When The Cheese Princess and her sister, The Chocoholic, were in Paris for two weeks over Christmas, I knew that we needed to do some serious degusting of the great and powerful ambrosia of the cacao, the food of the gods. Oh, the paste from the seeds of the cacao that breathes us into its addictive magnificence, rolls us around in its luxury of smell and taste, and leaves us in its creaminess. Yes, we were going to experience and savor some extraordinary chocolate.
And so we did.
Paris is loaded with fine chocolate for its citizens and visitors to taste and hoard and bring as gifts to delight their hosts from near and far. Everyone has his or her favorite makers and shops (though how does one ever choose?) whether it's Patrick Roger, Michel Cluizel, Jean-Paul Hevin, La Maison du Chocolat, MIchel Chaudun, Pierre Hermé, Josephine Vannier, or many more. But I was going to take my darling daughters to the beautiful store of Jacques Genin, a self-described "rebel" in this country of tradition and conformity.
Hanging the word "rebel" onto someone for me is like a neon flower to a buzzing bumble bee (For the most part...though we won't go into those particulars now.) The fact that M. Genin had not been trained to be a maître chocolatier but taught himself after a career that began at age 12 in a slaughterhouse (after he ran away from home) was of great interest to me. And the fact that he isn't a slave to the approval of the Académie Française du Chocolat is a testament to his grit. And this in a country that has forgotten that chocolate wasn't invented here (and was only allowed for aristocrats once it arrived) but came to us from the Mayans in the New World.
To make the chocolate drink, which was served cold, the Maya ground cocoa seeds into a paste, and mixed it with water, cornmeal, chile peppers, and other ingredients. They then poured the drink back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed. Chocolate was available to Maya of all social classes, although the wealthy drank chocolate from elaborately decorated vessels.
I had my own long history with chocolate, which began with the divine confections of my mother, Bobbye Arnold. My mother was a fine cook of anything, but her specialty was baking cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, and I will not forget those crispy on the outside with sweet and sticky stewed fruit inside Fried Peach Pies. (She wouldn't have bought a pie crust if she had to.) So chocolate concoctions were regular desserts in our house, whether a Chocolate Meringue Pie, Red Velvet Cake, Chocolate Crinkle cookies, Chocolate Chips with pecans, dense chewy brownies, also with pecans--what am I forgetting--she whipped out a steady delicious dose for my brothers, our father, and me.
Once I left home and was pregnant with The Cheese Princess, the maid I was lucky enough to have come once a week--angel sent from God with the fabulous name of Zetee--made me a chocolate pie every time she stepped into my kitchen. I'm talking about a perfect one with a creamy rich filling and toasted meringue ceiling covering it. I attribute this pregnancy to developing my sweet tooth.
So The Cheese Princess, The Chocoholic, and I set off on the bus to the splenderous chocolate world of Jacques Genin.
We immediately loved the sleek modern ambience that was the perfect framework for the tiny posh perfections we were about to enjoy.
One of the luxuries of the tea room is its space, which is a rare commodity in any purveyor of food in Paris. Here, we had room to breathe--and yet the decor also enveloped us in an ambience of cozy intimacy. I find this exotic Parisian combination hard to beat.
My young ladies and I ordered our hot chocolate, and it was hot and thick, a liquid gold (and must have been in history) or drinkable dessert. Not the thin mixture we most often find in our USA.
I was lucky as a girl. When I visited my grandmother, Abbie Arnold, who lived a short walk away, she served us chocolate that she mixed herself and Snickerdoodle cookies that she'd baked. Delicious as hers was, it was mixed with Hershey's powdered cocoa, while this is liquid chocolate.
The Cheese Princess chose some of the exquisite bonbons to degust, while you can see there are many other delectable treats...
I strongly advise being more prudent than we were. We were almost completely choco-fied. To savor each sip or bite more thoroughly, don't overload. Have tea and chocolate or hot chocolate by itself.
Needless to say, as in all Parisian pâtisseries, the packaging is lovely.
For the adventurous Francophiles, one can pick up a Jacques Genin book.
When The Chocoholic--whose name is Bret--was a little girl, a bit of any chocolate ice cream or candy she ate ended up dripped or smeared on her T-shirt or dress. I happily report that she has grown out of this. And we left the superb Jacques Genin carrying chocolate home but not wearing any.
133, rue de Turenne
Open Tuesday - Sunday
11:00 - 7:00 P.M. (and 8:00 P.M. Saturday)
Tél +33 (0)1 45 77 29 01
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com. To check out the ongoing series about her husband and her uprooting their lives in America and moving to France, click here.
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