Living in a foreign country, as an outsider, you tend to notice lots of contradictions. If you try to learn the native language, like I am, you’ll notice there’s all sorts of curiosities specifically designed to trip your up. When people ask me what I do all day, they don’t realize that just to do something as basic as write a check, I often have to pull out the dictionary. (Although I’ve seen French people consult theirs almost as frequently.)
But English ain’t no walk in le parc either…we’ve got where, we’re, wear, ware…that all sound exactly the same but mean pretty different things.
One of the things you learn when speaking a new language is that there are lots of rules…and seemingly just as many exceptions. Sometimes they’re things not taught in classes but you just need to learn by osmosis.
For example, Paris is generally pronounced Par-EE, without saying the final ‘S‘.
But if you say the name Régis, you say Rey-GeeSS you certainly do pronounce the final ‘S’.
Similarly, if you mention the 16th arrondissement, most Parisians who don’t live there (or is that ‘their‘?) will sneer and say, “Oh, they are all snobs over there” or “I don’t like those people there, they’re not very nice.”
So imagine me being pleasantly surprised when I went to visit REGIS chocolatier in the heart of enemy territory.
The first thing they did when I walked in was greet me with a big smile and a genuine “Bonjour!”
I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse of how they make their chocolates and confections in their workshop, just a few blocks away from their boutique. In case you think candymaking is a lost art, it isn’t, and lots of homemade candies are whipped up daily at REGIS including enormous copper pans of pralined nuts.
Each pan of praline is made à l’ancienne, in the old-fashioned way, this one is 50% almond and 50% hazelnuts. The almonds are from France while the hazelnuts from Torino, in Northern Italy. They’re cooked over high heat, stirring with massive wooden paddles, until they become crystallized then coated with a fine layer of crispy caramelized sugar.
After they’re cooked, they’re spread on marble slabs to cool. But as chef Jean-Marie Caillet explained, they make an amazing ten different kinds of praline, depending on their purpose. That’s a lot of praline to keep track of. Much more so than all those French verbs. Most are ground into a paste then used to fill chocolates, and others are ground with chocolate to make a smooth paste crackly with caramel and toasty nuts. The powerful grinder they use really gets a workout and works so hard that it’s water-cooled to prevent the motor from burning out. (I probably should get a water-cooled French dictionary as well, considering how often I have to burn through its pages.)
Monsieur Caillet started as a pastry chef when he was just 14 years old and spent two years just learning the art of chocolate. He now has four people that he works with, and as he quickly tempered the couverture for dipping his chocolate, le tablage, he explained that he used various chocolates depending on what he’s doing.
For enrobing, he likes to blend fruity Venezuelan and Madagascar chocolates. But sometimes he’ll add a from chunks of 100% unsweetened chocolate (also from Venezuela) for a stronger taste. The sample he gave me was sweet enough to be nibbled as is. Which I did!
One of my favorite candies of all time is nougat, an airy confection made of beaten egg whites sweetened with honey and a touch of orange flower water. Sicilian pistachios are folded in along with well-toasted almonds, then it’s cooled and cut into bars.
It’s one of the most difficult of candies to master and I’ve made it several times and only after I went to professional confectionary classes I learned the secret and got it right. But I happily ate the samples offered and made a mental note to pick up a good-sized slab back in the store.
Once back in the shop with Chef Caillat, he had me sample his specialty, which I was looking forward to with great anticipation (although I tried to play it cool): Les Ducs, long ‘fingers’ filled with hazelnut praline and dipped in glâce Royale then dusted with cocoa. Each one is hand-dipped and has to be suspended in the air to cool without leaving a mark. There’s terrific, all-American Chocolate Chip Cookies that are perhaps the best and most-authentic in Paris, and a deep-dark chocolate Fondant; a dense slab of rich, bittersweet chocolate cake unadorned with anything to distract from the intense chocolate taste.
On the way out, the staff cracked a few jokes with me as they packed up my purchases. I couldn’t get over how nice everyone had been and how generous the chef was with his time and knowledge. While waiting for my bag of purchases to be wrapped, before I could rejoin the chic throngs of people from the seizième outside, I said to the saleswoman, “He is such a nice guy!“, she replied, “Ah. Chef Caillet est un ange. Vraiment.” (“Chef Caillet is an angel. Truly.”)
And worth going over to the 16th for, I might ad.
Er…I mean, add.
89, rue de Passy (16th)
Tél: 01 45 27 70 00
Métro: La Muette