Hôtel-Dieu de Paris is a hotel of sorts, but not in the English sense of the world. In fact, it is the oldest hospital in town. Despite its location right next to Notre Dame, it is easily overlooked amist the crowds and daily fanfare surrounding the cathedral. However, if you’re looking for a place of respite from all the noise outside, feel free to wander in–the central courtyard is open to the public–providing a beautiful and peaceful place to come enjoy a quiet moment.
This morning at 4am, I was on my way to the outskirts of Paris to visit what is by FAR the largest wholesale food market in the world. Of course, there are other large markets around the globe, such as the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo (which turns over much more fish than Rungis sees in a year), but where Tsukiji just sells fish, Rungis sells everything you’d ever need. As our guide put it, the market is quite literally a small town in itself. There are restaurants, a hospital, police stations, store selling equipment, and of course the acres and acres of warehouses and offices. It’s tremendous, and we were all eager to see as much of it as we could manage in a morning.
We arrived early because the fish markets close their sales floors at 5:30am. Even when we got there, many of the sellers were already down to their last cases, or beginning to pack things up. Even so, we were able to catch a glimpse of some of the madness.
After working our way through the fish building, we got back on the bus and rode across Rungis to see the meat.
3rd on the tour was the dairy building. This one was also a bit smelly until you acclimated yourself.
If you have the time and want to make the effort, Rungis is well worth a visit. Its hard not to be a little overwhelmed at how much food we eat…and to remember that while Paris is a big population (and a portion of the food does go outside of Paris) it is just a small fraction of how much food passes hands across the earth. Its certainly a reminder to be good stewards of what is given to us, the amount of energy and effort that goes into feeding a city, and to not take our food sources for granted. It struck me that, if anything ever happened to Rungis, life in Paris would grind to a halt. In this world of mass industrialization, its sometimes hard to keep in mind how much we depend on all these transactions going smoothly to deliver the food we want–year round—to our tables.
I’d certainly say that if you ever have an opportunity to visit Rungis, it’s probably worth it (but not so worth it to plan your entire Paris vacation around it). If you can’t go, at least stop by your local farmer’s market sometime this week and thank a farmer for all the work they do to keep you fed and keep your life as easy and comfortable as it is 🙂
Every September, for one day only, music lovers come together to turn the streets of Paris into a giant dance party. DJ’s blaring music ride on the back of 18 wheeler trucks, and fans follow close behind as they ride down the road. Since the party started just about 3 blocks away from my house, I couldn’t resist showing up to check out the madness.
15 September 2012.
There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by people truly passionate about something to bring out the passion in yourself.
Perhaps the best part of culinary school isn’t the school itself, but finding yourself in the midst of like-minded people who encourage you to do your best at things that truly interest you. I thought I loved food, but now I’m surrounded by people who really LOVE food. It’s incredible to sit and listen to everyone talk about everything from ingredients to ideologies. They’re comparing restaurants they’ve visited, chefs they’d like to work for, talking about their goals and aspirations. I don’t usually feel like I have much to add, but I learn so much from them.
It’s been a kind of rough couple weeks, trying to get settled here, get used to my new kitchen and new chef, and try to find where I belong. I’ve not always felt very adequate and I haven’t always met my own expectations. Some things, like those stupid crabs, I let get the best of me. I think overall I’ve been a little bit negative. But being in such a positive environment is a huge encouragement to keep going. It’s amazing to be immersed in a culture that opens your eyes to see beyond your own horizons. I already feel like I’m pushing for higher goals than I was when I got here.
This weekend, we all got together for a dinner party. Eric and Joel have a globe in their apartment, and we spun it. Where it stopped was the country we’d be cooking from.
Saudi Arabia it is.
I almost didn’t participate because sometimes I feel a little intimidated cooking for people who aren’t family, especially something I’ve never made before and when I think might be subject to critique. But I gave in and showed up anyway, and I’m glad I did. We started the day by going to an interesting neighborhood of Paris with a large immigrant community. There we were able to find spices we needed for cheap, and some other unique ingredients that aren’t readily available in your typical Parisian supermarket.
We went home, cooked, and then met again for our meal. Having not known anything about Saudi food before, it was fun to sample a variety of food from a culture I know little about. Saudi food draws influence from all across the region, from northern Africa, the Mediterranean, to India. We had everything fattoush, a popular middle eastern bread salad, to a delicious chicken dish cooked in a tagine. I made cheese-filled pastries similar to borek.
Some of the excellent food we enjoyed…missing from the picture are the meatballs and Eric’s dessert (I think it was yogurt, dates, and honey, to which he mixed about half a bottle of vodka and then put in the freezer. probably not very authentic as I don’t believe vodka is legal in Saudi Arabia, but interesting all the same, and tasted strangely reminiscent of banana). my little cheese things are on the baking sheet.
I forgot how much I love stuff like this. At home I used to try to cook weird things from around the world and test strange ingredients and unfamiliar recipes on my family, but I after a while of working all day in the kitchen, I lost the energy to come home and do fun things like this outside of work hours as well. Its hugely inspiring to be immersed in a world where everyone around you is investing in the same things you are. It’s good to be somewhere your skills and abilities have value, because sometimes out there in the real world, that’s a rare feeling.
This is certainly one of the best areas in Paris I’ve seen so far…it’s full of beauty and personality. Even if you are afraid of steps, there is a cable car that will bring you to the top, as well as a small train that makes a circle around Montmartre and will let you off right at the doorstep of the basilica. Entrance is free and it is a truly beautiful church. The mosaics are incredible, but unfortunately I got the impression they weren’t able to complete their vision and do as much interior decoration as they originally planned. Still, the beautiful depiction of Christ in the apse is one of the largest mosaics in the world and is absolutely breathtaking…such a show of skill and artistry to be quite humbling.
Looking forward to going again soon.
I thought it would be a good idea to rent a bike for at least two reasons:
1) We’ve had some beautiful weather here in Paris that I wanted to enjoy, and having seen bike trails around I thought it seemed like a good way to spend a nice Sunday afternoon;
2) I wanted to do a test run and see how they work, as I figure I may appreciate having an alternative mode of transportation from time to time.
Biking turned out to be a bad idea for at least 4 reasons:
1) I don’t know the rules of the road;
2) I still don’t really know my way around Paris;
3) I apparently don’t have the endurance for 2 hours of biking, especially uphill;
4) I can’t even REMEMBER the last time I rode a bike (A smarter person would probably suggest that central Paris might not have been the best place to relearn).
But, these last four things weren’t really on my mind as I set out optimistically for my happy ride along the Seine, which is probably for the best, because if I had thought of them I wouldn’t have even tried. Things started out a little shaky as I readjusted to biking, and I might have done some swerving, but after a few minutes I was back to gliding comfortably along just like I did when I was a kid. It must be true—riding a bike is something you never forget. Unfortunately, though, I’m the type of person who tends to forget a lot of other things, including where I’m going and the very purpose of my expedition. Somehow I lost track of the Seine and my bike path altogether and found myself racing along with traffic, deep into unfamiliar territory, being honked at from all directions.
That’s when I figured out I’d have to adjust myself to another type of bike riding—city riding. There wasn’t time to second guess myself, and i did my best to follow what other riders were doing. One lady was particularly helpful, and pulled up alongside me and gave me a few words of advice (I guess it was obvious I was in over my head). Nevertheless, I lived to blog about it.
But despite it all, it was rather fun and I covered a LOT of ground…and saw a lot of neighborhoods I doubt I would have wandered into otherwise.
There were definitely some highlights. Parts of the ride were especially beautiful (especially parts with marked bike trails). It’s an interesting way to get to know the city, and to venture into some areas that you don’t know much about (and perhaps have no reason to see otherwise). You can cover a lot of ground quickly when you need to, and also stop and look when you want to. I saw a couple interesting churches, a street fair full of people dressed up in some really incredible costumes, circled the A rc de Triomphe (twice), and even rode down the Champs Elysees for a block or so (not recommended, however…its a traffic nightmare). All in all, I feel a little bit more confident now that I’ve done it once, and I like having bikes as an option if I need them.
At the same time, I don’t think I’ll be utilizing them very often. City driving takes nerves of steel, no matter what sort of vehicle you’ve got…and this is particularly true for bycyclists.
Our course curriculum is especially interesting in that, in addition to the usual repertoire of dishes and techniques we must learn, every other week we are given a menu to prepare that specifically highlights the cuisine of a particular region in France. We learn about the wines and cheeses of the region in our oenology class, we are given recipes from the region, we cook the food, and then we all sit down and eat it together.
Today we focused on Provence.
Located in the south of France, bordering Italy, Provence is known for many things—its herb blend, its fields of lavender, Provencial wines, and of course, delicious food. The cuisine features a lot of seafood dishes (particularly Bouillabasse), olives, garlic, and fresh vegetables. It is also known as the birthplace of popular dishes such as ratatouille and Salade Nicoise.
Today, we worked in groups to prepare 5 traditional dishes.
I was a little disappointed that my dish was, comparatively, not so interesting. It was an appetizer consisting of crudités and a dip made from anchovies, called anchoïade. But it was quick and easy, and I got good practice cutting things into matchsticks. And since we’ll be rotating through which course we do, I know I’ll have a little more exciting assignment (hopefully) on the next menu.
The second course is a dish entitled Petits Farcis a la Provencale. It was essentially a chicken and lamb meat mixture stuffed into tiny bite-sized vegetables. adorable.
Third, Filets de Rougets a la Creme d’Olive et Marjolaine, et Fine Ratatouille. Rouget is a fish. The sauce, la creme d’olive, was really good. Some classmates expressed concern that the rather strong flavor of olives might overpower the fish, but it worked quite well and everyone seemed to enjoy this one.
My favorite dish of the day: Daube a la Provencale. Beef with mashed potatoes. The thing that I thought really *made* this dish was the addition of fennel. It wasn’t a strong taste, but enough to be just noticeable and definitely added a new, interesting dimension to beef stew. the sundried tomatoes on top were delicious as well, and contributed a little bit of sweetness to the dish.
Finally, dessert. Nougat Glace au Coulis de Framboise, Tuiles a l’Orange. My one complaint about this was I just didn’t prefer the rather strong flavor of the alcohol in the dish. The chef noted that if it had been prepared a day or so ahead of time, it would have balanced out a little bit better…Even so, it was still very good and beautifully presented. Hard to go wrong with pistachios and raspberries.
So, thats the end of our Provencial meal! Super looking forward to the next one now. Normandy, I think!
Oh, and as an added bonus, the school dishwasher saw me with my camera today and asked me to take his picture. Not sure why he wanted me to, but here it is anyway::
Its unfortunate I didn’t take any pictures the first two weeks, but I clearly forgot I had a camera until about Tuesday. this is a shame because our chefs welcome photography in class (having a photo can be a great memory aid for studying and reviewing later), and many of my classmates even videotape demonstrations. I, however, was content taking notes, until I realized that chances are one day I might wish I had something to remind me exactly what a certain dish was supposed to look like, or exactly how the chef went about performing a particular task. So, I dug out the ‘ol camera.
Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of my dessert from patisserie this week, which isn’t such an oversight considering class ran overtime, and in my rush to finish quickly and get to the cafeteria before it closed (unsuccessful) the presentation wasn’t what it should have been. But, think homemade puff pastry with a layer of pastry cream and topped with fresh peaches, strawberries, and figs.
But besides that, here’s a quick visual summary of my week:
And to prove I survived the class….my finished dishes:
This was a rather long post….I’ll continue with regular updates of what’s going on in class each week, but I can’t promise they’ll all be this image-heavy. At any rate, I’ll try to have some record of what I’m learning!
Will be back sometime this weekend with another food update….stay tuned for the run-down on our Provence regional menu we’ll be completing tomorrow 🙂