My father was in Paris a few weeks ago, and I am only now putting up pictures of our beautiful tea-time at the Plaza Athenee, where I work as a pastry chef when I "want to work"- not my words...!!
I started my little tour de France as you recommended me to do last year. You would always say, "Abi, Paris is not France! Go and explore la vraie France."
I admit to you now, this wasn't even thought out or organised in any way. And for that very reason I feel like it's a kind of pre-destined journey, one of finally discovering this beautiful country.
On the Eurostar from London to Paris, my friend Anja gave me a phone call to tell me that a little outing was being organised the next day. "Where are we going?" I am curious, worried. And what if I don't like this place? Anja tells me that she doesn't know where we are going, but we are going. Thankfully she was granted the trust of her friendly landlady for use of the car, otherwise I am not sure I would have jumped on board. You know how I am capable of being very stubborn sometimes.
So, we begin our Road Trip from Paris to I-don't-know-where.
What beautiful weather we had that day! After seeing a banner which pointed in the direction of Monet's house, I find out that we're headed to a little village called "Roche Guyon."
Roche- Guyon is a comune in the Val-d'Oise department in the North of France. I call it a village but it is actually a comune which was built around the Chateau de La Roche-Guyon.
I made a new friend that day. He's an Italian chef called Leandro, you would get on well with him. Philippe was also with us, radiant and funny as always, as was Roberto, Anja's multi-italian boyfriend and Anja, of course.
What did we eat? That is obviously the question I was waiting to hear! We bought some crunchy tradition baguettes and we savoured them with some regional patè, bought by a smiley vendor who was happy to call it a day. You would have been proud!
You know, with Italians, we prefer to drink espressos than climb castle stairs. So we enjoyed an Italian afternoon in the French countryside. Cafè, dolce, la bella vità.
I finally made my way over to Acide Macaron to visit a good friend of mine who works as a pastry chef at this chic tea salon.
Unlike on the rue du Bac, which boasts an array of multi coloured macarons in a take away boutique, Jonathan Blot's tea salon in the 17th arrondissement de Paris opens its doors to a crowd-pleasing lieu of excellence.
The chef opened his first macaron shop at only 28 years old. He is known to have frequented the most respectable training schools in France such as Jules Verne, Le Plaza Athenee, chez Ledoyen and Ladurée.
A selection of more elaborate patisseries are beautifully presented in the shop window, however the additional pastry chariot allows the simpler palate a selection of beautiful cookies and tarts at a slightly lower price.
J'ai finalement réussi à me diriger vers le salon de thé Acide Macaron, pour rendre visite a une amie a moi qui y travaille en tant que pâtissière .
A la difference de la rue du Bac, ou on nous présente une gamme de macarons multicolores dans une belle petite boutique, le salon de thé Acide dans le 17eme arrondissement de Paris ouvre ses portes a un lieu d'excellence avec des patisseries a déguster sur place .
Le chef Jonathan Blot, a ouvert son premier magasin de macarons a 28 ans. Il a fréquente des écoles respectables: Jules Verne, Le Plaza Athénée, Ledoyen et Ladurée.
Une sélection de pâtisseries plus élaborées se trouvent dans la vitrine, mais le chariot offre une selection de gateaux de voyage, des cookies et des cakes également très bien présentés .
The tea shop is well thought out and there is an air of femininity in the room. The design merges an air of art deco with Alice and Wonderland-like images, (even the loo, which has dark polka dot wallpaper!) and the bar where hang white tea pots from the ceiling.
Le salon de thé est bien aménagé et il y a un air de féminité dans la piece. Le design est un melange d'art deco avec des images de Alice au Pays des Merveilles (même les toilettes, avec un papier peint a pois noirs !) et le bar ou sont suspendues des théiers du plafond.
The cups, plates and saucers all match the pre-thought out artisty ambiance and are very pleasant to eat out of. The plate, which seemed to turn from blue to gold when tarnished with chocolate, was a surprising eye opener. Unfortunately when I asked the waitress how this was possible she looked at me as though I was the mad hatter, so I quickly went back to my friend Sara to talk about the sensual experiences of the desserts we were tasting..
Tout s'accorde bien: les tasses et les assiettes sont colorées comme le lieu et ils sont très agréables. J'ai meme noté que les assiettes semblait changer de bleu a une couleur dorée. Malheureseument quand j'ai demandé à la serveuse comment ceci était possible, elle m'a regardée comme si j'etais le chapelier fou alors j'ai vite continué a parler a ma copine Sara pour discuter des experiences sensorielles des patisseries...
We tried the most classic cakes: Tarte au Citron Meringué Lemon Meringue Tart and Tarte au Chocolat Chocolate Tart. Two of my favourite french classics.
The lemon tart was perfectly balanced with a not too sweet meringue. The addition of basil oil was an interesting touch!
Nous avons gouté la tarte au citron meringue ainsi que la tarte au chocolat: deux patisseries classiques.
La tarte au citron était très bien équilibrée avec une meringue pas trop sucrée. L'ajout de l'huile de basilique était une touche intéressante!
The chocolate tart had a green tea base and a salted caramel centre which oozed out of the middle. Simply delicious.
La tarte au chocolat avait une pate sucrée au thé vert et un centre de caramel beurre salée qui coulait.. un vrai délice.
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine talked to me about a patisserie called Liberté, (Freedom) by pastry chef Benoit Castel. He told me that this pastry chef aimed to use only fresh products and sells what he makes daily. (Rather than freeze pastries or sell the next day.)
In the evening, I went online to check out the website and saw a photo of the Patisserie-boulangerie concept, with an open plan kitchen which looks on to the sales display, and I fell in love with the idea.
I was thinking about it for over a month and today I finally wandered over. It's so different to most patisseries you would ever find in France, so modern yet so rustic, and if it weren't for the stressed out managerial lady who huffed and puffed as she jotted upstairs and downstairs right-left and centre, you would almost not think you were in Paris at all.
Liberté is a large white space, with concrete unwashed ceiling, walls and pillars. The lamps hang from metal ropes as well as neon lights which add to the brightness, shining onto the white marble display on which the pastries are displayed. It is almost like an artists studio, and the open plan kitchen shows that this is the idea: to be able to see the pastry-chef artists at work. To break that fourth wall between maker and buyer. Because bread makers and pastry chefs shouldn't always be confined to an underground lab where no one can see them, should they? Benoit Castel obviously seems to think not.
Let's get to the good part- the tasting process.
I wasn't very up for anything this afternoon as I'd just had a very filling Chinese lunch, however I knew I couldn't have come this far and not try anything at all. My chefs at work wouldn't be happy... So I let the chocolate cremeux and tonka chantilly tart take my fancy. Why? Because a couple of weeks ago, I made a pear and caramel chantilly tart and my chefs told me that you can't make a "cream" based tart. Well, Benoit Castel's tart proved them wrong. It was delicious. The cream was lightly infused with tonka bean and the cremeux was light and creamy. The base, a cocoa sablé could have been slightly crumblier to my liking, but that's me being a fuss pot. I finished it all, and I could taste that each ingredient was fresh and made that day.
The coffee I had was at the perfect temperature and surprisingly good taste for what you usually find in Paris, (definitely because they use Italian coffee. )
A place to go, for sure.
The title of this blog post may sound slightly sarcastic, but it really is not. It is a true declaration of thanks to Thomas, a young pastry chef who I work with at the Plaza Athenee.
I've been a little reserved when it comes to blogging about work and work topics. I always wanted this internet space to be for my personal experiences, food and pastries I made and thought of myself. But the time has come now that I hardly ever write because I simply don't have time since I'm at work all the time. So I figured, if I don't want my blog to vanish, I should write about my kitchen experiences as well, and talk a little about what we do and what it's like working in a "palace" patisserie..
Yesterday I stayed to work a few hours with the evening team to see what they get up to, and Thomas took me on under his wing so we could make "Le Merveilleux" together. At the Plaza, "le Merveilleux" is an entremet (layered dessert) consisting of a thin, moist chocolate sponge, caremelised hazelnuts, praline and chocolate feuilletine, a layer of dark chocolate crémeux and whipped tanariva (Valhrona's milk chocolate) chantilly cream. It is only made for special commands, for the birthday cakes people order.
My "work mode" had switched off after my shift had finished. It's a mode I switch on ten minutes before entering the kitchen lab, a mode that is not only important but vital to be alert enough for the mental (and physical) pace of these young professional pastry chefs. They send me running and creating at a pace I had no idea I was capable of.
Some of these guys are very strict, everything has to be perfect all the time so the smallest error will not go unnoticed.
The thing is, ninety five percent of the time, I don't make any errors. This is not because I am perfect at what I do yet, (far from it!) but simply because I don't allow myself to get into the possibility of failure or one of the chefs is watching over me to make sure that sugar doesn't get too hot or that cream gets boiled for long enough. It's all science, it's all a game of chemistry. Something I thought I got, but I actually don't get.
With Thomas, there were no chefs watching over me. He trusted me to make a few preparations for the layered cake and I feel like I let him down.
He asked me if I could make a crème anglaise, and I told him of course, and I started preparing all my measurements with the milk heating up on the stove. I added the milk to the egg yolks and the sugar and poured it back in the pan to cook whilst mixing with a whisk until 85 degrees Celsius. I realised at this point I was missing a utensil I needed to transfer the cream so I turned the stove off to grab it and when I returned to the stove, Thomas was whisking the cream. I told him it's fine! everything was under control! only to realise that rather than turn off the gas, I had put it up on maximum and the cream was bubbling away, many, many degrees above the temperature it is meant to reach.
I burnt the crème anglaise, one of the most basic creams a pâtissière should be able to make, (with her eyes closed!)
So I start again, exactly the same, and everything goes smoothly. At 85 degrees I turn the heat off, (for real this time!) and when I slowly start to pour the cream into the chocolate, I notice that the cream has already cooked a little too much and the particles are separating, the clue to whether a cream has worked or not. I call Thomas, to tell him that I really don't understand why it is already over cooked and he tells me that with the cream we are playing with seconds, you can't leave it even an instant. "Like pasta," he told me. "Once it's al-dente, you need to pour out the water but you can't turn off the stove and leave the pasta in, can you?"
I felt so ridiculous, but I was also thankful for failure. From the bottom of my heart, I felt so mad at myself for not being so unbelievably careful, but at least I failed.
From this life lesson, I say my biggest thanks to Thomas, who not only allowed me to fail, but didn't give me any stick about it. The lessons you learn from your own mistakes are the only ones that really stick with you.
These are some of my Instagram shots over the past few days!
At the Plaza Athenee we are doing a "chariot chocolat" which consists of a dessert tray with only chocolate desserts. On this "chariot", we have a chocolate tart, with the finest Alain Ducasse chocolate ganache, we have a chocolate tea cake, brioche filled with Alain Ducasse chocolate bars, chocolate "brioche perdu," dark chocolate cookies and chocolate financiers..
The normal plated desserts stay the same, however, such as the classic double vanilla millefeuille.. (which I made)
Here is a little picture of the Michalak tea time consisting of mini Chou, mini millefeuille, mini merveilleux (meringue, Apple, Manzana chantilly) lemon tartlet with yuzu cream, macaron with pear and maple cream, and three little verrines: chestnut tiramisu, vanilla and tonka bean with caramel, and chocolate and praline..