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Context Paris: The Chocolate Walk

All right, all right, I’ve been in Paris nearly 2 weeks now and not a single post yet about being here? Well, I’ve been busy eating bonbons and drinking champagne working you know! And you can always follow me on Twitter, Flickr or Instagram to check out what I am up to daily. I have a LOT of posts in my head – I just need the time to get them written!

In any case, as well as running the recipe testing workshops at La Cuisine Paris these past couple of weeks (so far we’ve worked on choux pastry and pâte brisée for quiche and Tarte Tatin), checking out some of the other classes at La Cuisine, finalising some details for the upcoming foodie tour I am leading with Le Dolci and spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with my “friends” at SFR (the telephone company – that’s seriously a post for another day), I’ve also made sure to book in some other tours and classes that I’ve had my eye on for a while now.

Every year when I come to Paris, there are more and more companies offering food-focussed tours. I had been eager to try a Context tour because they promise to be a little different – claiming to be “committed to the character of the city”, Context is not a “tour company” per se but rather, a “network of scholars and specialists – in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics – who, in addition to their normal work, design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of intellectually curious travellers” (that would be me!).

With “seminars” offered in the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Scotland, China, Austria, England, Turkey and the Czech Republic, Context certainly have much of the world covered with their different take on tours. Though they have a really varied set of offerings in Paris (focussing on food, wine, art, history and architecture), I couldn’t go past The Chocolate Walk. I mean, you would not expect anything different, right? ;) I am grateful to the Context Paris team for extending a generous invitation for me to join the walk as a guest.

Our group of six (Context keep their “seminars” small with around 5 people so that the experience is more hands-on) was led by “docent” (just as there are “seminars” as opposed to tours, there are “docents” not tour guides at Context), Gabrielle Mondesire – an American in Paris since 2006. A graduate of the Ecole Française de Gastronomie’s pastry programme, Gabrielle has interned at some of Paris’ finest restaurants, including Le Plaza Athenée, Le Meurice, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Market, and the Musee du Quai Branly’s Les Ombres. Gabrielle brought to the tour a knowledge of pastries and chocolates that she imparted with a friendly, approachable manner – a delightful docent indeed.

Our first stop was Debauve & Gallais – founded by Sulpice Debauve in 1800. Debauve was the former chemist to French king Louis XVI and created the combination cocoa and cane sugar for Marie Antoinette, who complained about the nasty taste of some medicines she had to take. Marie Antoinette loved the coin-shaped “pistoles” created by Debauve who continued to provide these for the queen until finally in 1800, he opened his chocolate shop. When his nephew Antoine Gallais joined the company in 1823, the company became Debauve et Gallais. As purveyors to the French Court, the company received the royal warrant in 1819 and supplied Kings Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe.

Stepping into the store, it’s like stepping back in time – the wooden shelves do indeed smack of an old-fashioned chemist’s. And of course, there’s the luscious chocolates exquisitely packaged….

Though it looks like it might be intimidating, the lady at D&G was extremely pleasant and welcoming, allowing us to take photos and helping Gabrielle choose chocolates with absolutely no nut products in them (to accommodate two of the tour participants).

We ended up tasting “palets” filled with a honey ganache. Delightful. And yes, Gabrielle does travel with a pocket knife and a cutting board in her purse. My kinda lady! The Chocolate Walk involves quite a lot of tasting – taking advantage of the St Germain area’s many benches and parks if there is no space in the stores (many of them are tiny).

Debauve & Gallais (and one other location)
30 Rue Saints Pères
75006, Paris

Next stop: The mothership of macarons (well, according to me, that is!) – Ladurée. We visited the tiny store on the rue Bonaparte and were fortunate enough to be there when there were barely any customers so we all got a good look at their macaron and pastry selection and Gabrielle talked us through briefly through the history of the macaron as we know it today (Ladurée is credited with the invention of the “sandwich” idea – two shells joined together with ganache).

We tasted their macarons au chocolat noir (with dark chocolate ganache) and they were, as I remember them, very, very good. Ladurée are some of my favourites in the city (depending on the flavour). We also got to taste the Eclair Ispahan – a gloriously perfect éclair filled with rose cream, lychees and raspberries, this was a surprising hit for me. I was concerned it would taste too sweet, too perfume-y but it was delicate and subtle. I’ll be going back for more of these.

Ladurée Bonaparte (and other locations around Paris)
21 rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris

Pierre Hermé is often credited with the creation of the Ispahan flavour but it was actually Christine Ferber (she of the mythical jams) who originally made a jam of the flavours and Hermé was inspired to create a line of pastries around it. Now, the Ispahan flavour is ubiquitous in many Paris pâtisseries. And speaking of Hermé… it was our next stop on the walk…

We tried the Infiniment Vanille and the Miraflores. Gorgeous presentation, sublime taste. Nuff said. It’s Hermé. I might not be the hugest fan of his macarons but his pastries, now that’s another matter!

Pierre Hermé (and other locations)
75 rue Bonaparte
75006, Paris

Heading off to our next stop, I spied these in the window of Richart – “Snack Mac” bars. We didn’t have time to go in but I want!

Before we made it to our next stop, I spied the Gérard Mulot boutique and, even though it was not on her list for the day, Gabrielle kindly allowed us to pay a visit, scoping out the macarons, bakery, pastries and prepared food. Though the feel of the store is much less “exclusive” and maybe the presentation is not as exquisite as, say, Hermé, I liked Mulot – I could see myself being a regular if I lived here!

Tasting the Opéra cake at Gérard Mulot

Gérard Mulot St Germain (and other locations)
76, rue de Seine
75006, Paris

Finally we arrived at our destination – though it must be said that the streets of St Germain are full of tasty things to distract your eyes! Our next stop was Pierre Marcolini – a Belgian chocolatier I had not heard of prior to this walk.

The store on the rue de Seine looks a little like a fine jewellery boutique but the welcome was very friendly. Macrolini opened his first store in 1995 in Brussels after winning the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon and now has stores all over the world. Marcolini has an impressive range of single-origin chocolates and the store really must be seen to appreciate its beauty.

Pierre Marcolini (and other locations)
89, rue de Seine
75006, Paris

Next up, we headed to an ice-cream stand at The Smith’s Bakery, where we tasted a dark chocolate ice cream and a dark chocolate sorbet. Both very very good (as Berthillon is!) but we all definitely preferred the ice cream over the sorbet – much more creamy!

Berthillon ice-cream at The Smiths Bakery (the main Berthillon ice cream location is on the Ile St Louis)
12 rue de Buci
75006, Paris

Next we headed to Un Dimanche à Paris (already a favourite of mine after last year’s visit!)

We tasted a few chocolates here, also but I admit to running out of steam by this point (the second last stop on the walk). Whilst you are only tasting tiny amounts at each store, it kind of adds up. I’d suggest bringing a bottle of water with you on this walk. I’d also suggest that Un Dimanche à Paris merits a much longer visit (like, one of its own!) to fully appreciate all it has on offer -the store, the restaurant, the tea room, the lounge….

Un Dimanche à Paris
4-6-8 Cour du Commerce Saint André
75006, Paris

Our final stop on the walk was another new-to-me chocolatierPatrick Roger (a MOF)

From the giant chocolate hippopotamus (!) in the window to the brightly coloured chocolates looking like jewels in their green boxes, this is another “must be seen to be believed” boutique. We tasted a chocolate filled with lemon-basil ganache – sublime!!

Patrick Roger (and other locations)
108 Boulevard St Germain
75006, Paris

And thus ended our sweet sweet morning in Paris. We all rolled down the Boulevard St Germain, slightly giddy from all the chocolate but already plotting when we might go back to visit our favourite spots. I already know with my mum coming in just over a week that I’ll be back to most of these places with her in tow.

I’d highly recommend the Context Paris Chocolate Walk as an alternative to your typical Paris walking tours. We lucked out with the weather as it was not raining, though had it rained, the “tasting stops” might not have been so pleasant. But still, I always say that Paris in the rain is better than not being in Paris, right? With any walking tour you can’t control the weather but Gabrielle seemed to know all the places where we could stop in the store as opposed to heading to a park to taste so I imagine the walk would be flexible and work with the weather.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Context Paris on the Chocolate Walk. I was not required to write about it, nor was I compensated for doing so. All opinions are 100% my own.

Read my latest France articles on Food Network Canada: Spotlight on Paris markets, Seven must-visit destinations in Burgundy and Eating, drinking and learning at Ô Chateau, Paris

Follow my French travels on Flickr this summer with my Summer 2012 set of photos – updated regularly!


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37 Responses to Context Paris: The Chocolate Walk

  1. Emily July 11, 2012 at 06:48 #

    Those snack-macs look incredible!!

  2. David @ Frenchie and the Yankee July 11, 2012 at 07:17 #

    How fun! OK, that’s it, I’m doing this next time I go home.
    Thanks for sharing the links and pictures.
    Amuse-toi bien à Paris, Mardi.

  3. Mr. Neil July 11, 2012 at 08:14 #

    Not just ANY knife, mind you – an Opinel!

    Sounds a fantastic walk…would be interested in others by this firm. Most envious.

  4. Andi July 11, 2012 at 09:48 #

    I was lucky enough to do 2 Context food tours while in Paris in January and I had a really great time. I didn’t do this chocolate which looks as great as the ones I did. Will have to go on the list for next time!

  5. Wandergirl July 11, 2012 at 10:20 #

    Mmmmmmmmmmm.

    That’s all I can really think of to say! :)

  6. idiosyncratic eye July 11, 2012 at 14:06 #

    Educational chocolate, that’s got to be a win-win! ;)

  7. Pallavi Soni July 11, 2012 at 17:18 #

    Love that U mention this as one of the many tours for curious travellers/foodies…and that would me…thanks to U , this is on my to-do list the next time i visit Paris..

    especially look forward to the ‘macarons au chocolat noir’… for me Macarons are like sushi…some hate it while some love it…however i think no one should make this decision without trying these macarons ;)

  8. Geoff July 11, 2012 at 18:19 #

    Whoa! Extremely “tasty” post. Added spice to this post today because, “down under”, long-established chocolate manufacturer and retailer, Darrell Lea went into administration with 700 jobs at risk if no buyer can be found. Mardi will know this establishment well because of its licorice. As the French (and Swiss) show, good chocolate will always be in fashion.
    Great “walking the talk” post, Mardi.

  9. Paula July 11, 2012 at 18:55 #

    These context tours sound intimate and lovely and I can certainly see why you would not want to miss the Chocolate Tour!!! I’d love to taste that eclair and those snack macs are such a great idea! Perfect for sharing.

  10. Rochelle July 12, 2012 at 07:54 #

    Wow, you’re sure keeping busy in Paris! It must be fun and exciting getting to lead a foodie tour and do the workshops. Maybe next summer I’ll be able to finally make my way out of Portugal to visit France and you can show me around :D

    And I LOVE the idea of these Context tours, architecture, art, archaeology and the like some of my other passions besides food and photography.

    Oh and a tour about chocolate? Yes, please!

  11. Coco July 12, 2012 at 18:31 #

    Oh
    my
    GODs!
    You’re found Heaven!

  12. Mary Hirsch July 14, 2012 at 10:01 #

    Mardi, Since I have not returned to Aspen yet and am still in Las Vegas on this Saturday morning where it is forecast to be 111 degrees today, I am sipping un café noir and attempting to put myself into your walking tour. You wrote well and I am allllmostttt there with you. I am planning a trip or two to France next Winter so will start to research what Context tour(s) will work for me. I will mention that I discovered them through you. My best revenge for this weather is to know you are having a fabulous time in Paris. How could you not?

  13. Elyse @The Cultural Dish July 14, 2012 at 10:56 #

    I am so jealous that you get to be in Paris right now! I cannot wait to go back and I am definitely saving this so I know where to go! :)

  14. Cindy July 16, 2012 at 03:42 #

    Oh my, I wish I can be there too for this event!

  15. Emily @ Life on Food July 16, 2012 at 07:44 #

    I found Debauve & Gallais by mistake when I was in Paris wondering the streets. It was a very good mistake I must say.

  16. Jill @ MadAboutMacarons July 16, 2012 at 11:27 #

    Mardi, I’m so happy to see you managed to squeeze in a chocolate walk in your busy schedule – Gabrielle’s super. Lucky for you on the weather since Paris has had more than its fair share of the rain! I had two of these tours and it didn’t just rain but bucketed but there are so many sweet places to take shelter. Looking forward to seeing you for yet more delicious treats…

  17. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction July 17, 2012 at 16:08 #

    Oh my goodness… A chocolate walk through Paris? Sounds absolutely divine to me. :)

  18. Laura July 27, 2012 at 06:00 #

    In all these drool-worthy photos, the thing that jumped out at me the most was the missing chocolate right smack dab in the middle of the first photo! I can’t help but wonder what it tasted like…

  19. Audrey May 19, 2013 at 00:59 #

    Haha, I found this page while trying to search the stores visited on Context Paris’ Chocolate Walk. Did you go on any other food/sweet/chocolate tours while in Paris? I am trying to decide which one(s) to go on and it’s such a headache as there are so very many options!

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