One of the most disappointing realizations after living in Paris for any extended period of time is that all of the banal activities you fantasized were more glamorous and enviable in Paris are, in fact, just as banal as they are in your home country. One such activity is working in a bakery, which I envisioned to be an exhausting yet endlessly exciting role that contributes to the very construct of French identity. Very important shoes to fill.
I quickly learned from Camille Malmquist, trained pastry chef and foodie expat whom I met at one of David Lebovitz's Paris book signings, that being employed in a bakery is not always, contrary to my fantastical imagination, all sweetness (bureaucracy, bakery hours, etc.). Camille chronicles her culinary adventures, both in her kitchen and out at restaurants, on her blog Croque Camille which I adore. But perhaps the baker's life will improve next month as Camille becomes the executive pastry chef for Blend, a gourmet hamburger restaurant slated to open in the 2nd arrondissement by late November! Until then, some of Camille's French favorites...
Describe what you love about France in three words.
Bread, cheese, wine.
Any juicy secrets or anecdotes about working in a French bakery?
The biggest difference between French and American bakeries is probably the presence of apprentices in France. They are almost always boys, and it's still kind of weird for me to come to work with a bunch of high schoolers. Most of them are too young to shave when they start out!
Your must-try dessert shop for anyone visiting Paris?
If there's any bakery I insist people visit, it's Du Pain et Des Idées. Not only do they make some of the best breads in town, but their simple, seasonal fruit tarts are to die for, and they have a gorgeous array of wonderful breakfast pastries. I love the swirly escargots, and the chausson aux pommes is made with an entire half apple, instead of the canned purée used by so many other bakeries.
Another favorite is Tholoniat, nearby on the rue du Château d'Eau. Their kouign amann and rolled brioche are delicious, and the rustically beautiful tarts have a deceptively thick crust that just melts in your mouth. Good chocolates, too.
Speaking of chocolates, Fouquet makes amazingly good pralinés, and their chocolate-covered marshmallows are irresistible. But if I had to pick only one favorite sweet treat in Paris, it might just be the caramel éclair at La Maison du Chocolat.
Favorite neighborhood for lunch and favorite neighborhood for dinner?
I don't get out much for lunch, but if I could, I'd love to lunch in the North Marais. Candelaria, Al Taglio, Rose Bakery, Breizh Café, Tartes Kluger - there are just so many choices for a reasonably quick, fresh meal. And then you could nip down to Pozzetto in the Marais proper for an ice cream.
For dinner, there are so many fantastic bistros in the 15th, it's hard to pick a favorite. I've loved the meals I've eaten at Le Grand Pan, Le Restaurant du Marché, L'Epicuriste, Le Marcab, and Le Troquet. And I can't wait to try La Cave de L'Os à Moelle and Le Cristal de Sel. Should I ever get bored with French food, I can count on L'Arbre de Sel, Manna, or E-Da for good Korean, Casa Palenque for Mexican, and Ji Bai He for all-you-can-eat Chinese dumplings. Best of all, the 15th is the arrondissement I call home, so I can just roll myself into bed after dinner.
It was a huge surprise to me, the day I gave up looking for canned stock and decided to make my own, that butchers in France don't really sell bones. I spent the better part of an afternoon going from butcher to butcher, asking to buy chicken or veal bones for stock, and at every place I was met with bizarre looks and almost disgusted "non"s. That day, I ended up just buying a whole chicken, brushing up on my own butchery skills, and getting the bones myself. Since then, I've learned that you can sometimes find chicken or turkey necks at Chinese butchers, and many French butchers sell veal feet, which make excellent stock. But I still find it hard to believe that the French, who love food so much and so appreciate good cooking, are content with bouillon cubes.
Thanks, Camille! To follow her food adventures in greater depth, head over to Croque Camille - her astute culinary observations always make for an entertaining read!
(Photo credits: Camille Malmquist)
(Photo credits: Camille Malmquist)