine enthusiasm missing from Pierre Hermé and Jacques Génin. No contrived friendliness or affectation, just warm welcomes and a veritable passion for candy.
After leaving the tasting with a hefty selection of chocolate and candied fruits to continue enjoying at home, I knew I would be back to pick up gifts for family and friends just before my trip stateside. I'm torn between the croquants (chocolate crunch - not shown) and the marshmallows (above) which are the latest marvels to the Fouquet menu.
So I urge you to go to Fouquet not only to show your friends that you're well versed in a sweet French delicacy other than the macaron but because everything they do - from the preparation, packaging and personnel - is perfectly wonderful (and a much greater contribution to the food world than Tupperware).
42, rue du Marché Saint-Honoré, 75001 -- Newest Location
36 rue Laffitte, 75009
22 rue François 1er, 75008
Patrick Roger & Fouquet: a Very Tasty Behind the Scenes
More Fouquet photos