Paris Organics

When I take Americans to a market here in Paris, a common query is, “What do they think about organics in France?” The two markets I shop at regularly, the Richard Lenoir Market and the Marche d’Aligre, don’t have much in the way of anything organic. There is one vendor who regularly shows up at the Richard Lenoir market with a gorgeous array of fruits and vegetables. The downside is the price is much, much higher than conventional produce, often 3 to 6 times higher. Still, I always stop to take a look and admire what she has and since it can be difficult to find unusual vegetables here, such as parsnips and multicolored Swiss chard, I succumb.

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Asperge Sauvage: Delicate Wild Asparagus

I’ve spoken to a several French chefs about organics, inquiring why it’s not really a movement here in France like it is in the United States. Surprisingly, every response is similar; “Why are Americans so obsessed with organics? We use very little pesticides on the produce in France.”

France is a major user of pesticides. Is the movement really a major cultural change in the United States, more so than in France? Are Americans finally taking a much closer look at the foods we eat? I would definitely say “yes”, as evidenced by the popularity of natural-foods megastores, artisan chocolates, and the like, but that doesn’t seem to be happening here. Maybe it’s because the French never strayed that much from their agricultural roots to begin with. Farmhouse cheeses and good breads are easily available, even in supermarkets, and wine is chosen based on the region, not by the grape variety (which is changing, in a rare nod to globalization.)

Most French chefs seem primarily interested in the terroir, that vaguely-translatable term that means that the product is a sum of the elements from where it’s grown; the soil, the climate, the cultivation techniques…the ‘territory’ of origin, gives food its certain “Je ne sais quoi.” That’s why the sweet corn in New England will always taste different than the corn in California, even if it’s the same variety. Or brownies in America taste better than the ones in Paris (I think I’m the first person to ascribe terroir to brownies). And why baguettes taste much more authentic in Paris than the ones in America.

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Going bio in Paris? No need to deprive yourself of les chips.


I seem to be one of those people who goes organic when it’s truly better tasting, when buying or eating American beef, or isn’t priced stratospherically high. The organic carrot juice at Trader Joe’s that’s 50 cents more seems to be a price difference I can live with. But there’s no Trader Joe’s in Paris, yet, and I don’t for see their arrival anytime soon. And I try to live responsibly; I bring my own basket to the market, I schlep my lettuce-washing water to my plants after washing salad greens, I don’t drive in Paris (which is why I’m still alive), and I’ve never, ever thrown away a twist-tie in my life, and guard my stash of them with my life (…thanks for that one too, mom.)

But then I worry if washing my plastic bags for re-use wastes more energy in water usage than simply tossing them out. Is sporting a wicker basket at the market mark me as a tourist? And my first (and last) experience buying ‘green’ toilet paper made from recycled wood pulp was, um, rather unpleasant.

I spent over 13 years working at Chez Panisse, where Alice Waters insisted that we forage as much of our ingredients as possible from organic producers and sources. At first we had some difficulties, but soon we found we were able to get most of what we wanted organically and developed wonderful relationships with farmers. Since we paid more, they’d spend more time growing what we wanted. Alice didn’t mind that food costs were very high, spending $5 per pound for organic butter, and the like. She encouraged us to be leaders in a global movement, which was possible due to the high profile and popularity of Chez Panisse. Being in sympathetic Berkeley perhaps didn’t hurt either.

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Organic Breads

But it seems now it’s fashionable to complain about organics and there’s lot of articles I’ve read lately that attack organics. I wonder about the backlash that’s happening. Yes, the organic movement is criticized for being hi-jacked by big business. But don’t we want Frosted Flakes to go organic? (Not that I eat Frosted Flakes…) And don’t we want Coke without all the preservatives? (Not that I drink Coke either…) But isn’t it better than all those chemical being dumped into our eco-system?

The same people who joke about the high price of shopping at “Whole Paycheck” don’t seem to remember that a little over a decade ago, finding anything like radicchio, goat cheese, espresso, blood oranges, and hearth-baked breads was practically unheard of. And they also don’t seem to mind spending a fortune on cars, gym memberships, and watery soy lattes. Just a few years back, if you wanted anything organic or ‘natural’, you had to brave getting trampled by Birkenstocks or getting strangled by someone’s dashiki drawstrings while sorting through crinkly apples rotting in wooden bins at the health food store.

There’s been lots of press about the downside of organic. We’ve all been saying how we wanted better foods available to all (Safeway has introduced an organic line) and how it’s out-of-reach for the less well-off (Wal-Mart is soon to introduce several lines of organic goods.) But the scare to small farmers and growers is that the large corporations will flex their muscles to force down prices, and the little guys will go out of business, who can’t compete with corporate organic agri-giants. That’s why I’m a ‘local trumps organic’ kinda mec. I feel it’s far more important to keep local businesses and neighbors afloat. Still, I can’t help but give credit to large corporations for responding to the public and expanding the availability of organics to the masses.

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Green & Black’s organic chocolate…coming soon to a superstore near you.

We have two thriving organic markets here in Paris and even though they’re across town, I’m trying to visit them more often. One is the Batignolles market in the 17th, and the other at Boulevard Raspail, which draws a bit more of an upscale crowd. On Saturday, we braved the intense rainstorm, which alternated with moments of brilliant sunshine, and sloshed around the Marché Biologique Batignolles.

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Organic vegetables at the Batignolles market.

There were beautiful vegetables everywhere, that the crowd seemed to be buying. Yes, prices were higher, but to me, they seemed proportional to the exceptional quality of most of what was available: rounds of organic camemberts and wheels of brie de meaux, mounds of golden-yellow butter riddled with flecks of sea salt from Brittany, and meaty pâtes and pintades, of Guinea fowl, raised in the open-air of the French countryside.

One of the most curious things we saw people frying up the globally loathed veggie-and-lentil patties, which resembled what people used to think of as ‘health food’ back in the days of yore….although I’m probably guilty of frying up perhaps a few of them a while back as well. Still, to do it publicly should be a crime. Especially here in Paris.

There’s a certain amount of potions, creams, and tinctures for what ails you, as well as lots of beautiful, dense, grainy breads. One vendor had wood-oven baked breads made with everything from kamut to buckwheat, quinoa to cornmeal, and dark Russian rye that was as black as charcoal, which I would have bought except I had three loaves of bread sitting in my kitchen. My ‘French Bread Crisis‘, as I call it…how can I possibly eat all the bread I seem to collect?

So there is a thriving organic movement here, although I got the feeling that most people were like me; shopping there because of the exceptional quality of the food. Now that the weather’s nicer (mostly), I’m going to venture across town more often to the Batignolles market on Saturdays, to support the local producteurs.

Perhaps if I support organic cheesemakers and boulangers, I won’t feel quite so guilty buying non-recycled toilet paper. Now if I could only find some that was locally-produced, then I’d be in business.

Marché Biologique Batignolles
Every Saturday morning
Métro: Rome

Marché Biologique Raspail
Every Sunday morning
Métro: Sèvres-Babylon

Pocket Coffee Haiku


Trim cube of chocolate

Gush out liquid espresso!

Clever caffeine cloak


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Pocket Coffee Online

Favorite Paris Restaurants

Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Paris. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’ve mentioned many of my other top picks here on the site, so you can use the search engine to find them. And there’s others on My Paris page here as well.

Several of these are also not fancy places. Sure, many people come to Paris for fine-dining, and you can find many of those addresses floating around guidebooks and online. But sometimes you just want a big plate of vegetable salads instead of half a carrot garnished by a shredded basil leaf with a dot of saffron sauce. I’ve included a few stand-by, reliably decent restaurants in case you happen to be in Paris on a Sunday, when many places are closed.

If you have some favorite places that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them since I’m always looking for new places to try and I’m sure others would too.
Feel free to leave your dining suggestions in the Comment area.

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Before you start, here’s a few tips when dining in Paris:

  • It’s always a good idea to reserve a table. Even if you arrive and the place is virtually empty, they like to know you’re coming and you’ll get a warmer welcome. Unlike the US, often you can call most restaurants that afternoon and get in easily. Hot restaurants, or ones that are fancier, you should call about a week in advance, or longer. Don’t bother using email links on most restaurant’s websites here since you’re unlikely to get a response.

  • Don’t be embarrased to order wine or water by the carafe. You probably think you’ll feel like a cheapskate…but get over it. If you look around, most of the Parisians are doing the same thing. And yes, the water is safe to drink in Paris. Why do people keep asking that?

  • Adding a tip is not required, but in spite of what you hear, most people leave a little extra for good service. If the check is 28€, you could leave 30€ if you were pleased. Or if your meal is 95€, you could leave 100€. But remember that it’s not required and if they don’t bring you back your change, request it. I’ve had a few places pull that one (in Paris and in the US.) It’s rude and presumptuous.

  • LIke anywhere in France, always say Bonjour or Bonsoir when entering a restaurant, and when you leave, say Merci. Preferably add a Monseiur or Madame along with it.

  • Many restaurants have ‘deals’ at lunch, or fix-price menus that are often a bargain. Some have them at dinner as well, and they’re generally a good value.

  • Please, do not bring out your hand sanitizer at the table. Do your grooming in the bathroom.

  • No one has doggie bags, so don’t even ask. (Although a friend of mine showed some cleavage and got one. Once.)

  • No one has ice, so don’t even ask. (Ok, well, you might get one or two. Wear something low-cut if you plan to ask.)

Rôtisserie Beaujolais 19 quai des Tournelles, tel 01 43 54 17 47. Grilled and spit roasted meats, and typical French fare. In the 5th. Avoid seats just next to the opening to the oven…it’s très hot and they like to stick out-of-towners there, who they think won’t complain. But I do since they invariably lead me to it. Open Sunday night.

Chez René 14, blvd St. Germain. Tel 01 43 54 30 23. Great French classics. The best Coq au Vin in town, with a sauce as smooth as velvet. If you don’t order the fix-priced menu, be prepared for a lot of food. It’s quite an experience and the cheese plate(s) is/are insane. Dinner menu, approximately 40€. In the 5th. You didn’t hear it from me, but there’s a clear brandy digestive hidden behind the bar…with a snake in it! I haven’t been since there was a recent change of ownership, but I hear the food is still very good.

Cuisine de Bar 8, rue Cherche-Midi (M: Sevres-Babylon), tel 01 45 48 45 69, in the 6th. Open-faced tartines, or sandwiches, served on pain Poilâne, the famed bakery next door. Order the 12€ formule with a salad, tartine (I like the one with sardines and flakes of sea salt, or poulet with anchovies), a glass of wine or bottle of water, café and a spiced cookie. Very casual yet chic. And friendly. No reservations…lunch only. If the wait it long, they’ll often pour you a welcome glass of wine.

L’As du Falafel On 34, rue des Rosiers in the Marais (M: St. Paul), closed Friday night and Saturday for the Jewish holidays. The most famous falafel anywhere! Join the crowd clamoring at the window. No reservations.

For something vegetable-oriented, Chez Marianne in the Marais at 2, rue des Hospitalieres St. Gervais, tel 01 42 72 18 86. Come here for decent Mediterranean salads. You choose a combination plate of 4, 5, or 6 salads. This is a good address to know about if you’re craving something without a lot of meat. Perfect with a bottle of house rosé. Approximately 20€. Reserve, or wait for eternity. Open every day and night, but be aware of the often abrupt servers.

Chez Omar is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Specialties are couscous and they have excellent steak and French fries as well, but I always have the roasted lamb, or méchoui d’agneau. Very lively, no reservations. Open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sundays. If you go for dinner, be prepared for a wait after 8:30pm. Don’t let any Parisians cut in front of you! A simple shove with your shoulder, followed by a very apologetic “Oops! Pardon” is usually all it take to get them to recede. Do it firm enough and you’ll only need to do it once. Trust me. Moderate prices, which do seem to keep climbing each time I go. In the 3rd, at 47 rue de Bretagne. (M: Temple or Arts and Metiers)

Another couscous place that’s less-hectic is L’Atlas, with fine Moroccan food. Feathery light couscous and savory tagines. Skip the first courses. Not fancy nor too pricey considering the fine food and gracious service. Dine in the lovely tiled dining room, or outside in fine weather. Located at 12, St. Germaine des Pres. Vegetarians will appreciate the large selection of seafood tagines. Tel 01 44 07 23 66 (M: Maubert-Mutualité), in the 5th.

Bistrot Paul Bert 18, rue Paul Bert, tel 01 43 72 24 01 (M: Faidherbe-Chaligny) Out of the way, but definitely worth going to. I love this restaurant. Some of the best desserts in Paris too. Offers a 3-course fixed menu for 32€. In the 12th.

Les Papilles 30 rue Gay-Lussac, tel 01 43 25 20 79. Wine bar and light, ‘market-fresh’ food. Menu approximately 30€. In the 5th. Nice portions, and cheerful staff.

You can follow along at my Paris Restaurant Archives for more suggestions, as well on the My Paris page.



Related Restaurants and Wine Bars in Paris

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Le Verre Volé

Les Fine Gueules

Café des Musées

French Menu Translation Guide

Save The Internet Day

I love the internet.
It allows me to trans-Atlantically track the demise of Star Jones Reynolds, witness the triumph of man over beast (which some might say bears an eerie resemblance to the previous scenario), and allows otherwise successful writers to fritter away his… I mean…their talents, in lieu of earning a living.

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Today is Save The Internet Day.
Living abroad often makes me forget how the US government valiantly fights on behalf of its citizens; making sure that you won’t suffer the dire consequences posed by raw milk cheese, ensuring that 47 million people living in the richest country on the planet don’t have to worry about that pesky health insurance, racking up a staggering $305 billion dollar deficit, and introducing legislation making high-speed internet accessible only to the highest corporate bidders, blocking or slowing access for other web users using search engines, telecommunications devices, and visiting a host of web sites and, gulp, food blogs.

If you can’t imagine your access to the internet being reduced, think again. It’s about to happen. And soon. Really.

Concerned? Read more about it here.


La Maison du Chocolat

We often take things for granted.
Me, for example. I take things for granted. I get messages from readers, “You’re so lucky! You get to live in Paris!”.

To be honest, it wasn’t like one day back in San Francisco I came home and there was an envelope waiting for me with an airline ticket, an apartment lease, and all the blanks filled in on the paperwork filled for a French visa. It’s a lot of work living in a foreign country; it’s so much easier just to stay ‘home’. So when people say I’m ‘lucky’, I prefer to substitute the term ‘fortunate’, as living in Paris has some challenges as well as its rewards.

But each and every time I step out of my apartment, I’m amazed at the beauty that surrounds us here. Everywhere you look is something special, from the stately place des Vosges to the over-the-top Opera Garnier. Perhaps I’m a dork, but each time I pass something of significance, I stop and take a long, deeply-felt look. There’s fresh bread everywhere too. I can have a buttery croissants, a rich, cream-filled éclair, a yeasty kugelhof, or a scoop of glace Berthillon whenever I want.

(Except on Monday and Tuesday, when Berthillon is closed. Or in July or August. Or on Tuesday and Wednesday, when my bakery with the good croissants is closed. And in August. Although this year it might be July. Or on weekends, when the place I go for kugelhof is baking them. If they’re in the mood, of course. But I won’t know that until I get there. Unless there’s a holiday. Or a strike.)

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Anyhow…I spend a fair amount of time here exploring the chocolate shops, which seem to keep reliable hours. Nowhere in the world is more devoted to chocolate than Paris, and there are really excellent chocolatiers here, who I visit and write about often. But although we’re often excited by what’s new and unusual, sometimes we return to the classics for a reason: the simple fact that they’re really good.

Robert Linxe founded La Maison du Chocolat in 1977. He was a young man from the Basque region, famous for its abundance of chocolate shops, although many are sadly gone. When he opened shop in Paris, M. Linxe distained fillings heavy with nuts, spices and sugar (which had quite a long shelf life), in favor of smooth, creamy (and highly-perishable) ganache, that suave mixture of pure chocolate and heavy cream, which has since become synonymous with fine chocolates that we enjoy today.

Last week we held a private tasting at La Maison du Chocolat for my guests, which reminded me that I had forgotten how absolutely extraordinary their chocolates were, and still are.

Each time I bit into one, I found something new and delicious, wondering how a chocolatier could consistently hit it exactly right with every bite of chocolate. Each one was melting, pillowy-soft, with the true, fresh flavor of whatever M. Linxe had infused.

Zagora is my favorite. A melange of dark chocolate ganache steeped with fresh mint leaves. Bacchus is filled with Smyrna raisins soaked in the best Caribbean dark rum, then flambéed. And a life-changing Andalousie, where just the right amount of grated lemon peel is mixed with the ganache, is resplendent with spritzy lemon oil without a hint of bitterness, tasting remarkably like grated lemon that was zested just moments before.

When I went back a few days after the tasting to personally thank them for their warm and generous hospitality, I was offered a few more chocolates to sample. Not wanting to be rude, I pulled up a seat at the counter and unwrapped Cerise Griotte, a house-made candied sour cherry enrobed in dark chocolate, which exploded in my mouth, a wash of bitter-sweet cherry liquid bathed in alcohol with a thin, dark chocolate coating…it was pure heaven. Before I could even ask, the salesperson came by with a napkin for me to spit out the pit. (Wow, a salesperson that doesn’t argue with you.)

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I felt like I was coming back home, as I’d first discovered chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat what seemed like so long-ago while on vacation a long time ago in Paris. And here I am now, rediscovering them all over again. La maison means home, and I do feel indeed fortunate, and just a bit lucky, that I get to live here.
And that this is home.

La Maison du Chocolat
52, rue François 1er
Tel: 01 47 23 38 25

Other locations across Paris, as well as in London, Tokyo, and New York. All chocolates ordered through the La Maison du Chocolat web site are handmade in their Paris workshop.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: I just tried the Rigoletto Noir, buttery caramel mousse enrobed in dark chocolate.
Wow…simply sensational.



Related Links:

Papabubble (New York City)

Le Furet Tanrade (Paris)

REGIS Chocolatier (Paris)

Jacques Genin Opens (Paris)

The Pâtisseries of Paris

A Visit to Bernachon Chocolate (Lyon)

Eye Candy (Paris)

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux (Brittany)

Concert…Exceptionnel?

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The Goofus and Gallant of Chocolate

I can’t tell you how many times people ask me, “Aren’t Parisians rude?”

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Unlike Americans who are nice 100% of the time, yes, there are rude Parisians. And today I met one.

I took my guests into a well-know chocolate shops, whose name I won’t mention (ok, twist my arm…Jean-Paul Hèvin). My normal mode for visiting chocolate shops is this: We go inside, we meet the chocolatiers or salesperson, I explain the chocolates, often we’ll do a tasting, then guests will buy some chocolate to bring home. On occasion, some folks like to take a photo.
And I always ask politely before taking photos anywhere in Paris, even if I know it’s okay. It’s a courtesy. If someone says, “No, we don’t allow that here”, I’m fine with that. Several places in Paris have a no-photo policy, as do several places in the US (Central Market, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods, for example). My thoughts are that we’re on private property and it’s the owners right to deny or approve photos.

Fine.

So I ask at Jean-Paul Hèvin if it’s okay. The salewoman looks at me and says (and I’m not making this up), “You can only take a picture after you buy something.”

Incredibly tacky. Oui?

After I had a few ‘words’ with the shopkeeper, we finished our tour and I came home and deleted any and all references to Hèvin in the two magazine articles I’m writing and a future book project.
Au revoir.

One of my guests, however, said it was a very interesting lesson, illuminating the difference between rude & unwelcoming vs generous & gracious. And speaking of generous and gracious…

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This is Michel Chaudun.
He’s the owner and chocolatiers of his own shop, Michel Chaudun, located just a few blocks away. M. Chaudun was the head chocolatier at La Maison du Chocolat before striking out on his own twenty years ago.

When we showed up at his shop, M. Chaudun was preparing to make a delivery but when he saw me, he came over to warmly greet me and my guests. As you can see from his charming smile, M. Chaudin clearly loves what he does. I not-so-secretly wish that he was my grandfather.

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We tasted many chocolates, from cocoa nib-flecked disks of pure dark chocolate to tasty bits of crisp caramelized almonds enrobed in bittersweet chocolate, but my favorite are always Les Pavés, tiny squares of singularly-perfect ganache. Each one is the perfect bite of chocolate. He also had us sample a new chocolate, filled with a smooth paste of toasted sesame seeds and surprisingly, peanuts. (He created them for his shop in Tokyo since the French have the same distaste for peanuts in chocolate that Americans have for bull scrotums in tripe sauce.)

He’s also the master of chocolate sculptures and whimsical forms, including an exact replica of a Dremel drill, a full-sized perfectly-detailed feathered duck, and a miniature Hermès Kelly Bag with a matching orange sack that is a few thousand euros less than an original and certainly more tasty (although I’ve never tried to eat a Kelly bag, so I can’t be sure. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

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And yes, these are replicas of sausage made entire of chocolate. Wow!

There’s a moral to this story somewhere here, but I can’t quite find it…and am heading off to bed early, since we have an exclusive private tasting at La Maison du Chocolat.

But I would advise visitors to Paris to come to the boutique of Michel Chaudun.
And skip one of the others.

Michel Chaudun
149, rue de l’Université
Tel: 01 47 53 74 40

Chocolate Tasting With Jacques Genin

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I began our week-long Paris Chocolate Exploration tour here in Paris this week, starting with a private tasting with famed chocolatier Jacques Genin, the elusive chocolatier who works out of his very small laboratoire hidden away in the 15th arrondisement. Ten of us, including Mort Rosenblum, crammed into his tiny workshop while he explained how he began his career, the methods he uses to fabricate and enrobe his chocolates, and divluged some of the secrets (I said some…) of his exceptional chocolates.

For well over an hour, we tasted everything from ganache-filled chocolates infused with exotic tonka beans, lively peppermint leaves, and fragrant (and expensive) Bulgarian rose oil. There were soft pâte de fruit made with elusive Charontais melon, fresh black currants, and fruity raspberry. All the while his staff worked around us, packing boxes of chocolates destined for the finest hotels and restaurants in Paris, including the George V and Le Comptoir. Some were destined for Chez David as well.

The best, unquestionably, were his caramels. No pun intended, but I really have a soft spot for caramel. Caramel is a combination of cooked sugar, usually with butter or cream added. But much skill is needed to get it just-so. The sugar needs to be cooked to the exact temperature. Enough so it’s got a bit of a burnt ‘edge’ to offset the sweetness, and to give it a texture so it retains its shape with remaining toothsome but not tar-like and gummy. Jacques caramels were truly brilliant.
Each nugget was the perfect combination of sticky-soft and intensely flavored.

The first one we tasted was a bright-yellow caramel sharpened with tangy mango puree. We followed that with dark bitter chocolate caramels, oozing with the taste of beurre fermier, aka French farmhouse butter. When I’d reached my limit, which is admittedly high, Jacques stuffed my pockets with salted-butter caramels, which I ate this morning just after breakfast.

Is that wrong?

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Jacques Genin
18 rue St-Charles
Tel: 01 45 77 29 01
This is his workshop and not open to the public.

Update: Jacques Genin has finally opened his shop in Paris, in the Marais. it’s open to the public and has a tea salon, where you can sample his treats, as well as a full-scale boutique.