Hello!! I am back in the south of France, getting back into the swing of the yachting season in the Mediterranean, despite the ferocious downpour over the Easter weekend! I ...
My first week back in Paris. I am munching on goose rillettes on gluten-free tartines peppered with bites of tangy cornichons.
As Paris and constant travel have been making a tight squeeze on the wallet, I have tried to cut back on luxuries, but can’t seem to go without rillettes (the best is Duperier from G. Detou in Les Halles), fresh pressed orange juice in the supermarket(!) Carrefour, and 10euros/$13 on Le Fooding, a food/art mag. I am also snacking (grignoter) on leftover guacamole from yesterday. Yes, a chef’s dinner like that of every other single young professional out there – whatever you can cobble together from the mainly empty frigo. But who cuts the barber’s hair?
Hopefully the person who will cut my hair (code: cook me dinner) is a man I met on the metro today. He eyed me as he stepped onto the no. 10 train, and then sidled to the left, then slid next to me on the adjoining seat. Sly guy. He saw I was reading my Food mag, and said, “I know a good restaurant.” I of course turn up my nose, and say oh really? Because you know, you are talking to a chef here.” But no in all actuality, I listen intently, because the French know their food. I can wax poetic about the subtle balance between texture and flavour in an eclair with a plumber or diplomat in this country. This guy also agrees it is very hard to find good food in Paris. He also says that he cooks better than any restaurant in. Fabrice. You have my number. Call me. (I’m hungry).
After an arduous 40 minute commute, I arrived in the far southeast corner of Paris (who comes here?). It was my new language exchange partner, a French-Portugeuse Parisien. He showed me some salsa moves, then proceeded to clear up common cliches about the French:
Do they bathe or not?
in 1830, Napoleon commissioned Haussmann to revamp the city of Paris. About 70 percent of the buildings in Paris bear the iconic flourishes of stone heads over the entrances with moustaches and curlicued plants along the windows. This revitalisation of the city also brought running water! (the water pipes are visible outside the buildings), which was a modern luxury then. Before this, the French rarely bathed; every so often they would dive in the communal fountains with a bucket. Hence the cliche that they dont bathe. But they do. I think. Mostly. Just kidding.
Why are French women so icy?
2) The cold comportment of French women is a social mask, according to one French psychologist. Image is paramount. Parisiennes have lots of dreams, but they are never fully realised. For example, if a group of girls go out for a drink in a bar, and she sees a good-looking guy across the room, she immediately blocks the urge to get up and talk to him. Because her friends would think she was easy. However, if she was introduced to a man within her social circle, then that is safer, and less risky. However when a Parisienne travels to Brazil or Asia for example, she drinks excessively, parties, hooks up with a ton of guys. No one knows her there so she can be a more risqué.
When asked what she did on vacation, she drily responds, “Oh you know, went to the museums, art galleries, tours of the city…”
During our talk, there was a girl who kept phoning this guy nonstop. He said that they dated for a month, she was really nice, but she lacked range in conversation (i.e. boring); and didn’t like salsa. So he ignored her. Thinking she would magically get the point. He didn’t want to be the bad guy; so he just avoided her calls until he could let her down easy. That actually sounds like the norm for any guy, French or otherwise.
My stomach is rumbling I need to search for something else to eat…why hasn’t Fabrice texted me yet??
Gris, un peu de rose clair, ou le turquoise
Mais vraiment il y a une patine de grisaille
Partout cette vielle ville
Attentions, les chiens ont chié
Et parfois les mauvais odeurs
S’affronter les narines
Les épaules de Parisiens va frapper leur oreilles, ou presque
L’angoisse est évident dans tous
Le visage, l’énergie nerveuse,
Dans les doigts quand ils cherchent
Une cigarette, un bric,
Le regard de côté
Un souffle de l’air
La tension ne peut pas être soulagé
Il y a trop de sardines dans cette boîte
Les écailles gris, et l’odeur
L’evasion n’est pas possible
Il est dans les son os, dans les cheveux
On aime le Gris, le gras, le froid
Il est dur, pas très accueillent
Mais c’est mystère
On aime toujours
Comme le gris brouillard
On ne peux pas voir très clairement
Et on cherche, toujours, pour l’éclair
Peut-être un serpillière
De laver et rincer tout ce gris
Que salir cette fenêtre
Pour l’instant on peut rester dedans
Il fait froid dehors
On reste dedans le café
Avec un express, et une cigarette
Le fume gris a monté, et rejoindre
Les fumes des autres, et bientôt
Le gris dans le salon est pareil de la reste de cette vielle éphémère.
The English are obsessed with their tea and toast. As George Orwell declared in Down and Out in Paris and London, the daily “tea and two slices” was a necessity even for the homeless.
For breakfast at Fuller’s Hotel, I had 5 triangle slices of toast with butter, Marmite and jam, with the most perfect cup of tea. English breakfast, not too acidic or strong, perfectly tempered with a refined slog of milk. It was just so smooth and creamy and perfect, I could drink gallons. Drinkability quality – like drinking water, gulpable.
As for toast, gosh what a marvelous invention; warm, crisp yet soft and airy, toothsome, punctuated by thick, creamy and slightly tangy butter. Then Marmite gives a salty, sticky yeasty zing to it all. Like salty honey. It actually tastes very similar to Maggi sauce, or Worcestershire sauce, or just soy sauce. (Try soy sauce on a fried egg, with a tiny teaspoon of sugar – Chinese style!)
For the rest of my breakfast, I had lovely French yogurt and white cheddar (or Comté) with real crunchy crystallized bits inside (the sign of real aged cheese) and yummy tiny pastries. I had a mini pain aux raisins – my teeth split the skin of sweet, soft raisins and I could hear the audible crisp of flaky pastry, while luscious cream pleasantly enveloped my mouth, and oozed and crept around everything else – perfect warm custard. Then I finished it all off with 2 free-range poached eggs.
There was a lot of hype about this young restaurant; it was in the New York Times food section. This article talked about how foreigners like head chef James Henry from Australia are re-shaping the restaurant world in Paris. I’ve been wanting to go since it opened a year ago.
When I entered the restaurant, I felt different. Visceral. Decidedly modern. The new Paris. It cut away the gristle, the airs, the smoky mirrors, the fat. And just leaving the bare bones.
It’s gritty, authentic, hipster. Everything is covered with a slight patine of skater grime. Even the chef is a bit oily, like he’s been working in the coal mines.
I spent the evening solo at the bar. Different groups of others in the restaurant industry flowed through, ordering smoky, heady wines. One smelled just like foie gras. Some were kind enough to share a glass with me.
I got the tasting menu, and also tasted some of the small bites to share at the bar. The food was clean and honest. I started with a barbecue smoked oyster, and the sweetbreads for the main were perfectly cooked. The ingredients were bright, locally sourced.
The food lacked a bit of body and acidity. This is where the French excel – layers of flavors. But also French can be too subtle and a bit boring if not done correctly. But that’s how this place rolls. It’s about transparency at the skeletal level. There are no airs. You know all that food was fresh and properly cared for.
Head chef James Henry is intensely humble, and really a “beau gosse,” (stud or a hunk in French). His gaze pierces though the blue metallic haze. He flicks his superman James Dean-esque curl of hair in front while checking out the dining room. Every so often he walks to the bar and greets another fellow chef or restaurant owner.
In his story about how he got to Paris, he was just on vacation and ended up staying. He worked at Spring, another gastronomic restaurant opened by American chef Daniel Rose.
“I miss the surf and the ocean,” he says. (Looking for the bathroom, I stumbled upon a surfboard in a back closet – it’s his.)
I love these REAL places. The cooks in the open kitchen keeps an eye on the diners to see how they’re enjoying the meal, and sends little plates over throughout to heighten my experience. The bartenders make each drink with care, and slice the charcuterie to order.
The New York Times was really right in that French cuisine really needed a shake up. And Bones is doing something right. The ambience keeps you coming back. For a good time with friends at one of the most authentic places in town, go to Bones. Have a cocktail. Order some small plates at the bar. And experience this more hip, honest side of Paris dining.
43 rue godefroy cavaignac
11eme (metro: Voltaire)
mardi a samedi a partir de 19h
Challenge: Cook a 4 kilo / 9 lb grouper (merou en français) in a miniature boat oven, in a salt crust, for eight guests aboard a luxury yacht during the Grand Prix in Monaco.
I’ve never done this before, so I am a wee but concerned. Not nervous, because hell I am a chef, and chefs don’t get scared. We attack!
First task: acquiring the salt. The boat was located right across from Monaco Yacht Club, inside the race track. So basically we were closed in from 6am to 7pm each day. Finally on Friday, the day before “the big cook,” the tracks closed early, about 3pm, and I set off to the grocery store. It took me a while to navigate all the roadblocks…then I hauled a caddy with 10 large boxes of large crystal salt (gros sel); as well as two other large shopping bags of food. I might’ve been trapped for days on the boat with no opportunity to shop, so I bought as much as I could carry.
I really did all my exercise for the day hauling everything back to the boat. Everytime I am lugging stuff to the boat, to the train, across countries, continents, airplanes, between friends’ houses I curse myself. For bringing so much. And I vow that next time I will bring less, I will be more efficient, more streamlined. I will be the perfect traveling soldier.
But alas, I am not quite there yet. I am a mobile jet setter, love it or hate it, and with each trip, I am fine tuning the perfect travel bag, items that can do double duty, mobile, light, with stuff I wouldn’t be sad about losing. (It hasn’t happened yet. I am a backpacker disguised as a suitcaser).
So, I finally get to the boat; my guests about ready to have apero. I pump that out; then get to Freddy, my grouper. He was living in my home-sized freezer for the past week; occupying all my precious cold space. I took him out the night before, where he rested quite nicely in the sink, slowly thawing out, rejoining us in the ambient temperature world. He stabbed me in the center of my left palm before he went in the freezer, but he was cooperating quite nicely now.
We got him from the local fisherman (pêcheur) in St. Jean Cap Ferrât in France, along the Côté d’Azur…our home port.
I researched on the internet how to do the salt crust. There are three options: 1) crust with just salt; 2) crust with egg whites; and 3) crust with whole eggs. Additional herbs optional. I prefer a flaky white fish like seabass or trout, but you can try a firmer fish like grouper or Mahi Mahi.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Cean and gut the fish, but leave the scales on to keep the fish moist. In a large bowl, mix 4-5 boxes of salt (about 1 kilo of salt to 1 kilo of fish); along with 2 eggs per box. The texture should be like wet sand. Pour half the mixture on a large roasting pan. Place your cleaned whole fish on to. Stuff the belly with herbs; I like thyme and lemon; try orange for a different kick. Cover the rest with the rest of the salt mixture; then pat everything nicely together over the body of the fish (you can leave the tail and head uncovered).
Throw that baby in there and let it cook. About 15 minutes for a small fish, up to 40 minutes for a fish larger than 4 kilos (like Freddy). To check if its done, stick a knife in the center of the fish, piercing the salt crust, and touch the knife to your upper lip. If it’s warm-hot, your fish is done.
Drape some herbs and extra lemon around the platter; and present your masterpiece table side. Crack open the crust, let them see inside.
Rush back into the kitchen; remove the salt, and filet the sucker.
Benefits of the salt crust: perfectly seasoned fish, not much faffing around. Guests looooove it. My guests actually pounded their fists on the table and screamed “Ivy!! Ivy!!” In my honor and celebration. Even the one guy (from the UK) who doesn’t like fish (unless it’s breaded)…even he liked it. Plus it’s like a celebration of the olden times.
Downsides: your galley gets completely trashed with salt, bits of scales and greasy fishy bits everywhere. Or at least mine did as I fought with Freddy and his firm, firm flesh. He was wiggling everywhere. It took me two days to get every bit of salt out. Also, now that your captain knows you can do this, he asks you to do it again two weeks later. Thank goodness the fish was a lot smaller. And this time around, I had plenty of salt on board.
The most exciting place to be in the world this week was for the Grand Prix in Monaco. We paid an extravagant fee just to dock the yacht inside the port. Lots of glitz and glamour, with the high-pitched squeals of racing cars during the day and pulsing nightclubs at night. Everyone was dressed to the nines, in marine and automotive inspired outfits.
I spent the week feeding guests staying the week in Monaco – here are some images of meals I served as well as shots in and around the yacht:
OK guys, I am feeling hella exuberant! Being in Paris reminds me to live life to to the fullest. I’m surrounded by chic luxury juxtaposed by gritty pungent homeless smells. When I feel like I can’t hold my breath any longer (not breathing because I’m in awe and also because it smells); I stumble upon a hidden gem in a city that never disappoints.
Just beside metro Jussieu (line 4 – also near place Monge); is a throwback to Moyenne Orient luxury – there’s the old Orient Express train on display, the largest Mosque in Paris, and the Jardin des Plantes and Natural History Museum just next door.
For an unforgettable and truly Parisian experience off the beaten path, start off with a walk through the Jardin des Plantes and revel in the untamed beauty of the botanical wonders within. Then cross the street and go round the corner to the Mosque of Paris, the largest and grandest in the city, and get lost in the resplendent designs and rich patterns of Moroccan decor within.
Then make your way over to the restaurant for a grand meal of tagine, or maybe a spiced b’stilla, in the cavernous bustling yet warm and lovely dining room(s)! Relax and digest while you steam in the hammam on property, then continue unwinding while you sip on fresh sweet mint tea in tiny glasses on the patio. Make sure to order a few baklavas, shining puff pastry soaked and stuffed with fragrantly crisp walnuts and pistachios and perfumed sugar syrup.
Take advantage of the sun while it lasts, because the splendor only lasts so long – before you know it the grey and gritty skies will overtake the Mood and you’ll get on the bad side of this vacillating mistress – the brooding visages, the cold wet winds that creep into your bones.
Endure you must, and when you think it’s just frankly really un-fucking-bearable, what with the French “touch” (code word “touchy” attitude!), the golden rays and love and beauty of this gilded city will come alive again and lure you back in .. For another tromp through the treasure chests and golden waterfalls.
Paris always manages to take my breath away (and this time in the good way, not because men in metro never wear déo!!). I miss it so much, even though I am still in the city – there is just never enough time to see everything, absorb it all, get your head around the grandeur and splendor and heart-aching beauty of it all. Until next time, my love..
“When you tire of Paris, you tire of life.”
UN TRÈSOR CACHÈ A PARIS: DÉCOUVRIR LE MYSTIQUE DE MOYENNE ORIENT
“Le freak, c’est chic” – Célébrer la vie!!! J’ai visité la Mosquée de Paris pour le premier fois cet après-midi et c’est un trésor caché avec plein des activités à faire – le hammam, le salon du thé, un grand et beau resto avec un intérieur extraordinaire. Faire une promenade dans le Jardin des Plantes à côté la mosquée; voir l’intérieur de mosquée, manger une tagine sur place dans le grand resto avec les motifs marocaine sur les murs, continuez avec 2 ou 3 heures au hammam, et finir l’après midi avec une verre du thé du menthe et reste tranquillement sur la terrasse bien ensoleillée.
I sketched this out for a beautiful newlywed couple I met on the train from Paris to London. I think this will be the beginnings of a fully interactive map! But for now, my restaurant recommendations in Paris at a glance:
Hello!! I am back in the south of France, getting back into the swing of the yachting season in the Mediterranean, despite the ferocious downpour over the Easter weekend!
I was soaked to the bone and pummeled by the whistling wind, as I used my flimsy umbrella like a shield against the sideways rain to no avail.
As I dragged along my little caddy through the puddles on the ground I thought – wow this would make for a great comedic scene in the play of “Yachtie Life.”
Would love to share some scenes of my beloved purveyors; it’s been a good 6 months since I have seen their familiar faces.
They know what I want, and take the time to chat with me, as I wait patiently in line for my turn. That is one great thing about the French – they give good customer service when it comes to food!
Great care and attention is taken while preparing and selling fish, cheese or produce to the consumer. Actually, if you do not respect this mutual process, many of these culinary “artisans” will refuse to sell to you.
Luckily, I understand their love language, and I happily enjoyed the process and prepared a sumptuous meal of:
jumbo prawns and traditional Moroccan mergers sausage
black angus filet mignon (from America!), topped with foie gras stuffed figs, quinoa pilaf, and prosciutto-wrapped micro asparagus bundles
Roasted vegetable salad
Mustardy curry potatoes
finished with chocolate chili lava cake and vanilla pecan ice cream!
Seven guests (and 2 servers) were in relaxed, luxurious heaven while dining onboard a charming yacht in the port of Antibes:
I continue my own Easter journey today, Monday, as the French take an extra day for any and all holidays ;)
We’re off to the markets again, with slightly clearer skies, to begin the process of creating intimate culinary memories once more. This time I will have a guest chef, Monika from
Hungary, who drove to the south of France with her chefs knives and cat(!) by her side. Until next time…
“They say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing every day.” – Winnie the Pooh