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There Is No Other City In The World Quite Like Par...

There Is No Other City In The World Quite Like Paris

Paris; the streets, the buildings, the fashion and of course the food and wine – there is no other city where the patisseries absolutely delight the senses (and of course the tastebuds) and set the standards for all others to follow.

Each year I am lucky enough to visit Paris, hosting clients with my executive chef Vincent Gadan on organised Gourmet Food Tours. Our first and last stop is always Paris and I dream about it for months.

On a recent trip we were lucky enough to meet four prominent pastry chefs, all with quite different businesses and spend a little time with each in their stores. Luckily, overcoming any language barrier is made easy when Vincent becomes the translator with his quick French wit and inquisitive pastry chef mind.

Our first visit was to Benoit Castel at La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché. Now, Le Bon Marché isn’t just your typical department store; it’s where fashionable Parisienne women go for important high-end items. Benoit (initially trained as a savoury chef) is a pastry master who has worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Helene Darroze and for the famous Costes brothers who operate trendy hotels and restaurants all over Paris.

Located on the ground floor, La Grande Épicerie is a glamorous food hall showcasing the best of French produce, from vegetables, cheeses, meats, wines and of course Benoit’s incredible range of pastries, cakes and desserts – all created by Benoit and his small team.

We made a quick visit to the basement. The thing you notice in the production kitchen is the massive volume produced on a daily basis in quite a small preparation space. Statistics such as 10 tonnes of chocolate and nine tonnes of almond powder are thrown around, and goodness knows how much sugar passes through this kitchen every year. So it is not surprising when we are told they produce 8000 macarons everyday!

Benoit’s sweet counter is an array of incredible treats – a blend of classic French as well as, shall we say, some ‘nouveau’ inspirations from abroad. For example, we see the American-inspired Whoopie Pie and Benoit’s version of a Pavlova – meringue, cream and luscious berries in season in a tall showcase Martini glass.

Next stop, we had the great fortune to meet the husband and wife team who own Pain De Sucre in Rue Rambuteau – Didier Mathray and Nathalie Robert. This talented duo have incredible CV-pedigree, having met at the Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire. Last year when we visited, they had a tiny store. On this trip, not even six months later, they have two stores next to each other – one featuring pastries and savoury, one featuring sweets and desserts and now, this enterprising duo have purchased additional premises across the road. Clearly, business is blooming.

Nathalie focuses on the pastry and savoury shop – think warm croissants straight from the oven, bread, éclairs and savoury treats. What really blew us away was the savoury éclairs. Vincent (being from Burgundy) insisted we taste the éclairs with snails and garlic butter – magnifique! Didier looks after the sweet store; cakes, seasonal tarts, macaron and a big favourite ‘guimauve’, or as we call them, marshmallow.

Finally we meet Sébastien Gaudard who has opened the most beautiful store on the Rue des Martyrs. Sébastien’s resumé is impressive. He has worked in many Relais Chateauxs across France and during his military service he even served as a pastry chef for the French Prime Minister. What’s more, he trained under the illustrious Pierre Hermé at Fauchon. His store is what you imagine a classic French Patisserie to be – green front facade, marble counters and classically crafted pastries, chocolate, bonbon and gateaux. This influence can surely be traced back to his childhood as his father was a patissier, so you can imagine the recipes and traditions being handed down the generations – Mille-feuille, Paris-Brest and St Honoré. The elegant simplicity of the shop and its beautiful array of pastry gives meaning to the phrase “true to art”; classic recipes done incredibly well is, what as a pastry purist.

It is so inspiring to meet the pastry chefs of Paris, all who have such immense talent. Best of all, I get to do it every year! I can’t wait until the next trip to meet the new and upcoming in the most beautiful city in the world.


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