As many of you know now, I was given the honor of being named Master Chef of France in late 2011. The induction ceremony took place in France on March 24, 2012. This event coincided perfectly with my Mom’s birthday and since I wanted to take my sous-Chef, Manuel, to France for some culinary inspiration, I booked my trip right away. This is the account of my week-long trip to France, adventure by culinary adventure. To start from the beginning, click here. Enjoy!
Wednesday morning I woke up wondering if Manuel’s flight had gone well. I was expecting a call from him to say he was at the airport but as soon as I looked at my phone, I had a text saying that he was already at his hotel! I got ready quickly, grabbed a croissant and a coffee on my way out of the hotel and rushed to meet Manuel. He was staying at a hotel just a couple of blocks from mine. Once I got there, he was already in a bit of a dilemma. The hotel had a problem with the room and needed to send Manuel to another hotel for a couple of nights. He was not having much luck. First his flight was cancelled and now there was a problem with his hotel. Anyway, I arrived just in time to translate and explain the situation to Manuel. He was soon on his way to getting settled into a room and unpacking.
We called Philippe Pantoli to fill him in on our adventures and asked him to pick us up before heading towards the Champs Elysees. There we had reservations at the Mini Palais. We took the roundabout at the Concorde and then headed west towards the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. If you have been to Paris then you know what an architectural treasure this area is…you might have even seen it in the Tour de France. This is also one of the most expensive shopping districts in Paris so we were not surprised to see the typical Parisian scene similar to that of New York with ladies doing their shopping on Madison Avenue. As we searched for the valet, we could see the Eiffel Tower across the Seine River.
We made our way up the steps of the Mini Palais which is a restaurant housed in a corner of the Grand Palais. When we arrived in the dining room, the hostess said, “You are late for your reservation.” I said, “No, not really.” To which she replied, “Yes, you are 25 minutes late.”
In fact, we were pretty late for our reservation. I had not realized the time but hey, we were in Paris where everyone is late, at least 15 minutes fashionably late! The hostess looked like she was trying to play tough but I could tell that she was really a sweet girl. I decided to try the charm instead of getting mad and I said with a smile and a little laugh, “Mademoiselle, I am very tired from traveling and the only thing I want to hear right now is ‘Mr. Schmit, we are happy to see you. Your table is ready.’”
At first she looked at me a little strangely and I thought maybe she took it the wrong way. Then I could see a smile starting to crack and we both started to laugh. She showed us to our table and wished us an enjoyable meal. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous meal in a most unexpected setting. (Lesson in French culture: If the French try to stick it to you, then you have to stick it back to them… with humor of course! Do not let them take advantage of you!)
As Philippe and Manuel sat down to study the menu (they could only think of their stomachs at the moment), I admired the scenery. First of all, we were seated near a widow and as you looked out you immediately saw large Roman columns with tables and chairs scattered among them. You could also see some of Paris’ most amazing architecture from where we sat. The people ate outside and enjoyed the nice spring weather. The restaurant is one of Eric Frechon’s. He is not the actual chef there but you can tell that he is the inspiration there. The food was simple and had great flavor. It was kind of like Gordon Ramsey’s way of cooking: meat, veggies + sauce – straightforward and well executed. Where we were sitting allowed us to see many dishes go by, so now I really feel like an expert on the Mini Palais! See some of our dishes below.
As my first encounter with the hostess predicted, we got along well with the staff here. This was in fact one of the rare restaurants that had such a welcoming staff and quite reasonable pricing I would come to realize later.
After lunch, we made our way to the Grand Epicerie. If you do not know it already, the Grand Epicerie is like an upscale Central Market. We of course wanted to buy everything in the store but settled on a couple of David Guetta signature Coca Cola bottles, a few dishes for molecular cooking (for the expert Pastry Chef in our kitchen, Jami Kling) and a chocolate croissant. We got some great ideas for bread and took a picture of the foie gras presentation. The quality of the fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese was remarkable. It is crazy to think that some Parisians do all their grocery shopping there – but it is true!
From the Grand Epicerie, we hopped in a taxi and made our way to Ile de la Cité to see Notre Dame Cathedral. There were many people outside the church taking pictures. It is amazing how we can now just snap a picture with a phone and then send it across the world in a matter of seconds. Fortunately the line was not too long so we made a quick trip through the cathedral. We wanted to cross the bridge to Ile Saint Louis and get an ice cream at the Maison Berthillion but it had just closed. Instead, we took a taxi back to the hotel but on our way, we stopped by Collette on rue Saint Honoré for my friend Catherine Moellering who is a trend forecaster in New York City for Tobe. Collette is a trendy store in Paris that sells just about everything from headphones, to clothes, to accessories, to helmets! From what I understand, it is very avant-garde and has quite an influence on upcoming trends worldwide!
Back at the hotel, we had just enough time to shower and change before saddling up for our next restaurant, the 39 V. Check back tomorrow to hear about our dining marathon (2 restaurants in one night)!
French lesson of the day: Monsieur, vous avez vingt-cinq minutes de retard!
Translation: Sir, you are twenty five minutes late!