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
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
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
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!
Gérard Mulot St Germain (and other locations)
76, rue de Seine
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
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
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
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
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.
Follow my French travels on Flickr this summer with my Summer 2012 set of photos – updated regularly!