In this final segment of the VIU log, I will be sharing what can only be a small fraction of the adventure of visiting numerous boulangeries, patisseries and high-end boutiques throughout Paris. As much of the experience is involved in the visual and the olfactory sense, I can’t really share the amazing smells associated with popping into some of these little shops. I hope a visual tour will suffice.
This post will be rather photo heavy so I’ll post the pictures in small thumbnail sizes. You can click on any you want to see more detailed to open it up into a larger picture.
On our first day in Paris, we had an opportunity to wander about for the morning and get a feel of the neighbourhood in the 19th Arrondissement, specifically in the Rue Crimée and Ave. de Flandre area. One of the first places a few of us dropped into was a little artisan bakery on Rue Curial that we just happened upon. In the back, you can see the baker working, pulling baguettes as we came though. The very nice sales lady, hearing that we were VIU students visiting for Europain and in the Baking and Pastry Arts course, gave us a freshly baked multi-grain baguette which we soon broke into and enjoyed. Josie, Chelsea and Taina show us how that’s done.
A little later in the week, some of us visited the Notre Dame Cathedral and afterwards went into the Latin Quarter where we visited a bakery called La Boulangerie a Papa. Here, Paul picks up the first of many Pain au Chocolat he’d sample on this trip, just as Julia enjoys a Nutella crêpe, also something she tested from several places over the two weeks.
On our first “official” bakery visits tour, our first stop was at the Boulangerie de Monge, a quite stylish, boutique like affair in the somewhat affluent Rue Saint-Honoré. Right next door is the famed Patisserie Stohrer, founded in 1730 by King Louis XV’s baker, creator of the popular Baba au Rhum, a brioche cake soaked in rum syrup.
Next stop was a couple of bakery equipment suppliers and a wonderful little shop called G Detou, a play-on-words for j’ai de tout, meaning “I have everything”. Packed to the gills with everything you might need from chocolate to spices to cake decorations to seeds and beans to… well…they have everything. We next wandered over to Boulangerie Julien, a mix of lunch deli and bakery where we all picked up a nice baguette sandwich.
We then hit a couple of the very high-brow shops, one – or rather two – being Fauchon. Strictly on a personal level, these places are just too high-brow for my taste. Yes, the products they sell are likely very very good and they cater to those who can afford 1700€ for a 200 gram container of caviar or a 6000€ bottle of wine. Paul C did pick up a few chocolates here, however. He is a chocolate dude, as I’m a bread head. Above, Glenn is not so impressed with the extreme focus on looks of everything in the store. He’s a bread head too. We went from one expensive Fauchon store to the next, which was literally across the street. After this, we hit another boutique place, the Paul Hermé macaron boutique. Again, way too ‘upper class’ for my tastes.
At last, after the nods to a few patisseries and the elite shops above, we hit a bread head’s dream stop, the Poilâne bakery. Much smaller than I expected, the little store front was packed full of wonderful breads and viennoiseries (that’s your croissants, chaussons aux pomme – apple turnovers – and the like). We nabbed ourselves a half miche (French for big-ass loaf of bread) and finally headed back to the hostel where Julia, Glenn and I, bread bakers at heart, enjoyed the loaf with some Brie and wine.
On our final Bakery Tours day, most of the pastry folk had decided to wander off on their own so Glenn, Julia and I got to direct the tour Chef Harper took us on somewhat, dropping the shops that focussed on patisserie and aimed for the boulangeries instead. On the way to a bakery that had won the 2011 “Best Baguette in Paris” title (which we had actually visited on our own the week before) we happened on several little bakeries that were not found online, where these tours had been researched before leaving VIU. One after the other, we ran into lovely little shops where the focus was bread, bread and more bread. One such was the Delmontel boulangerie which happened to have won Best Baguette in 2007. I purchased a Chausson aux Pomme here with the plan to buy a few and then do a little taste test.
We made our way to Le Grenier a Pain in the 18th, another well know bakery where we got an olive Fougasse and another Chauson aux Pomme. Once we had checked out their wares, we stepped back out to the street where there was a fairly expansive street market. We picked up some wonderful cheeses, marinated olives and artichoke hearts.
Then we were off back southward to the Opera area where Chef Harper had an opportunity to visit another expensive boutique, Le Nôtre. Again, beautiful looking cakes, pastries, expensive chocolates and other high-class items. The help, however, made it rather clear we mere students weren’t quite their preferred customers. Once we were out of there, there was one last place to hit, one that I had added to the list and I was very much looking forward to.
Du Pain et des Idées is a boulangerie I had heard of a year or so back and the owner, Christophe Vasseur, has ideals I very much feel in tune with. Long, slow fermentation, great care and a focus on organic and local products got him “Best Baker in Paris” in 2008. No pastries are found at his shop as he focusses strictly on bread and viennoiseries. I had hoped we would see him there but we had taken much of the day visiting other places and it was rather late when we got there, at least on baker’s time. Most shelves were empty, having already been bought out by the morning and early rush. However, a fresh batch of baguettes was added to the shelf while we were there and we nabbed ourselves one.
Sitting ourselves outside the boulangeries at the table provided, we had a great lunch of our cheeses, olives and what I can easily say was the very best baguette I had come across during this trip where we did taste dozens and dozens of them, both at the individual shops and at the Europain expo. A great way to finish up our visits.
And with this, I close up the Paris 2012 VIU blog. I had been asked to get my fellow students’ impressions of the trip and post videos of their responses here but alas, after this final day, things got just a little too hectic and there was no real way to set up a little impromptu recording studio. I’ll therefore add my own comments.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS FIELD SCHOOL TRIP?
Among other things, I did learn that there was a much bigger focus on baking and bakers in Europe than in North America, although there is still an active baking community here albeit very widespread.
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY?
The food, the social mindset of it’s importance in quality, source and freshness, something lacking here when people are accustomed to buying everything from a grocery store, not individual bakers, cheese shops and butchers.
WHY DO YOU THINK ITS IMPORTANT TO GO ON A FIELD SCHOOL TRIP TO COMPLEMENT YOUR EDUCATION?
This field school trip has been invaluable in that it has exposed me (and I assume most of the classmates who went) to a very different set of customs and attitudes. Not only was the technical information we picked up at Europain a great addition to tour education, but the exposure to the cultural differences, the attitude towards what is, in effect, my/our choice of career is immeasurably helpful and will definitely expand what I had previously assumed was the scope of baking. It has expanded my horizons immensely.
Plus I got to know people a lot more than in class and made some really great friends who share my passions and beliefs.
I hope people have found this blog interesting and invite those who like the breaddy side of life to check out my ongoing bread blog, Yumarama.com where I hope to expand even more on the things I learned and saw on this trip.
I leave you with a couple of pictures from Europain at the booth of an organic milling company called Minoterie SUIRE, whose head bakers Olivier and Michael produced gorgeous and inspiring breads, including one of the most beautifully constructed croissant I’ve ever seen. I hope it inspires a budding baker out there to aim for the very best.