[Editor’s Note: To turn the pages of Trish Deseine’s beautiful new book is to open the door to insider’s Paris. The Irish food writer and BBC cooking show host—who was named one of the forty women of the decade by Vogue Paris in 2010—has been a Paris resident for over 25 years. The Paris Gourmet is both a little black yellow book of top gourmet addresses, and also a visual feast with splendid photography by Christian Sarramon. (Did we mention the recipes?)
Famed pâtissier Pierre Hermé said, “Trish Deseine is a veritable—and generous—gourmet. With her politically incorrect attitude towards sugar, cream and butter, she has shaken up home cooking, and made it accessible to everyone.”
That generosity shines in The Paris Gourmet, brimming with tips and epicurean delights. In this excerpt, Deseine sheds some light on food shopping in Paris, often a source of bewilderment for visitors trying to navigate French customs and etiquette.]
Gourmet Tips: The Art of Food Shopping
Even a single slice of pâté en croute requires patience.
The queuing system in Paris can be a true nightmare. Traditionally those who serve you are not allowed to handle money, so often you must take your receipt to a booth, where you will find a crazy-eyed, fast-counting man or woman. Once you’ve paid, you take it back to the person who served you, by which time he or she will be busy with someone else and you have to wait all over again. Remember, good things come to those who wait.
Never miss a chance to taste before you buy at the fromagerie.
Sometimes, in cheese shops, a taste of the cheese on display is offered to you. Even if you are going straight from the shop
to a first kiss with the future mother/father of your children, do not refuse, it is considered rude.
Sometimes a boucherie is also a charcuterie, and vice versa.
There are strange demarcations between meat sellers. It’s not an exact science. A charcuterie might have some beef, a boucherie will often have chicken breasts whereas a volailler usually sticks to his birds. It seems, however, that le boudin noir transcends all borders in some mysterious blood-loving consensus.
Flirt. It will get you everywhere.
Or, rather, do not be surprised when the sellers flirt with you. It’s all part of the show.
Cakes, never underwrapped.
There is nothing more frustrating than a seller lovingly setting your quiche Lorraine on a little square of cardboard, enveloping it in a beautifully crafted pyramid of floral paper, tying it with a plastic ribbon, making a perfectly balanced knot so that it doesn’t tilt when you carry it – only for you to tear it all apart just in front of the shop because it’s 1:30 and you skipped breakfast.
Every food seller in Paris has a cookbook in him.
Unless you’re very rushed, always ask how the seller would cook whatever it is you’re buying. They love to show off their knowledge, and even if you’ve already decided what you are going to make, you’ll pick up ideas for next time. If you have half an hour, ask the people in the queue too.
In Paris, politeness matters, even if you’re only buying a cabbage.
Always, always, say bonjour (preferably with a ‘Madame’ or ‘Monsieur’ tagged on) as you walk into a store. It might not change anything when you do, but if you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised if your melon for Friday wasn’t ripe after all.
Stick to what you know.
A boulanger–pâtissier is almost always only good at one or the other, not both. Either the bread is awesome and the cakes a little coarse, or the cakes exquisite and the bread rather neglected. It is very rare that both are excellent – unless there are two artisans working together.
Even if it is called street food, it’s rude to walk with your mouth full.
If you’re over fifteen, it is still considered rude to eat while walking down the street, though, admittedly, a chocolate eclair is a wonder of design when it comes to easy scoffing.
From The Paris Gourmet by Trish Deseine. Photography by Christian Sarramon. Reprinted by arrangement with Flammarion. 208 pages. US $34.95, Can $34.95, £22.50, €25.