Chef Tom’s Big Adventure: Paris, Day Three

21 September

Paris, despite a relentless onslaught of techno-goblins, was glorious. My friend Mary, who happened to be in Paris when I was, told me yesterday that Mercury has been sitting square in retrograde for the last few days (Mercury being the god of communication, retrograde being the definition of “No way, Jose.”). Small frickin’ wonder. So many techno-dead ends, computer breakdowns and communications false starts could not have been my fault, right?

Right. Whatever.

As I said, Paris was glorious. I love that word. Packed with all sorts of wonder.

Walking from the Louvre through the Jardin de Tuileries to the Champs Elysees to meet Mary at Ladurée, in one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in. Check out the photos: https://tinyurl.com/y8hbcop2

As I walked through the grounds of the Louvre, through the Jardin de Touleries and over the Pont Alexandre III, with its view of the Seine, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the thought occurred to me that Texas might own BIG, but Paris owns GRANDE. The scale alone was breathtaking, but the ornamentation; the emotion behind the design! I made a promise to myself on this adventure to truly experience awe. Not the tragically watered down version of today’s exclamation, “Awesome!,” but the stuff that moves me, that fills me with reverence; that reveals to me once again the immense depth of the great mystery that surrounds all of us. In Paris I was often stopped in my tracks. I found myself standing, agape at the magnificence of the scene in front of me. Actually, it was more like stand –  and behold!

Emotion doesn’t quite say it, but it points the way. Emotion occupies sacred space in France. It plays a leading role. Americans, by comparison, with our Puritanical roots, would rather keep our emotions in check. Had we more appreciation for our feelings, over time, we too might have refined our emotions to a higher level of sophistication, such as the French have done, with food and design as well.

I joked with Mary about how in French movies, starring emotional content, at some point they will have a car chase, with twists and turns and tension, but it all happens through conversation.

The last two times I stayed in Paris I stayed in the 6th arrondisement – the Latin Quarter – because the descriptors said Bohemian, artistic, ethnic, lively – and it was. This time, though, I wanted to experience a different part of the city. I stayed near the Bastille in the 11th arrondisement, though within a short walk to my one touchstone for both neighborhoods, Notre Dame. From Notre Dame I can navigate my way through at least the first seven arrondisements.

Tom and Dame

Around the corner from my apartment in Bastille, and up the hill a bit, was Père Lechaise, a grand cemetery that hosts some notable long term guests, such as writers Balzac, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette; actors Sarah Bernhardt and Yves Montand; painters Pissarro, Seurat, Modigliani and Delacroix; chanteuse Édith Piaf; and dancer Isadora Duncan, as well as Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

On the short walk up the hill to the cemetery I passed more than a few patisseries. It was late morning and I was HON-gry. Found a little place called Café Artiste. Naturally. I had a steak and potatoes. It was ok, not bad. I remember learning about the difference between flavor and taste. Taste is the physical sensation and all of its nuance.  Flavor includes taste, as well as context; where you are, who you’re with, the atmosphere, etc.  It’s why you go back to the same place for that burger. Take that exact burger and eat it somewhere else and it’s not the same experience. So, although the steak frites were ok taste-wise, the flavor was outstanding. I was in Paris, in a small, quiet bistro, surrounded by locals and no one was looking at their phone!

I spent two hours strolling through the mossy, cobblestoned lanes of Père Lechaise, climbing carefully between the fading tombs and crumbling catacombs.  The cemetery is on a sloping hillside overlooking the city.

The melodramatic statuary against a dark, cloudy sky made for an impressive exploration….

Tragic and Beautiful

The tomb of Oscar Wilde, complete with hundreds of kisses.

My favorite shot of the day.

After telling him where I was going to have dinner for my birthday, my AirBnB host suggested a restaurant on the same street, called Le Chardenoux.  The young chef, Cyril Lignac, nicely pedigreed, also opened his own patisserie across the street (a popular trend amongst Parisian chefs; pastry for their restaurants, as well as for the masses). After my photo-taking session at the graveyard, I came home for a quick nap, then walked the few short blocks in misty rain to find the place.

What an elegant little place it was. Tiny, intimate, lovely.  High ceiling painted like the blue sky, trimmed in cream-colored plaster filigree. A carved wooden panel, inset with floral-etched glass panels that echoed the etched windows facing the street, separated two petite dining salons, the front with its diminutive zinc bar of inlaid marble and jasper, the main with its mirrored walls reflecting the etched glass and ornate ceiling. Smartly set tables sat barely six inches apart on a handsomely tiled floor. For as formal a setting as it seemed, the wait staff wore untucked denim shirts over black jeans, which said, “Yes we are serious about our food and dining, but not too stuffy that you can’t enjoy yourself.”  Nice.

Chardenoux Exterior

Chardenoux Interior

On the rare occasion I will somewhat guiltily indulge myself with a serving of foie gras. Most of those times I’ve been in France, of course. This was by far the best I have ever had. One of my favorite textures on the planet is creamy, like pudding; thick, rich and coats my tongue. This felt like taking mouthfuls of warm peanut butter, coating my tongue in a savory, complex and soul-satisfying creaminess. A couple of correct points of toasted brioche, plus a dollop of sweet, tart lingonberry compote. Holy bananafish. One of those moments where you have to close your eyes, take a deep breath and try really hard to believe this is actually happening.

Remember what I said about flavor? Imagine sitting in an elegant jewel box, surrounded by quiet fellow food enthusiasts, light rain against the window, a bare whisper of soft jazz in the background and spreading some of this heaven on a small piece of crisp with a couple of bright red berries to help sharpen the encounter (so as not to fall into a complete coma of bliss).

My life was complete. I needed nothing else. The main was another lingot of beef and potatoes (my husband is always teasing me for having as sophisticated a palate as I have, always going for the meat and potatoes), but they were sweet potatoes nicely roasted with a smoky aioli. Soul satisfying. The dessert, however, was excellent. Because I kept seeing them in the markets around the neighborhood, I asked for fresh strawberries. Not to disappoint, the ripe berries were topped with an icy quenelle of bright strawberry sorbet and rich whipped cream.

I sat there stunned; my belly too full; my happiness meter trying hard to push its way past ten.

=CTH=

Chef Tom is currently Resident Chef for a small tech firm in San Francisco. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at www.hippkitchen.com

One Response to “Chef Tom’s Big Adventure: Paris, Day Three”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Outstanding!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: