I had never been to Europe before, so I figured Paris would be a good start. In culinary school, I was classically French trained. I felt so grateful to be in the place that influenced my career the most. The goal was to spend some time in the pastry world and fine-tune my skills, even though I have always leaned toward the savory side of the menu. In the pastry world, though, precisely following the exact ingredients and measurements is everything. Personally, I prefer creating a dish that allows me to correct a mistake by adding another ingredient to bring it back to balance. Pastries are the exact opposite!
My wife, Katie, and I had the greatest time and ate entirely too much, especially on the sweet side. We were struck by how the Parisians live their daily lives so differently then we do. Instead of work as a main focus, their lives are based around their social life and food. You can always find a street market with such wonderful options, depending on the neighborhood. Everything was beyond fresh. I’ll give you the perfect example. The radish (pictured below) was so fresh that Parisians would make a salad with the radish greens. Next time you go to the grocery and pick-up a bunch of radishes, take a look at the wilted, unappetizing radish greens. They are not so impressive and I certainly would not entertain the idea of making a salad with them.
The streets were flooded with cafes and different specialty food shops. There wasn’t a mass grocery store that had everything under one roof. Quite frankly, it was very refreshing, and I felt more alive because of it. All the Parisians would have their favorite shops that they frequented. They bought bread at one shop and moved on to buy their produce at an area street market. Then, they headed to the meat market to get exactly what they wanted, only to finish at one of their favorite Patisserie (pastry shop) to pick up a small, delectable pastry to finish their meal. This process happened every other day or so, so they always had incredibly fresh ingredients to cook with. I could get used to that!
Paris was everything I thought it would be — and more. Our goal was to plunge into the local lifestyle and experience it all, and we did. We chose to eat at small bistros rather than the five star restaurants. We were not disappointed by quality of the food and the passion they had for its preparation. Even the local pub’s food was so thought-out and such a high level. We compared them to our own bars in the States that throw a basket of wings together and pink slime-filled burgers. It was impressive to say the least!
Some of these bistros are owned by young chefs who worked at a five star restaurants and left to go open their own little place. We stayed out late, knowing the Parisians’ “going-out hours” don’t even start until around 11:00 pm and stretch well into the morning. I remember sitting in the cab at 4 o’clock in the morning, stuck in traffic. Only in Paris would you be in a traffic jam at 4 in the morning.
We visited street art festivals, which inspired us to live and enjoy. Even there, we had the most gorgeous food. Katie could not resist the fresh cut strawberries with fresh whipped cream. So simple, but so fantastic!
I, on the other hand, ate a classic French crepe that rolled off the hot round griddle street side. I chose the simple route of brown butter, sugar, and lemon and was not disappointed. Let’s just say we were quite happy.
It didn’t take us long to find the ice cream and sorbet, which was all so pure and clear with natural flavor. We, fortunately, did not see any ice cream with raw cookie dough. The ice cream there was not overly sweet and had such incredible balance. No oversized chocolate laced waffle cones dipped in rainbow sprinkles, since all of the extras are just a distraction to the actual flavor of the ice cream or sorbet. In Paris, the cone was smaller in diameter but longer than what we are used to in the States. The serving was very modest, just the perfect amount of sweetness where you could move on with your day without feeling like you need to take a nap from the sugar crash that we so familiar with. The storefronts were also very modest. Our favorite was one with a door that opened, revealing the owner standing in the threshold and taking orders as he took one step inside to retrieve dips of goodness out of his freezer. That was it, and was all he needed. It was so hard to pick what flavor we each wanted because we wanted to try them all!
As I mentioned, I spent some time with a great pastry chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu. We spent three days together working on classic French desserts, plated desserts, chocolate, ice cream, and sorbets. There was a translator present for the Chef Nicolas Jordon, who didn’t speak very good English. Also, there was a culinary student who helped out to make sure we had all the equipment we needed. Because of that, we were able to fully focus on the task at hand and experiment with the different techniques he shared. There was a lot of information to digest, but I totally enjoyed my time spent with Chef Jordon. Pictured below (left to right): translator, me, Chef Nicolas Jordon, and a culinary student.
To try to immerse ourselves into the Parisian life, we relied heavily on the Metro (subway) to get around town. There, we experienced one of the highlights of our trip. The Metro was difficult to figure out at first. Learning to navigate all the different trains and get where you wanted to go was challenging, especially with the language barrier involved. But, we quickly caught on and actually enjoyed it. One particular afternoon, we exited one train only to hurry down a tunnel to catch another. However, as we entered the tunnel, we heard the faint bellows of an impressive song as it echoed throughout. We weren’t sure where the source came from, but knew we were heading in the right direction since the singing got louder with every step. As we came to the source, the sound grew even louder but so pleasant at the same time. We couldn’t help but smile and enjoy this hidden surprise, a group of musicians who gathered to create such a moving experience for at least two Americans walking through. I was so moved, I shot a short video as we passed by. Only in Paris can you experience such an event under the city!
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