Experience Summertime In Aspen

Experience Summertime In Aspen

April 18, 2019

Known as much for its world-class culture and cuisine as its pristine, majestic surroundings, it’s easy to nurture mind, body and spirit in Aspen. The best- summer event is likely the Aspen Music Festival, which draws renowned classical musicians and top students for eight weeks of daily concerts, recitals, operas, master classes and other events.

Under the guidance of new music director Robert Spano, who previously oversaw the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the festival’s focus this year is “Made in America,” highlighting works by American composers and European immigrants. On Thursday nights, join Roaring Fork Valley locals who convene on Fanny Hill at the Snowmass ski area for free concerts programmed by Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The regional and national acts range from folk to funk. Pack a blanket and a picnic, and plan on buying a bottle of wine at the concert.

The Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival brings world leaders in politics, science, technology, the environment, health, education, and the arts to town for lively discussions and seminars on today’s current issues. Passes generally sell out in advance, but your Destination Concierge can likely snag an individual event ticket. And keep an eye out for familiar faces around town during the fest. You might spot Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton dining at an outdoor patio.

Aspen’s budding restaurant scene is continually evolving, with classics like Cache Cache, Matsuhisa, and Pinons joined by at least one newcomer each year. Among this year’s freshmen is Justice Snow’s in the Wheeler Opera House. The Colorado-inspired menu reflects the current trend for local ingredients. The extensive vintage cocktail list is part history lesson, part inspiration.

Finbarr’s Irish Pub has quickly become a local’s favorite since opening in late 2011, with updates on traditional pub fare like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips as well as specialties like curried prawns and potatoes. The Ajax Tavern at the base of the Aspen Mountain gondola has a well-earned rep as the see-and-be-seen place to lunch. A hip alternative is poolside dining at 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel, one block away. Pair the tuna wonton tacos with a Corpse Reviver 39 and while away an hour or so on a warm, sunny afternoon.

This summer’s hottest table—and most intriguing new concept—will be at Chefs Club by Food & Wine magazine, the brand-new restaurant at the St. Regis Aspen slated to open during the annual FOOD & WINE Classic. The seasonally-inspired menu will be created by select recipients of the culinary magazine’s annual Best New Chefs awards.

The town’s casual dress code extends to all facets of the town, as locals bike to Music Festival concerts, sip a margarita on an outdoor patio after rock climbing near Independence Pass or grab an early dinner on the way home from a hike. Classic Aspen hikes such as the ones to American or Cathedral Lakes or to the base of the Maroon Bells are justifiably popular. A favorite locals’ workout is to hike up the lung-busting Ute Trail, which starts off Aspen’s Ute Avenue and switchbacks up 1,700 vertical feet in the first mile, then snakes across Gentlemen’s Ridge on Aspen Mountain before connecting with ski-area service roads. Acclimated hikers reach the summit in about an hour and a half, though there’s no shame in taking longer. Save your knees and ride the gondola down for free. (Dogs are allowed, too.) For a mellower workout, take the gondola up to join one of the thrice-weekly yoga hikes—downward dog at 11,212 feet, anyone?

After hiking, Aspen’s biggest summer sport may be road biking. A veritable peloton heads up daily to the Maroon Bells and the Ashcroft ghost town, two of the most popular rides. To really get in your mileage, hit the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile multi-use path from Aspen to Glenwood Springs; other than a few-mile packed dirt section near Woody Creek, it’s paved.

With stores like Gucci, Fendi, Burberry and Louis Vuitton—along with longtime favorites such as Distractions, Nuages, and Pitkin County Dry Goods—Aspen can cater to the most sophisticated fashionista. But there’s more than designer labels to hunt down among the many boutiques within the town’s historic core. Two Old Hippies combines a comprehensive selection of guitars with an eclectic mix of home décor and fun clothing and accessories for the whole family—even the dog. Many of them embody the store’s motto: peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. 

Aspen women in the know go to Harmony Scott to stock up on delicate handmade jewelry with colorful gemstones and pearls. Don’t miss Souchi, which offers gorgeous women’s knits in silk, cashmere, linen, cotton and bamboo. All are hand-loomed in Portland, Oregon, where designer Suzi Johnson lived until recently when she relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley. A few blocks away, Danemann-Pure is the only U.S. outpost featuring the fresh, modern looks of German women’s wear designer Petra Danemann. The Little Bird has a carefully curated selection of vintage women’s clothes and accessories from every A-list designer you can think of, plus some new items.

Artisan Food Marketplace Founder Gives Her Best Travel Tips

market-hero

Artisan Food Marketplace Founder Gives Her Best Travel Tips

April 10, 2019

“Food and drink really bring people together and make for long-lasting memories,” says Mindy Schapiro, event planner and co-founder of Emporiyum, an annual marketplace that brings artisan food producers from across the country to Baltimore and Washington, DC. “Some of my earliest travel memories are being in Mexico with my family when I was 10 or 11 and eating the food there.

Even then I loved its freshness and simplicity. Today, eating Mexican food transports me back to those trips. Food isn’t just about eating, but about the whole experience.”

market-1

Schapiro co-founded Emporiyum with Sue-Jean Chun to facilitate food experiences for others. “Visiting Smorgasburg [a food “flea market”] in Brooklyn, it blew me away,” she says. “I saw no reason we couldn’t have something similar, but on a smaller scale, in Baltimore and D.C.” The first Emporiyum debuted in Balitmore in 2014. It sold out with 2,500 people buying tickets to meet and sam- ple food made by nearly 70 different producers, from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (from Columbus, Ohio) to Mobtown Meat Snacks (Baltimore), Quin Candy (Oregon) and celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio. The first D.C. Emporiyum was last fall. Baltimore’s second was in April. And there’s another in D.C. this fall.

How does Schapiro pick the purveyors? “I need to try the product before we let them in,” she says. “We’re not just looking for interesting food, but also great personalities. Meeting the vendors behind the brands—hearing why and how a soda is made or sisters talking about their mom’s chocolate- covered pretzels and why they decided to turn that into their business (Fatty Sundays)—that’s part of the experience.” Traveling to find these purveyors are what Schapiro always looks forward to. “Wherever we go I spend at least one day checking out the local food scene,” she says.

market-2

Mindy on Travel

Will Travel for Food: “The food scene is a huge factor in deciding where we travel. My favorite food cities are definitely Charleston, San Francisco, Los Angeles—Sugarfina there is one the world’s great candy stores—Hong Kong and, recently, Washington D.C. I don’t need fancy—give me a great burger, great fries and a great shake and I’m happy—but as a family we don’t shy away from fancy either. Over Christmas we took our two young sons to the Michelin three-star Flocons de Sel in Megève, France, and it was one of our best meals ever.”

Finding the Most Authentic Food Experiences: “Instead of asking Destination Concierges for the best restaurants, I ask them for good food resources in their city. That’s how I found Edible Excursions in San Francisco; Lisa is amazing, familiar with both restaurants that have been around forever and also the new places that seem to open every week. I also find foodies on Instagram and look for food bloggers in the cities I’m traveling to. In L.A., I go to consumingla. com. In Charleston, CharlestonFoodBloggers’ Instagram feed is an amazing resource.”

Colorado Chefs/Foragers Turn Local Mushrooms Into Exquisite Edibles

mushrooms-hero

Colorado Chefs/Foragers Turn Local Mushrooms Into Exquisite Edibles

April 9, 2019

Chad Scothorn wears two sets of work clothes. Mornings, he dons hiking pants and a long-sleeved shirt for mush- room-gathering missions in the mountains around Telluride. His pant legs are stained from kneeling on the duff, but the skin-covering, safari-style outfit protects against bug bites. “When the mushrooms are at their peak, the flies are pretty bad,” Scothorn explains.

Come afternoon, the 55-year-old scrubs the soil from his fingernails and exchanges his foraging garb for a starched white chef ’s jacket. On a good day, he will have stockpiled some 40 pounds of wild edible mushrooms that will accent that night’s dinner dishes at Cosmopolitan, the Telluride restaurant he opened after earning national acclaim at Chadwick’s and Beano’s Cabin ( both in Beaver Creek, Colorado). He dusts sea scallops with porcini powder before searing them, and makes mushroom-based vegetable stocks that stand in for beef broth. “People talk about the farm-to-table movement, but this is almost better,” Scothorn says. “You can’t get any more organic than wild-grown.”

With 300 to 400 types of mushrooms growing around Telluride, this mountain town has long been a hub for mushroom-lovers. The Telluride Mushroom Festival started in 1981 as a celebration of all things fungi, including the mind altering properties of some, but now instead showcases their culinary and reparative powers: Experts converge here every August to sup on shrooms (in 2015 La Marmotte chef Mark Reggiannini hosted a multi-course mushroom dinner for festival goers) and share developments in mycoremediation (the burgeoning science of using fungi to clean up environmental contaminants).

mushrooms-1

But Telluride holds no monopoly on mush- rooms: The whole state is a hotbed. More than 2,000 varieties have been identified, making it the second-largest concentration of edible mush- rooms in the United States (trailing the Pacific Northwest). And interest in them has never been greater, especially among gourmands.

“Mushrooms are on the upswing,” says Maggie Klinedinst, executive director of the Telluride Mushroom Festival. “They’ve become cool, almost a hipster thing, like pickling veggies and brewing your own kombucha.” Nationwide, more and more people are foraging for mushrooms or growing them themselves. “It’s part of the whole revival of farming and getting in touch with your food,” says Klinedinst. Many proponents are surprisingly young, in their 20s and 30s, Klinedinst says.

Scothorn was 36 when he started scavenging for mushrooms, having found himself in one of the nation’s richest hunting grounds. And with the most esteemed mushroom experts leading educational forays into Telluride’s forests every summer, Scothorn learned plenty. “I couldn’t have found that opportunity anywhere else in the world,” he says, having gleaned identification and harvesting techniques from the likes of Gary Lincoff (author of a host of books, including the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms).

Scothorn collects his treasures in a box or paper bag—never plastic, which steams and smashes the ’shrooms. He cuts the mushrooms at ground level, rather than digging down into the soil and disturbing the sub-surface parent fungus (called the mycelium). And he carries a small sponge, like the ones painters use, to scrub each mushroom before adding it to his crate. By cleaning his mushrooms in the field rather than back in the kitchen, he keeps them from becoming impregnated with dirt and stimulates the next crop. “There’s a saying that if you field- clean your mushrooms, you help spread the spores,” he explains.

That’s key, given eaters’ voracious appetite for Colorado mushrooms. Its chanterelles have an incomparable apricot fragrance, and its porcinis are on par with Italy’s finest. After sampling them in Tuscany and around the world, Scothorn says, “Ours are the best.”

Word has gotten out. On summer afternoons, pickups sit parked along Colorado’s dirt byways. If the truck is muddy, with mismatched tires and West Coast license plates, “it’s probably a commercial picker,” says food writer Eugenia Bone, who divides her time between New York City and Crawford, Colorado. Professional foragers were sparse when she started foraging 15 years ago. Now, says Bone, “They’re really prevalent.” When the mushrooms appear, commercial pickers do, too, like a secondary crop. “They drive mushrooms to restaurants in Aspen or Telluride, or sell them to distributors,” says Bone. “We could be eating Colorado chanterelles in New York City.”

Bone discovered Colorado wild mushrooms before they got popular. One August evening, with remnants of the afternoon’s thundershower lingering in the air, she hiked up Mendicant Ridge east of Crawford. “There were porcini every- where,” she recalls. Having noticed them once, she started seeing them everywhere she hiked. “It’s the excitement of pattern recognition,” Bone explains. “You see nothing, then you notice a few, and boom! You notice hundreds.”

She had eaten porcini in Italy, and as a child growing up in an Italian-American household. Her father often went foraging (the only “outdoorsy” thing the family ever did, says Bone) and later in- cluded those mushrooms in roasted rabbit dishes or pasta with shrimp and mushrooms, which he called mare et monte. “Italians are mycophiles,” says Bone, who wrote about foraging in her book, Mycophilia, and heads up the New York Mycological Society.

Americans, meanwhile, have greeted mush- rooms with more skepticism—at least until recently. Many U.S. kids grew up hearing that they shouldn’t touch any wild mushrooms, and Americans often avoid mushrooms on the dinner plate, too. But, says Bone, “The millennial generation is much hipper to wild edibles than my baby boomer generation. They are really smart about the possibilities, not as fearful.”

One such millennial is Graham Steinruck. The slender 29-year-old led foraging tours for resorts in Aspen and Vail before launching Hunt & Gather Wildcrafted Foods. He still takes inquisitive clients on mushroom hunts; plus, his Denver-based company supplies wild, foraged edibles to restaurants around the state.

“A lot of people think of Colorado as a desert,” Steinruck says. But along with its arid zones, Colorado also contains plenty of snow- and rain-soaked high country. The various elevations create a diversity of ecosystems, which helps explain Colorado’s mushroom bonanza. “More ecosystems equal more mushrooms,” says Steinruck, who’s personally eaten more than 60 species—and counting—of Colorado mushrooms. “There are lots of edibles that aren’t as highly regarded as the porcini but are delicious if prepared in the right way,” he explains.

Along with variety, Colorado also produces great numbers of edibles. That’s because within each ecosystem, there can be great uniformity of species: Vast stands of pure Englemann spruce give rise to thick clusters of porcini (which typically grow beneath spruces). “In the East, if you find a couple of chanterelles, you’re quite happy,” says mushroom authority Lincoff. But in Colorado, he’s encountered bogglingly vast swaths of them. “It looks like the ground is carpeted with gold, as far as you can see,” Lincoff says.

Naughty and Nice: Some mushrooms are delicious. Others are deadly.

“These are gorgeous things,” he continues. Mushrooms’ rich reds, oranges and yellows combine with intriguing surface textures to create truly compelling eye-candy. And unlike birds that fly away when spotted, mushrooms stand still, allowing ad- mirers to photograph them, collect them—and eat them. “There’s a pleasure in this that nothing else compares with,” Lincoff says.

As for mushrooms being dangerous, or that it’s hard to tell safe edibles from unsafe ones—both are misconceptions, says Lincoff. Kind of. “Stick to learning the few edible mushrooms that are easy to know and that have few, if any, look alikes, and that you can find in large quantities,” he says. Then, you can appreciate mushrooms not just by sight, but by their intense, earthy taste. Says Bone, “I look at these mushrooms as being a real part of the Colorado culinary estate.”

Quite a few Colorado chefs forage for mushrooms, though not everyone is willing to share their treasures with customers. Shawn Lawrence, executive chef at Aspen’s 39 Degrees, started foraging as a kid in the Midwest and continues his hunts now that he lives in the Roaring Fork Valley. Each foray is a party of sorts, with friends and family members combining forces to collect chanterelles, porcinis, even morels (though these spring delicacies prefer river valleys, which tend to be privately owned). They rarely appear on the 39 Degrees menu. “They’re too much of a love for me to sell them,” Lawrence says. Instead, he freezes and dries them, and preserves young porcini by turning them into a confit—all of which he keeps to himself.

Other Aspen chefs, such as Chris Lanter at Cache Cache and Tiziano Gortan at L’Hostaria, will occasionally share their foraged treasures with diners. But it’s not as common as you’d expect. Most health department regulations frown on cooking wild mushrooms of uncertain origin. About five years ago, Telluride established a certification program that lets Scothorn and other chefs serve mushrooms. Before any foraged edibles arrive on diners’ plates, Telluride inspector John Sir Jesse (who also leads foraging tours) examines them and deems them safe enough for public consumption.

Few communities have established inspection systems like Telluride’s. In the past, authorities paid little attention to foraged edibles or their regulation. But as interest in wild mushrooms grows, so does the push to enforce public health guidelines, says Steinruck, whom the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has approved as a “Wild Mushroom Identification Expert,” which allows him to inspect foraged, wild mushrooms sold to the food industry.

Regulations aside, wild mushrooms’ limited availability also explains their infrequent menu appearances. They only appear from late July through early September, and gathering them requires a lot of legwork for modest yields. That’s why Vail chef/ forager Jean-Michel Chelain of The Left Bank rarely puts them on his menu, preferring to cook them by special request. “If it’s mushroom season, I usually have a few chanterelles or porcini in the kitchen,” he says.

Also in Vail, Restaurant Kelly Liken boosts its wild mushroom offerings by buying from local foragers. “Some, we have been buying from for years,” says Liken. The restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Matt Limbaugh, is also a dedicated forager and “always finds the best mushrooms,” attests Liken. Consequently, her restaurant is consistently able to feature wild mushrooms on its menu, in such seasonal dishes as roasted duck breast with chanterelles and fig jam, or ricotta and Swiss chard agnolotti with wild mushrooms and peas.

“Wild mushrooms taste like the forest they grow in,” says Lawrence, who prefers not to overpower the distinct character of Colorado mushrooms by smothering them with competing flavors. “Mushrooms that grow here definitely taste more piney than ones from other parts of the world,” he explains. His favorite preparation for Colorado chanterelles, for example, is to simply sauté them with olive oil, garlic and fresh thyme. And when those delicacies have been located and gathered by you and your friends, says Lawrence, “It’s a true umami feeling.”

Our Favorite Culinary Stops Around the World

Our Favorite Culinary Stops Around the World

March 25, 2019

Some people like to hunt for truffles, cruise open-air markets and talk shop with cheesemongers. Others prefer their culinary adventures to revolve around making the perfect reservations. No matter your inclination, good food that shows a sense of place is a welcome addition to any foray from home. We’ve got the scoop on a Tuscan cooking class, barefoot indulgence on St. Barts, and a gastronomic driving adventure along the French Mediterranean.

There are no shortcuts to making good homemade pasta, as you’ll learn soon enough, arms aching, belly full, after a cooking class at the Capezzana estate. The Tuscan winery is an idyllic setting for an epicurean escape, mastering the basics of Italian aristocratic cuisine among the vineyards and olive groves in one of the region’s most stately properties. In the 1990s the Bonacossi family, who have been making wine here since 1925, decided to open their home to the visiting public. Their personal chef began sharing his secrets, in one- and five-day cooking classes in a big, rustic kitchen just across from the main house. With translation provided by a member of the family, most of whom speak flawless English, the chef begins with a hands-on tutorial on pasta perfection. It starts with the flour, a mix of semolina and 00 pasta flour, in a volcanolike mound on the big wooden table. Eggs in the center, whisked in slowly with a fork, yield a gluey mess. Even for a pro it takes a strenuous knead to produce pasta dough that’s perfectly pliant. You’ll need to practice at home to get a sense when its right—in a kitchen in Tuscany it all comes too easily.

The pasta, rolled and cut into beautifully silky papardelle ribbons, is your first course at lunch topped with the wild boar ragu you’ve watched simmer all morning. There might be a Tuscan beef roast to follow, rubbed with garlic, rosemary, and sage, served with golden potatoes roasted in pan drippings, and grilled zucchini and eggplant dressed with olive oil just pressed on the property. The Bonacossis, who sell their intense green olive oil in the United States at fine gourmet markets, eat like this every day. The more time you spend here, the more you’ll learn to enjoy la dolce vita—the good life—as they do. If your timing’s good, Count Ugo Bonacossi, the family patriarch—now in his 90s—might be your host. He has welcomed Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver as guest chefs here, but leaves day-to-day operations of the winery, olive press, cooking school, and rented villas to his children and grandchildren. Play your cards right and he might even invite you inside the main house, where he still lives among the family art collection, for a glass of vin santo and a tour of the rose garden tended out back by his wife. On a clear day you can see the Duomo in Florence way off in the distance.

After lunch you’ll want to stroll among the Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and pick up the new-crop olive oil and latest wine vintage. In summer a cool breeze blows in from the sea, which makes this a great destination even in the hottest months. But autumn is when the property really buzzes. First comes the grape harvest, followed by a few feverish weeks picking olives for oil. Olive picking is an occasion around here, the entire community joining in to pick fruit from the trees. The payoff is enough gratis olive oil to last all winter long—not just a functional gift that enhances your own cooking, but a memory of a day (or few) spent among the Tuscan trees and vines.

St. Barts in the French Caribbean is well-known for its jet-set party scene, stylish villas, and glorious wind-swept beaches. But it’s the food that really separates this 8.1-square-mile speck from its neighbors. No island paradise has more good places to eat, particularly barefoot, sand between your toes. There are formal white tablecloth spots serving foie gras from France and lobsters from Maine, but that’s not really what this place is about. The best options for a romantic dinner or a languid lunch are as relaxed as you ought to be as soon as you step off that puddle-jumper onto the island’s very small runway.

These are restaurants like La Plage at the Tom Beach Hotel, where meals are delivered just steps from the water—no shoes required—with a DJ spinning lounge music tracks. The colorful cocktails and fresh local seafood are as vibrant as the scene itself. After your herbstuffed daurade or spiny lobster dressed in aioli you might find yourself dancing off lunch. The scene is a bit more sedate, but hardly stuffy, just up the beach at the ultra-exclusive Eden Rock Hotel. Top New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten recently took charge of the food here, overseeing the lunch served at the casual Sand Bar and the more serious dinner offered under the stars at the hotel’s long-running On the Rocks restaurant. A salad of local lobster in Champagne vinaigrette—available in bathing suit and sarong—won’t slow you down if you’re thinking of a long swim after lunch. The more ambitious fare offered at night in the open-air dining room features local seasonal ingredients with bright Asian accents like tuna tartare with fresh ginger and sautéed snapper with vinaigrette.

Caribbean-Asian fusion has been a St. Barts mainstay for ages, particularly at Maya’s, one of the island’s longest-running food institutions, a hotspot here for more than 25 years. This relaxed restaurant gets so mobbed in high season many villa dwellers opt to get their dinner to go. To meet the demand, a few years back the restaurant opened a take-out annex just across the street from the airport, where you can grab a mahi mahi red curry or Thai beef salad that travel exceptionally well. The menu at the restaurant changes daily, depending on what’s at its seasonal peak.

While you might want to eat light most of the week, save Fridays for an ambitious feast. That’s when Les Pecheurs, the restaurant in the fashionable Le Sereno hotel, serves its weekly bouillabaisse special, an authentic French seafood blowout. The fish itself is Mediterranean—flown in special from France once a week—but the setting, overlooking Marigot Bay, is pure Caribbean bliss.

For a small island, St. Barts offers a remarkably diverse range of restaurant options, from the authentically Creole—try Pipiri Palace in the capital, Gustavia—to the raffishly honky-tonk—Andy’s Hideaway is a favorite spot for off-duty waiters and bellhops grabbing pizza and beer. Along Shell Beach—literally covered in thousands of seashells—is one of the island’s most unusual spots, a castaway fantasy owned by a French sports star. Do Brazil, the chic wooden beach shack owned by former tennis champ Yannick Noah, is the place to go for upscale barbecue in an exotic mix of Asian, Latin and Caribbean flavors. Come by for sunset drinks, then linger for dinner and music late into the night.

There’s no better way to tackle a gastronomic tour of the French Riviera than at the wheel of a nimble new sports car. A small car, like the new two-seater MercedesBenz SLK 250, is perfect for hugging hairpin Mediterranean turns en route to your next hot food destination. Many of the top restaurants here are out in the middle of nowhere, up a tight alley, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.

Fresh off the red-eye into Nice, it’s just a short drive to your first noshing stop, the covered Marche Provencal in downtown Antibes. This bustling food market is a great place to graze on local cheeses and olives and gorgeous fresh fruit. Grab a crusty baguette and other provisions to go and you’ve got an impromptu beach picnic for lunch.

Dinner is just around a few harrowing corners, along the coast road that hugs the Cap d’Antibes peninsula. Here you’ll find the Michelin-starred Les Pecheurs restaurant (no relation to the St. Barts establishment), where chef Philippe Jego turns Mediterranean seafood into gorgeous upscale creations. On the terrace overlooking the windswept bay, the catch of the day comes by on a cart. Pick your own fish if you like—they’re served simply grilled—but the chef’s more elaborate dishes are a much better bet. There might be enormous head-on red shrimp with chorizo, squid, and shaved summer truffles, or Parmesan-crusted turbot fillets in a delicate wine sauce made with the local white, vin de Bellet.

The next day you’re off up the coast, top down, wind in your hair. Heads turn as you pass the yacht-clogged harbor in St. Tropez. Your destination for dinner is just out of town at the boutique Hotel Sezz. Colette, the restaurant there, is the only South-of-France outpost of superstar chef Pierre Gagnaire (whose restaurant in Paris has three Michelin stars). Dinner, out by the pool, is casual-chic, featuring fresh local seafood adorned with exotic ingredients, like sole meuniere with an Asian-style barbecue glaze and green mango puree.

Linger a while in St. Tropez the next morning. It’s just a two-hour drive up the coast for your meal in Marseille. The alleyways that lead to the entrance of Le Petit Nice, the city’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, are a very tight squeeze. With its glorious Mediterranean view, the restaurant, overlooking rocks packed with sunbathers, is an ideal spot for a very long lunch. Chef Gerald Passedat offers a spin on a classic bouillabaisse that turns out to be an elaborate five-course feast with lobster, squid, pristine local fish, and an intense seafood broth. It may be the world’s most decadent bouillabaisse.

Polish your epicurean week off in Cannes, en route back to Nice. The city, best known for its film festival glamour, has never been a real food destination. Which might explain why one of its most enduringly popular restaurants is the extremely casual seafood brasserie Astoux et Brun. The bright-lit establishment, opened in 1953, doesn’t look like much from the outside. But there’s a reason so many locals line up every night to get in. The restaurant, which sells retail shellfish, too, is the best place in town to get simply shucked oysters and clams and big towering platters stocked with other good things from the sea—with cold lobster, big shrimp, miniature snails, and split langoustines. Everything here is impeccably fresh. And the stuffed mussels drenched in garlic butter are not to be missed. Whether you zip back to your villa at top speed or take a more relaxed approach, go with a sated appetite and the promise of a digestif (Cognac, Armagnac, or Calvados, perhaps) under the night sky.

This Boston Restaurant Owner Is Creating Community with Food

Boston-Hero

This Boston Restaurant Owner Is Creating Community with Food

March 13, 2019

After Harvard Law School rejected her application, Rebecca Roth Gullo went to cooking school, and then took a job as a cook in a restaurant in Boston’s South End. And she hasn’t left the neighborhood since. Today she manages two full-service restaurants—The Gallows, a gastropub, and Banyan Bar + Refuge, which serves Asian fusion—and the Blackbird Donuts chain. 

“I live 90 seconds from two of my restaurants and within a four-minute walk of another,” Roth Gullo says. “I see my guests at the park with my kids and when I drop them off at school. I know the cops who patrol the neighborhood. Community is everything to me, and it’s always been an integral part of our restaurants. We have each other’s backs, and that matters so much in today’s fractured times, to know that I’m providing places for people to come together.”

Boston-Featured-1

“There’s an old saying that ‘Boston is a very big town’— not a city, a town—and I believe it. I see it every day in my restaurants.” Roth Gullo points to the hundreds of first dates she’s hosted, then bridal or rehearsal dinners, then anniversary celebrations, and then those same couples coming in with their kids. The idea that her establishments serve as sort of common living rooms for her South End neighborhood is what gives her the most pleasure. “Everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs to get out of the house every once in a while,” she says. “And when they do, we’re there.”

Of course, even the closest communities occasionally need to find some space for a while, and for that Roth Gullo leaves it all up to Inspirato to take her, her husband, and two daughters, ages 4 and 6, to someplace very different. “It’s usually someplace tropical that’s a direct flight from Boston and has a beach,” she laughs. “My life is crazy enough raising a family while running a business seven days a week with 150 employees. When I travel, I want easy.”

Right now, the Cayman Islands are her favorite destination. “The residences inside the Ritz-Carlton resort are safe and super kid-friendly,” she says. “At this point, our lives really are all about survival, so anything we can do to make our vacation a true vacation, we do,” Roth Gullo says. “We hire a babysitter or nanny to take care of the kids so we can relax. And we will hire a cook, so we don’t have to worry about when the next meal is and who is making it.”

Boston-Featured-2

When it comes to traveling, Roth Gullo’s young children determine where and how she and her husband travel. Here’s what she’s learned:

First, take your full-sized stroller, not the tiny travel one, and gate-check it. It becomes a luggage cart, shopping cart, beach/pool wagon, and, yes, will cart your tired kids around. Second, take your own car seats. I never want to rely on renting car seats and then finding out they’re not available or they’re not as protective as I expected. And finally, pack your kids’ bathing suits in your carry-on. The first thing to do after checking in is to let the kids go to the pool or beach. It’s a hero move that will be even more heroic if your bags go missing.

The Newest Super Tuscan Wine Has Roots in Family Farming

Wine-Hero

The Newest Super Tuscan Wine Has Roots in Family Farming

February 28, 2019

The partnership that resulted in the Tuscan winery Urlari started on a ski lift in Portillo, Chile, and today its wines are imported by a company based in Teton Village, Wyoming, the small community at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Italian co-founder Roberto Cristoforetti is both a certified fruit farmer and handcrafts custom ski boots for the world’s best ski racers. (Since the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, 83 Olympic medals have been won in Cristoforetti-made boots by skiers including Alberto Tomba, Hermann Maier, Tommy Moe, Picabo Street, and Julia Mancuso; he plans to retire after the 2019-2020 race season.) Urlari’s other co-founder, Mary Kate Buckley, has skied her entire adult life and this past summer started as president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In 2002, the two found themselves on a lift together in Portillo.

Initially they chatted—in German, because that was their common language—about athletic footwear. At the time, Buckley was Regional Vice President and General Manager for Nike’s Americas Region and was curious that top World Cup racers all had custom boots. As their friendship grew, Buckley soon learned of Cristoforetti’s passion for wine, which had its roots in his friendship with Italian ski racer Alberto Tomba (who was known as much for being an oenophile as for his dominance in skiing’s technical events). 

Wine-Featured-1

Tomba invited Cristoforetti to accompany him to wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Chile, and California. Buckley had been introduced to fine wine in the mid-1990s when she was working for Disney and based in Hong Kong but often working in Tokyo. “In Tokyo, I sat in an office next to Guy [Aelvoet, president of Disney Consumer Products in Japan] and he became my mentor and a friend,” she says. “Guy shared his appreciation for fine food and fine wines. When [he] introduced me to a new wine, he’d not only introduce me to the quality of its attributes, but could speak articulately about the winery that produced it and details that translated [it] from being simply a great product in a bottle to a reflection of the deep passion and rich histories of its owners.”

By the time Cristoforetti and Buckley met, he was a partner in a start-up Tuscan winery. Later, he mentioned to Buckley that he was thinking about planting his own vineyards. (He grew up in a family of fruit farmers.) Inspired by his passion and always looking for new challenges, Buckley encouraged him, offered to be his partner, and to help—initially with marketing, and, eventually, sales. (Of course Buckley checked in with her wine mentor, Aelvoet: “When I told him I was thinking about starting a winery in Tuscany, he weighed in, first to warn me how challenging it would be to start a winery from nothing, but then to support with advice and cheer me on at every stage,” she says.)

Cristoforetti began searching for suitable land and, in 2004, found it. It was while Buckley and Cristoforetti stood on a 25-acre plot of sheep pasture in Riparbella, in Tuscany’s coastal Maremma region 4 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, that they created the product vision for Urlari. The sloping pasture has an elevation between 700 and 800 feet and is surrounded by dense forests in which locals hunt for wild boars.

As the pasture was being transformed into vineyards—15 of the 25 acres were planted—evidence of it being cultivated since Etruscan times was found, including fragments of a wine vessel, a hairpiece, and a coin dating to 200 B.C. that eventually inspired the winery’s labels. Unusual for the region, Cristoforetti planted grapes very close together. (This is seen more often in Bordeaux.) “When the plants are so close, they fight for the limited water, so only the strong plants and grapes survive, and those that survive are going to be more intense than they otherwise would be,” he says.

To make Urlari’s first wines, Cristoforetti approached winemaker Jean-Philippe Fort, even though the Bordeaux native had never before agreed to work with a winery outside of France. (More than 40 percent of the wines Fort consults for are Grand Cru Classe, including Chateau Angelus, a Premier Grand Cru.) Intrigued by Urlari’s terroir and facilities, Fort agreed, officially bringing together the three world wine cultures Cristoforetti most esteems: Italian, American, and French. In 2010, using the 2008 vintage, Urlari produced about 8,000 bottles of its first wine, Pervale, a blend of Sangiovese (28%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Cabernet Franc (25%), Merlot (15%), and Alicante Bouschet (7%). “Roberto sold these mostly from the back of his car throughout Italy,” Buckley says. Urlari’s second vintage, 2009, produced 24,000 bottles, and the winery extended its distribution. Its first export customer was Aelvoet’s son-in-law, who owned a restaurant in Belgium. “He bought 50 cases based solely on Guy’s recommendation,” Buckley says.

Not all sales were so easy though. “We thought the hard part would be making the wine, but the really hard part is selling it,” says Buckley. “There are so many wine labels in the U.S., and nobody needs another one.” She briefly looked for an importer, but was unsuccessful. “So I got my importer license,” she says. “If you look at the label today, you’ll see it says ‘Imported by Urlari USA, LLC Teton Village, WY.’” (Buckley bought a home at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort the year after she and Cristoforetti bought the land for Urlari and she became a full-time Wyoming resident in 2009.) Her strategy was to sell wine to stores and restaurants in Jackson Hole and also to restaurants in New York City. “It’s the most competitive market in which everyone wants to sell their wine,” she says. “While I had never sold wine or anything else, I had confidence that the most sophisticated wine directors in New York would recognize and buy a truly unique, high-quality wine.”

Wine-Featured-2

In Jackson Hole, Buckley was able to walk into wine shops and restaurants without appointments and talk with owners and sommeliers. Dennis Johnson, the now-semi-retired manager of Dornan’s Wine Shop, which has a 1,500-plus bottle list and has earned a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence every year for 31 years, remembers the first time Buckley came in. “She walked into the shop and told me she had started a winery in Italy,” he says. “We like helping out smaller, individual wineries that are giving it a go, so I tasted the wines. It was nice stuff, a really, really good quality wine. I had no doubt it would sell.” Other bottle shops and restaurants in Jackson Hole quickly followed.

Making inroads in New York was more difficult. “I got a copy of Wine Spectator’s list of best restaurants for wine,” Buckley says. “And then I cold-called the ones in New York City.” Most restaurants wouldn’t see her, but “the ones I got in front of with the wine bought it,” she says. After Buckley had gotten Urlari onto the wine lists of restaurants like Keens Steakhouse, Delmonicos, Bar Italia, and Caravaggio, importers took notice. Today Urlari’s three wines—Pervale, L’Urlo (100% Merlot), and Ritasso (100% Sangiovese)—are sold through distributors in Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, and importers in the NY/NJ/ CT area and Pennsylvania. The 2017 New York International Wine Competition recognized Urlari as the Tuscan Winery of the Year, and its 2011 vintage Pervale won a “Double Gold” from a panel of top wine critics. James Suckling, regarded as one of the world’s top wine critics, has awarded scores of 93 points for Pervale, 93 points for L’Urlo, and 92 points for Ritasso.

On the phone in the middle of the most recent harvest, I asked Cristoforetti if Olympic skiers or grapes are more difficult to work with. He didn’t hesitate: “Grapes.” And that makes Urlari’s success all the sweeter. Buckley says, “Building a new business from scratch—literally going from standing in a sheep pasture and envisioning a wine made from grapes of plants that have yet to be planted and encountering hurdles along the way, to winning awards and having people enjoy all of our work—that’s so much fun.”

A Farming Renaissance in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Hero

A Farming Renaissance in Puerto Rico

February 28, 2019

After Hurricane Maria, the island’s farmers have made growing diverse produce—and sharing it with local chefs—their mission. “Look at this purslane,” says Daniella Rodriguez Besosa, on her farm in a mountainous region about a 90-minute drive southwest of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan. Pointing to the stubby green succulent, she says: “Most people consider this a weed and pull it out.” On her 6-acre farm in Aibonito, its air sweetened with birdsong and its fields buzzing with life as honeybees flit from bright red cosmos to burgundy- veined translucent lanterns of tomatillos, Rodríguez Besosa cultivates it for one of San Juan’s top restaurants, 1919, in the Condado Vanderbilt hotel.

When I ask what else she grows, she says in rapid-fire staccato: “basil, arugula, radishes, beets, peppers, eggplant, carrots, and, over there in the corner, green beans, cilantro, sweet peppers. With winter coming we’ll plant cabbage, bok choy, pineapple, tarragon, passionfruit, dragonfruit, and breadfruit.” And that’s just a partial inventory. The plantain and banana trees are toward the back of the property, to make the fruit harder to steal. And there are tomatoes, though when I’m there, “it’s really not tomato season,” she says. “We shouldn’t be planting tomatoes, but we like pushing boundaries.” Her rescue dog, a muscular mutt named Coa, bounds between the rows when Rodríguez Besosa calls.

This idyll belies what has been a difficult year for Rodríguez Besosa, 33, and most other Puerto Rican farmers. Slender and strong, with penetrating eyes, she has been working relentlessly since Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island in September 2017. “Everything was vaporized,” she says. Yet, assisted by grants from relief agencies, she has started over. She calls her new farm Siembra Tres Vidas, a garden with three lives.

Puerto-Rico-Featured-1

Rodríguez Besosa’s approach is emblematic of a new mentality on the island that’s gained momentum since the hurricane. For the past century, Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has grown crops primarily for export, such as coffee and sugar, and its residents relied heavily on food shipped to the island. “We don’t need to be exporting products,” she says. “We need to be producing a huge diversity of food for our people.”

In San Juan, I dine at chef Juan Jose Cuevas’ restaurant, 1919. Cuevas, a Puerto Rican native who oversaw the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants including New York’s Blue Hill, organized daily meals for thousands of hurricane survivors in the months after Maria. At 1919, amid amber tones and elegant décor, he presents a contemporary menu that features mostly local fish and vegetables. One of his star dishes is wahoo with purslane, the succulent grown on Rodríguez Besosa’s farm.

In the first months after the hurricane, not much fresh produce was available, Cuevas says, but “what I am getting now is 10 times better, in quality and diversity, than what I got before Maria.” Cuevas and other chefs are partnering with farmers, agreeing to buy their produce in advance of planting, giving the farmers some financial security. While local farmers still grow Puerto Rican staples, such as yuca and cassava—“the diet of our ancestors,” Cuevas says—they’re also planting more carrots, beets, kale, and collard greens, in part based on what chefs want for their restaurants. “Chefs can have a huge impact on the economy of Puerto Rico, now more than ever,” he says. “We have the power to support farmers so they can continue growing.”

Noting that the island imports more than 80 percent of its food, Cuevas says, “We cannot depend so much on importing stuff. We can grow items ourselves, and we can be sustainable if another disaster happens.” The crisis has provided the opportunity to experiment, he says, which is precisely what the wife-and-husband team of Angelie Martinez and Efren Robles are doing on a half-acre farm, called Frutos del Guacabo, near Manatí on Puerto Rico’s north coast.

Arriving on a dirt driveway lined with tomato plants, I see goats in a corral with a crowing rooster perched on a post. The scents of lemon basil and oregano blend in the air, and the sound of flowing water rises from a hydroponic network of white PVC pipes. Robles warmly greets me and introduces me to something I’ve never tasted, a Brazilian flower called a lemon drop that sets my tongue tingling with a sour citrus flavor. Before starting the farm in 2010, Robles worked as a mechanic; Martinez as a chemist. They grow some plants in the earth, others in water carefully monitored for pH to produce the highest quality produce, using organic practices and shunning pesticides. The property abuts a craggy lime- stone slope and most of the goats, which provide milk to make cheese, are free to climb it.

The diversity of plants grown on this tiny plot is staggering: bok choy, cherry tomatoes, passionfruit, and microgreens that are sent live in tiny trays to San Juan’s top chefs. The farm is helping to popularize the Habanada pepper, a sweet version of the hot Habanero pepper. “We look for products that are in demand,” Robles says. Frutos del Guacabo is also a distribution center for more than 50 of the region’s growers, and a model for what can be done with little land. But Martinez and Robles haven’t forgotten their traditions. “We sell jams of papaya or pineapple,” Robles says. “We make hot sauce with the skin of pineapple fermented with peppers; that’s the way our grandmothers used to do it.”

After the hurricane, it took 177 days to rebuild the farm and get back to delivering food, Robles says. If he and his wife can turn half an acre into an Eden-like garden, he believes anyone can—and that the future of the island depends on it. “We are trying to educate people that food self-sufficiency is viable; that they can start farming,” Robles says. “Our role is to show people this can be done. It’s not only economic but social; you need to grow your own food—it’s that simple.”

Puerto-Rico-Featured-2

Chef Peter Schintler of San Juan’s esteemed Marmalade restaurant is awed by what Martinez and Robles accomplish at Frutos del Guacabo. “It almost looks like a Jurassic garden,” he says. “The amount of passion and love … you can taste it in their product.”

At True Leaf Farm in Palomas, about an hour south of San Juan, Gabriel Mejia shows that attentiveness can produce tiny bursts of flavor in edible flowers, herbs, and microgreens. Mejia, 29, studied horticulture at the University of Puerto Rico. After the hurricane, which toppled his greenhouses, he rebuilt his battered farm. Top chefs, such as Jose Santaella, eagerly buy his peppermint tops, mini cilantro, micro basil, baby radishes, and zucchini blossoms. Mejia cultivates what chefs ask him to grow. “It’s their last detail,” he says. “The level of attention and care this requires is humongous. If you’re not passionate, you’re not going to deliver a product they’ll put on their plate.”

As I bid Mejia farewell, he loads a large white cooler of freshly harvested produce into his dented Toyota sedan and drives down the vertiginous hills to San Juan. That night at the popular Santaella restaurant in San Juan’s Santurce District, I meet Erin Schrode, operations director of Jose Andres’ food relief group Chefs for Puerto Rico. We order malanga fritters with local avocados. When the appetizer arrives, Schrode tells me the fritters are topped by microgreens grown by Mejia. The tiny cilantro leaves are the perfect touch.

Schrode notes that many of the young growers seeking to change the way Puerto Ricans farm are women and says Rodríguez Besosa’s vegetables and fruits are among the best on the island. “Daniella’s produce is of a quality that’s so exquisite. She’s amazing, her passion,” Schrode says. That passion is reflected in Rodríguez Besosa’s commitment to her farm, her community, her island. More than 150,000 people fled Puerto Rico in the first six months after the 2017 hurricane and haven’t returned. Asked if she ever considered leaving, Rodríguez Besosa emphatically says, “Never. I’m staying put. It’s conviction. We stay where we’re needed.”

A Look Into the Life of Gardening Expert Charlie Nardozzi

garden-hero

A Look Into the Life of Gardening Expert Charlie Nardozzi

January 28, 2019

People from the Northeast with any interest in gardening or horticulture know Charlie Nardozzi—or at least recognize him thanks to his signature wide-brimmed straw hat. The Connecticut-born gardening guru has established a mini empire in the Stowe area: He regularly plays TV cohost and gardening tour guide, authors books such as Vegetable Gardening for Dummies and works the speaker/consultant circuit sharing his insights on all things related to gardening. 

Charlie Nardozzi Inspirato

He’s perhaps best-known for his longest-running gig—closing in on two decades—as a radio personality on WJOY-AM’s call-in gardening show In the Garden.

“It’s really a hoot,” Nardozzi says. “People call in with all kinds of outlandish questions. I sing to them, I tell them stories, I help them settle marital disputes. I just like that live interaction with people. That’s why I love garden coaching, too: I can be out in the field talking with people, seeing what they’re doing and thinking about. It keeps me fresh with what’s going on in the gardening world.”

In Nardozzi’s gardening world—a nook of western Vermont that encompasses Stowe, Burlington and his current town of North Ferrisburgh—he’s noticed that autumns have been lasting longer, allowing avid gardeners to grow and harvest all the way into November and even December, providing a welcome addition to the local farm-to-table menus of restaurants around the area.

“I plan a lot of plantings in vegetables to mature at that time of year,” he says. “Leeks and parsnips, for example, you’ll put in, let them grow all season and not really touch them until September or October when it’s a little cooler and they’re full-size.”

Charlie Nardozzi Inspirato 2

And when he’s not advising New Englanders on their gardens, he retires to work on his own: He and his wife live on 5 acres of land that include a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden, an edible hedge row, flower gardens around the house, berry plantings and a small orchard.

“It’s tiring just talking about it,” he says with a laugh. “Thank God my wife gardens, too!”

Explore Paris’ Centuries-Old Love of Chocolate

Paris-Hero

Explore Paris’ Centuries-Old Love of Chocolate

January 25, 2019

“There’s no city in the world that loves chocolate more than Paris, and the passion Parisians have for it is one of those very rare ones that just grows deeper and more intense as time goes by,” observes French master chocolate-maker Nicolas Berger. Berger is well placed to comment on Parisians’ inexorable love of chocolate, too. He runs Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse – Manufacture à Paris, the small, intoxicatingly scented workshop with exposed brick walls in a former eastern Paris garage near La Bastille that is the French capital’s very first bean-to-bar atelier. This game-changing business opened in February 2013 and was conceived by gastro-entrepreneur and ardent choco-phile Alain Ducasse and Berger, who formerly worked as chef patissier at Ducasse’s restaurant at the Essex House hotel in New York City and then at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris.

“From the very start, many of our customers came daily, and just a few days after we’d opened we were getting people from the 16th Arrondissement (an affluent district on the opposite side of the city from their 11th Arrondissement location) and the suburbs. In Paris, it’s pretty obvious there’s sort of an informal chocolate tom-tom that keeps people who love it up-to-date on the very latest openings and creations even before they’ve been picked up by the mainstream press,” says Berger, whose own taste for chocolate dates “back to my cradle.” His parents are pastry chefs who ran a shop in a town outside of Lyon, and Berger says he was helping out in the kitchen as soon as he could walk and remembers being especially fascinated by watching chocolates being dipped.

But what is it exactly that makes Parisians so insane for chocolate? “Paris is a profoundly epicurean city,” says Berger, “So Parisians proudly share a culture of connoisseurship, along with an insatiable curiosity about all and any fine food stuffs.” Like chocolate.

Chocolate-Featured-1

This explains why Ducasse’s new bean-to-bar operation was so immediately tantalizing to Parisian chocolate-lovers. To launch the atelier, Berger shopped for antique chocolate-making machinery all over Europe—many of the machines best-suited to small-scaled quality chocolate manufacturing are no longer made—and then scouted suppliers of the world’s finest and rarest cocoa beans. Now he roasts his own cocoa beans daily on the premises, joining a tiny elite band of French producers who start from scratch, including Ber- nachon in Lyon and Stéphane Bonnat in Voiron, a village outside of Grenoble. “Cocoa beans have the same gastronomic eloquence as grapes, which means that they offer a powerful expression of the land and climate from which they come,” explains Berger.

Evaluating the production of Ducasse’s new atelier during a comprehensive tasting of their ganaches (a mixture of chocolate and cream), dark chocolate and milk chocolate in September 2013, the esteemed Le Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, a very serious association of Parisian chocolate lovers founded in 1981 by food critic Claude Lebey, rated the new atelier’s chocolate as “very promising.” Ducasse’s single-origin chocolates have also received high marks from such exigent Paris-based chocolate experts as cookbook writer Trish Deseine and blogger David Lebovitz.

French Heritage

Indigenous to Central America and first introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, who discovered it during their conquest of the Aztec empire in what is now Mexico, chocolate is generally believed to have been brought to France by the Spanish-born Princess Anne of Austria when she married King Louis XIII in 1615. Consumed in both liquid and solid form, it immediately became a favorite delicacy of the French court for its taste, rarity and reputed aphrodisiac qualities.

Bayonne in southwestern France was the original center of French chocolate production when Jewish chocolate makers and merchants fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition of 1536 settled there, but it was in Paris that chocolate emerged as a luxurious public indulgence. Louis XIV appointed a valet in the Queen’s household, David Chaillou, to open the very first chocolate shop in Paris on May 28, 1659.

Located on the rue de l’Arbre Sec in the 1st Arrondissement, Chaillou’s shop enjoyed a monopoly on the preparation and sale of chocolate beverages and sweets that lasted nearly 30 years before competition arrived on the scene. By 1689, other pioneering chocolate shops had opened in the heart of the city, including Rere on the rue Dauphine and Renard on the present-day quai de Conti.

Even as its popularity grew in the court of King Louis XV, where Queen Marie-Antoinette had her very own private chocolatier (chocolate-maker), chocolate retained its rarified status as an elite luxury until after the French Revolution. With the end of French court life, chocolate, along with many other luxury goods and services, suddenly became more widely available to the general public.

In 1800, Sulpice Debauve, the former royal pharmacist to King Louis XVI and the personal chocolatier to King Charles X, opened a chocolate shop on rue Saint-Dominique, in Saint-German-des-Prés. It’s still around today: Debauve moved to its present location on rue des Saints-Pères in the 7th Arrondissement in 1818. That same year, Debauve began a partnership with his nephew, August Gallais, also a chemist. Together they produced and sold “health chocolates,” which were variously made with almond milk, vanilla and orange-blossom water, or ingredients like Icelandic lichen, a combination believed to be beneficial for treating chest ailments.

In the early 19th century, chocolate was often used to make bitter medicines more palatable and was widely believed to bring good health and vitality to those who ate it regularly. So widespread was the Gallic association between chocolate and good health at the beginning of the 19th century that the famous French epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin puckishly summed up his country’s love of chocolate with the adage, “What is health? It is chocolate!”

Chocolate Artisans

Industrial advances in chocolate manufacturing and the expansion of cocoa-bean production in France’s vast African colonial empire—the Ivory Coast, a former French colony, remains the world’s largest cocoa bean-producing country today with almost 40 percent of the world’s annual crop—made chocolate an affordable daily pleasure for the French by the end of the 19th century. Paris, however, maintained its proud tradition of elegant chocolatiers of the highest quality, including such still existing producers as Foucher, which was founded in 1819 and is still excellent, and La Marquise de Sévigné, which was born in the Auvergnat spa town of Royat and today is more commercial than artisanal.

Chocolate-Featured-2

Deprived of good chocolate during World War II, Parisians fell in love with it all over again during the 30 years of post-war French prosperity known as Les Trente Glorieuses, the 30 glorious years. It was against this backdrop of an insatiable hunger for luxury that chocolatier Robert Linxe, the French Basque chocolate maker whom many consider to be the father of modern French chocolate, opened the estimable but now gone Marquis de Presles boutique in 1955.

Serious chocolate eating in Paris had previously been largely confined to the Christmas and Easter holidays, but Linxe made the pleasure mainstream by creating a line of boldly flavored ganache chocolates, including his signature Zagora (flavored with fresh mint leaves). His idea was that eating quality chocolate should be an accessible year-round pleasure. After selling his Marquis de Presles business to caterer Gastron Le Nôtre in 1977, Linxe opened his first La Maison du Chocolat the same year, ushering in the new era of craft chocolate in Paris.

La Maison du Chocolat, which re-codified Parisian chocolate as a daily luxury in both gastronomic and visual terms—its packaging is as elegant as its Paris boutiques—is now under the direction of pastry chef and chocolatier Nicolas Cloiseau, who became head chef of the group in 2012. And now Alain Ducasse has raised the local chocolate bar with his Right Bank atelier and just opened Left Bank boutique in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Bon appetit.