As foodie trips go, this takes some beating. I’m walking around Paris with top French Chef Raymond Blanc
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As foodie trips go, this takes some beating. I’m walking around Paris with top French Chef Raymond Blanc.
From dimly-lit but good-value bistros and top restaurants to profiteroles and chocolate fondants, the Michelin starred chef is showing me his favourite places in Paris to shop, eat and down a glass or two of wine.
We’ve reached Le Marais, the city’s old aristocratic district. We’re wandering around the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the city’s oldest food market in rue de Bretagne. The small market is so-named because it was once an orphanage where all the children dressed in red.
No red-clothed youngsters roam here anymore. Nowadays other vivid colours dominate: the market is a riot of flowers, including bouquets of multi-coloured tulips, plump green asparagus spears, shards of pink rhubarb and bulbs of purple artichokes.
And then there are delightful sweet and spicy cooking smells coming from endless food stalls serving varied street food, a testament to the city’s vibrant multi-cultural influences.
Any pause in conversation, of which there are not many with Raymond Blanc, is filled with the renowned chef fills with his enthusiasm for Paris’s markets.
Blanc says he loves to wander around and lose himself in food markets like this whenever he visits Paris.
All of Parisian life is here in a place like this, Blanc says.
He also enthuses about Marché Président Wilson, a fresh food market in the 16th arrondissement.
It’s time to go shopping. Food shopping, of course. Nearby, at 93, Boulevard Beaumarchais, we visit one of Blanc’s favoured food shops, an upmarket grocery called Maison Plisson, a bit like Paris’s answer to Whole Foods or Dean & DeLuca.
It is packed with local produce and the freshest vegetables. There’s even an entire room dedicated to specialist chocolate.
An impressive variety of mushrooms on display sends Blanc into a childhood reverie. Suddenly he tells me about his early years spent in the countryside foraging for honeycombed morel mushrooms.
Raymond Blanc was born and raised near Besancon, at the foot of the ragged Jura Mountains in the Franche- Comté region between Burgundy and Switzerland. He first visited the French capital when he was 16-years-old.
“I didn’t discover Paris until quite late. I was on a trip with my parents,” he recalls. “It was a big occasion and I found it completely mind-blowing. The city was dazzling, almost like another world, especially to a country boy from a small village. Nowadays I visit Paris a lot, usually for a day or two at a time.”
Blanc advises me, and other tourists to the city of light, not to shy away from doing touristy things in Paris. His favourite view of Paris, he says, is still the basilique of the Sacre Coeur on the top of Montmartre.
But he also recommends tourists go off-the-beaten track, and in particular, to a small museum few tourists have heard of, or visit: the Musée Jacquemart-André (on the Boulevard Haussmann, in the 8th arrondissement).
“It’s a hidden gem,” Blanc enthuses. “A small museum that houses a wealthy family’s private art collection of the most extraordinary exquisite objet’s d’art. The place is just so beautiful.”
For tourists not fortunate to have such an expert guide such as Raymond Blanc, the renowned chef recommends tour guide Robert Pink (robertpink.com). They run customized walking tours around Paris’s artisan markets and food shops.
We are soon back to food. Blanc takes me to one of his favourite restaurants, a chic bistro called Atelier Maître Albert in the 5th arrondissement (1, rue Maître Albert). The restaurant is a mix between a medieval country kitchen and a dark wine cellar. The chef Guy Savoy cooks excellent value seasonal set menus featuring spit-roasted meats and fabulous chocolate fondants.
Blanc also recommends Pierre Gagnaire’s eponymous three-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Hotel Balzac (6, rue Balzac) with refined versions of many traditional rustic French dishes. There’s also Epicure, the three- Michelin-starred main restaurant of Le Bristol hotel (112, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré) that serves stuffed macaroni with black truffles.
This is France, so naturellement, it’s soon time for wine. In Galerie Vivienne, a 19th century shopping arcade, Blanc takes me to a wine shop he loves: Le Grand Filles et Fils (1, rue de la Banque).
The place is so more than just a charming wine shop. It’s also a wine bar and a grocery with shelves of huge jars containing traditional chocolate and sweets – a nostalgic nod to its 1880s origins when it started out as a grocery store.
Nowadays it specialises in fine wines from over 400 wine growers they work with. The family-run business visits the vineyards themselves, selecting wines of the best terroir and quality. An impressive cellar stocks wines selling at €10, to bottles worth as much as €10,000.
And, in a separate special room opposite the shop, a sommelier leads wine tastings complemented with bread and cheese. The ethos here is to help each person explore his or her own tastes in wine.
But unless you have very deep pockets, don’t expect them to uncork a €10,000 bottle of wine for you to try. Not even if your last name is Blanc.
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