It’s easy to eat well in Paris, but to truly eat like a local is a whole different endeavor. At the heart of the Parisian culinary experience are the city’s markets, and eating like a Parisian means knowing where to get the “best” of everything—the freshest produce, the most interesting wines, the best baguettes, the most unique specialty products. The preparation of a perfect at-home meal is a nuanced process that involves the assembly of carefully selected puzzle pieces—not to mention the actual cooking, plating, presentation and consumption rituals.
Luckily, there is a short-cut in the form of Paule Caillat’s Promenades Gourmandes: personalized culinary excursions that allow anyone—from novices to gourmands—to access the pleasures of French home-cooking done right.
Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in one of Paule’s promenades (which are half or full-day workshops in English and are capped at 8 people). We met on rue Montorgueil, a historic market street that is still home to some of Paris’ best traiteurs, to pick up ingredients for the workshop. While Paule normally leads each tour herself, her collaborator Sarah McDonald led our shopping excursion; and as we hopped from the boucherie to the fromagerie to the boulangerie to the produce vendors, Sarah pointed out tips for how to select the best ingredients and seek the advice and expertise of food merchants.
When we arrived at Paule’s gorgeous apartment in the Marais, we were welcomed with tea and coffee as we discussed how to turn our many ingredients into a coherent feast. Paule’s kitchen is both inviting and state-of-the-art (obviously, I took careful notes for my future dream kitchen), and provided the perfect backdrop for our day of cooking. On the menu: Velouté de Potiron (Creamy Pumpkin Soup), lamb shoulder with spring vegetables, and an Apple Tarte made with Paule’s secret family crust recipe. Sound intimidating? It is. Or at least, it was. But under Sarah and Paule’s guidance, I learned that even sophisticated French menus are manageable once you’ve got some basic techniques down. And of course, working with the best possible ingredients helps too.
Around noon, we broke out a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley and sampled cheeses that ran the gamut from soft to hard and represented five major regions of France. Paule gave us a quick tutorial on French cheese—from what order the cheeses should be eaten, to how they should be cut, to how and where they are produced.
As we cooked and chatted, Paule and Sarah fielded our questions and offered insider knowledge on everything from the merits of the French tablespoon (it’s bigger than its American counterpart), to where to get the best pistachios in Paris (the vendor who used to be at the Richard Lenoir market but is now at the Marché Raspail), to how to plan and pace the preparation of a multi-course meal. In our discussion of salt, one member of the group dared so suggest, “To me, salt is salt.” This assertion was met with an audible gasp, and a lively discussion about the variety and use of different salts ensued. (Unsurprisingly, the world of artisanal French salt is highly nuanced and could inspire a workshop unto itself).
One of the highlights of the day was Paule’s demonstration of her family’s secret family recipe for a tart crust that can be used in sweet or savory recipes. We combined it with golden delicious apples and a buttery-sugary glaze to create the perfect final course for the day. In my opinion, secrets always taste better than non-secrets, and this one was no exception. (For the record, Paule also
When everything was ready, we sat around Paule’s elegant table and shared in yet another French ritual—the leisurely enjoyment of outrageously delicious food in good company. We shared anecdotes from our lives, and Paule talked about her business and all the people that have passed through her kitchen over the years. While the meal was “restaurant quality,” the overall experience was so much more memorable and personal. It’s no wonder that Paule has developed a global following of foodies.
I came away from the workshop with the feeling that I was probably a lot more capable in the kitchen that I had previously thought, and excited to try out my skills on unsuspecting friends at home. There’s no question that Paule’s advice and techniques can be applied at any market or in any kitchen, anywhere in the world. But let’s be honest… shopping, cooking, and, of course, eating are just that much more decadent in Paris. Next time you’re here, Paule’s customizable workshops should be stop #1 on your culinary agenda.
For more information on Paule’s classes and tours, FAQ’s, and pricing information, click here.
For a recap of my workshop with Paule and Rosa Jackson in New York’s Culinary Loft, click here.