Bonne Année

Happy New Year!  Or as they say in Paris, Bonne Année!

I’ve done a lot of cooking at home with friends and relatives over these past few holiday weeks.  All that good, solid food puts me in the mind of the sturdy bistros and brasseries of Paris, where I’ve been lucky enough to indulge in some of the most magnificent home-style cooking.  Paris also happens to be the best place in the world to shop for kitchenalia of all kinds. (Those who know me well know my weakness for slipping copper pots, madeleine molds and obscure bits of cutlery into my luggage on every trip to the French capital)

And while you can find kitchen shops all over Paris, some of the largest and most well-known are located not far from each other near Les Halles in the first arrondisement. It’s not surprising that you’ll find the cookware shops here: for centuries, Les Halles was the site of the wholesale markets that fed Paris.  Dating to medieval times, when merchants from the countryside brought their wares into the city to sell, the distinctive iron and glass buildings of Les Halles were constructed in the mid-19th century, and the area became known as “the belly of Paris.”

By the early 1970s, Les Halles was seen as a dirty and noisy blot on the Paris landscape. In a fit of modernization – or desecration, if you will – the city moved the wholesale market to the suburb of Rungis and replaced the food markets with an indoor mall that’s never really worked well.  While the chefs of the city now go out beyond the Périphérique for their pre-dawn purchasing, they still buy their equipment in the Les Halles area.

So in the spirit of the new year – and new resolutions to bundle up against the cold and make more Boeuf Bourguignon, Cassoulet, and Soupe a L’Oignon at home – I wanted to share a few favorite shops which have altered the landscape of my kitchen over the years.

For many years, if you wanted to buy copper pots or anything special for cooking, you headed to E. Dehillerin. Since 1820, this family-owned store has supplied professional chefs and avid home cooks with knives, pastry molds, pots and tableware and obscure utensils you didn’t even know existed. Julia Child bought her copper pots here; they now reside in the Smithsonian Institution.

I’m not sure when the store was last remodeled – if ever – but the aisles are narrow, the shelves are stacked high, and the wooden floors are worn. Sales reps in green work coats stand near the entrance, but don’t expect them to rush to help you; they’re much more likely to be filling a commercial order. Instead, prowl through the poorly-lit crowded spaces before throwing up your hands and asking for help in finding that special Pommes Anna pan you’ve been searching high and low for. It’s a bit like stepping back in time, but make no mistake: Dehillerin probably has what you need – as long as it’s not electric.

18 – 20, rue Coquilliere. Open Monday from 9am to 12:30pm and from 2 – 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Closed Sunday.

Just a few blocks away, several other stores cluster near each other on rue Montmartre. Mora has been in existence even longer than Dehillerin – depuis 1814. But they’ve updated through the years (and moved from their original location) so the shop is contemporary in design, even if the aisles are still so narrow you have to negotiate with other shoppers to move through.

In addition to the professional-grade pots, pans and molds, you’ll find a specialty in pastry equipment. They’ve got lots more, including mandoline slicers, cutlery, cocktail mixers, bread and ice cream makers and glassware.

13, rue Montmartre.  Open Monday – Friday from 9am – 6:15pm, Saturday 10am – 1pm and 1:45 – 6:30pm. Closed Sunday.

La Bovida is the Paris outlet of a chain of professional chef’s stores throughout France. It’s a relative newcomer among these kitchen outlets, founded in 1921. You walk into a high bright atrium; a ring of shining aluminum pots hangs above your head.

The store extends over three levels, with an enormous inventory of serving dishes for catering. It’s a much larger store than Mora. La Bovida is also well-known for carrying a line of spices by the kilo, in addition to everything for the table.

36, rue Montmartre. Open Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 6:30pm, Saturday 10am – 6pm, closed Sunday.

A. Simon has two separate stores next to each other, each with its own entrance. One store is large and well-lit and features supplies for professional hotels and restaurants, as well as table linens and china patterns for the table. The other shop is pastry-chef heaven – a narrow space crammed with everything a pastry cook might ever think of needing. Like the other cooking stores, this one has been an institution in Paris for over a century, since 1884.

48 and 52, rue Montmartre.  Open Monday from 1:30 – 6:30pm, Tuesday – Friday from 9 – 6:30pm, Saturday from 9:30am – 6:30pm. Closed Sunday.

Right around the corner from the cookware shops is G. Detou. Pronounced in French, the name sounds like “J’ai de tout,”  a play on the phrase “I have everything.” And though the store doesn’t sell equipment, it is the ultimate source for any obscure ingredients you might need to cook with. They’re stocked with a voracious assortment of chocolate, nuts, artisanal honeys, mustards (even Fallot’s!), preserved fruits and spices from around the globe.

Even if you’re not cooking at home or packing specialty items home for gifts (the tins of sardines are works of art), you can get foie gras and other gourmet snacks here to make a picnic of it.

58, rue Tiquetonne.  Open Monday – Saturday, 8:30am – 6:30pm. Closed Sunday.

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