Like you whenever your friends try to get you to go out
out, all Paris ever seems to want to do is be old. Tellement faux
, says Lindsey Tramuta, an American-gone-Parisienne who's been writing in and about Paris for over a decade. In her debut book The New Paris,
out today, she draws back the curtain on the city's hipper, more happening side—as obsessed with coffee, creativity, and brunch as Brooklyn or Berlin. True to the priorities of Lindsey's adopted homeland, more than half of the book focuses on—what else?
Food. Below, an exclusive excerpt from The New Paris. Get it while it's fresh.
Whereas in America sweets are invariably tied to excess, health, and morality—we use words like sinfully delicious or guilty pleasure to describe their consumption—the French approach them as joys that don’t need to be confined to special occasions or celebrations. They are entwined in a balanced, everyday lifestyle and in times of recession or uncertainty, they are even more important—an affordable luxury that lifts the spirits.
Of course, it certainly helps that in the time I’ve lived in Paris there has been a dramatic shift in the sweets themselves. They are smaller, lighter, more seasonal, and more experimental with flavor combinations. To understand in simple terms how the pastry and confection industries have changed in the last ten to twenty years, I went straight to an authority: Pierre Hermé.
“Before, pâtisserie was about the form. Today, it’s all about taste,” M. Hermé told me during our chat. That may seem like a modest distinction, but that shift in focus revolutionized the industry. He certainly had a hand in making it happen too. Practically born to become a pastry chef—the fourth generation in his family to pursue the trade—Hermé is the best-known exemplar of the ultra-creative, hyper-driven French pastry chef, revered by insatiable sugar lovers around the world. Twenty years ago, at a time when high-quality sweets only existed at palace hotels (a title given to a select group of luxury hotels in France), gourmet caterers, and chocolate shops, he transformed pastry into an accessible luxury. In 1988, when working for Fauchon, the haute-pastry mecca, he introduced collections, like those in fashion. It was a way, he told me, of infusing creativity into the pantheon of classics that followed the “rule book” to the point of being staid and uninspired (right down to the macaron, which he elevated to a work of, now ubiquitous, art). With ingredients sourced with the same rigor as in cooking, he went on to invent new recipes and breathe life into old ones, adding a singular flair to each. In her book Paris Sweets, the inimitable Dorie Greenspan described her longtime friend’s special gift: “I remember walking through Fauchon’s kitchens with Pierre and tasting as we went along. What was most memorable—and what I later came to realize was Pierre’s hallmark—was that each time I tasted something I thought I knew well, it tasted slightly different from the classic, and that slight difference made it even better.”
Things started to change while Hermé was at Fauchon and even more so when he was at the helm of Ladurée, where he not only revived the classics but made them eminently more accessible to all. “Pierre Hermé is entirely responsible for making French pastry what it is today. He brought modernity, technique, expertise, and shook up the old model,” gushed Jacques Genin, my favorite of the city’s esteemed chocolatiers, “that respect is owed to him.”
You might say this was the very beginning of newfound recognition for bakers and pastry chefs all around. And it was about time. Venturing into the world of manual labor, even of the most delicious variety, was traditionally seen as a last resort vocation for those who did poorly in school or, worse, weren’t intelligent enough. The noble paths to pursue in life have been those requiring intellect, time, and focused study in preparatory classes, university, and business schools with an expectation that students have a clear and calculated vision of where they want to go in life at an inordinately
young age. But as a result of pioneers like Hermé, Philippe Conticini, Christophe Adam, Patrick Roger, Jacques Genin, and countless others venerated in magazines and on television, their trade is finally being acknowledged as the challenging, creative, métier de passion
it truly is.
Get your copy of “The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement" by Lindsey Tramuta (Abrams New York) here if you live in the US, and here if you don't.