At Paris Perfect it’s no secret that we adore French pastries and desserts. Discovering new pâtisseries, trying different desserts or simply enjoying our family favorites is one of those little joys we treasure in life. Above all, we love how the search for the perfect bakery or pastry is a lifelong art in Paris.
We know we’re not alone in our love of the Parisian lifestyle and approach to desserts, and for years we’ve been enthusiastically following David Lebovitz, an American Pastry chef and author, who has lived in Paris since 2004. We love his sense of humor, hilarious storytelling, passion for French desserts and the excellent recipes he shares in his cookbooks and on his award-winning blog.
Although in the midst of a complicated apartment remodeling project in Paris (something we know a lot about at Paris Perfect!), David was kind enough to take some time out to answer a few of the questions we’ve been dying to ask about the Parisian pastry scene, his favorite open-air markets and the charms and challenges of life in Paris.
Paris Perfect: What has changed the most about pastries and pâtisseries since you moved to Paris in 2004?
David Lebovitz: I think they’ve gotten better and better. When pastry chefs, like Pierre Hermé and Fabrice Le Bourdat, began getting the recognition that was formerly reserved for regular chefs, people started taking more notice of pastries, so the quality and diversity have really been dialed up. And people in Paris aren’t afraid of eating cakes and tarts, so bakeries are still a vibrant part of life in Paris.
What are the Paris food markets you couldn’t live without?
All of them are different, but I think the Marché d’Aligre is the most interesting and diverse market in Paris [Métro Ledru-Rollin, 12th arrondissement]. There are all sorts of things there, from great cheeses, to exotic produce. The covered market is wonderful to explore, and it’s open in the afternoons (when other markets are closed) and if you get there early enough in the morning, the flea market is fun to poke around in. I’ve scored a few times rifling through the boxes of cookware.
I also like the Batignolles market on Saturday morning since it’s all local produce [Métro Rome, Place de Clichy, 17th arrondissement]. The downside is that it takes three different métros for me to go there, which is a long way to go round-trip, especially when you’re hauling produce.
You include a wealth of insider and humorous tips for visitors to Paris in your book The Sweet Life in Paris, Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious and Perplexing City. What are the 3 most important tips you would offer a visitor?
1) Never try to pay a cashier for anything with a large bill, because even if they have a drawerful of change, they will make you rifle through every pocket and cranny in your wallet to make absolutely certain that you don’t have exact change.
2) Always greet people with, “Bonjour madame” or “Bonjour monsieur” no matter where you encounter them, from walking into shops, to entering elevators and doctor’s waiting rooms where other people are present. And always say “Merci” as you depart, even if the person hasn’t been particularly helpful. (Which seems funny, but the French are really good at being able to do a put-down just by changing the inflection in their voice, so “Merci, monsieur” could be seen as “Thank you, sir” or “Thanks for nothing, sir” – by just altering the tenor slightly.)
3) Don’t let Charles De Gaulle airport cloud your vision of Paris. And bring your own food if you go. It astounds me that they don’t have any decent dining options when arriving or leaving what is supposed to be one of the great gastronomic capitals of the world.
When you’re traveling, what do you miss the most about Paris?
What ingredients do you miss from America that you can’t easily find in France?
Aluminum foil from the States, which French cooks ask me to bring them back from trips. If you want to make a French woman happy, skip the perfume and chocolates, and give her a tight roll of heavy-duty Reynolds Wrap.
You’ve described Paris as a great muse, because it has so many stories. What are some of the spots in Paris that speak to you most as a writer?
It’s the irregularities of life here that are fodder for stories. Like cashiers telling you they have no change, when they’re sitting in front of a drawerful of bill and coins, when a bureaucrat tells you it’s not their job to tell you what forms they need (that you need to figure that out yourself), and that the French are scrupulous about l’hygiene, yet tolerate an unusual amount of doggie messes on the street.
We have those things in American culture as well – especially they hygiene part, as everyone in America seems to be toting little bottles of sanitizer, but we tolerate other shoppers touching all our fruits and vegetables before we buy them, and we buy cars based the cup holders, not on reliability or price.
What is the sweetest part of life in Paris for you?
I like how bakeries and chocolate shops are integrated into life in Paris. They’re not “special occasion” places, but are where Parisians shop for their daily food. And while everyone is seemingly on le régime (diet), they will always make an exception is something chocolate is passed their way.
A huge thank you to David from all of us at Paris Perfect!
If you’re craving something sweet, David Lebovitz has written six books – five cookbooks and Savoring the Sweet Life in Paris, a humorous and insightful tale about his move to Paris, including almost 50 recipes. His cookbook The Perfect Scoop is our kitchen staple for making ice cream, sorbet, sherbert and so much more!
If you love Paris and its irresistible pastries and sweets like we do, you’ll want to check out David’s newest Paris Pastry Guide E-Book and iPhone App. With 300 of the top spots in Paris for pastries, chocolates, candy and hot chocolate, you’ll be off to a good start at savoring the sweet life in Paris!