Paris

Paris

By
Luke Nguyen
Contains
17 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742707181
Photographer
Alan Benson

Wow, Paris! I can hardly believe I am here. This has to be the most beautiful city in the world, famous for so many things: as a centre of art, fashion, design… and, of course, for its sophisticated cuisine.

For hours I wander, getting hopelessly lost, taking in all the city has to offer: the buildings and monuments, the stylishness of the people, the gorgeous gardens and street scenes. My first stop is my cousin Laurent’s new restaurant, Le Bistro d’Indochine. I can’t believe how many cousins I have in Paris: within minutes they’ve got me in the kitchen, drinking Champagne and helping Laurent cook his super-refined version of Vietnamese caramelised mackerel.

Next, I’m off to meet fêted butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, whose atmospheric meat shop is listed as a historic monument. It’s the most wonderful butchery I’ve ever seen. And Yves-Marie is the most exuberant and passionate butcher I’ve ever met. Together we make my Vietnamese steak tartare, using three different tender cuts of beef, spiked with fish sauce, Vietnamese mint, fried shallots and chilli.

Next, it’s up onto the rooftops, where I talk with apiarist Nicolas Geant, among his hives, about his bee-keeping practices. It’s heartening that people like Nicolas care so intensely about declining bee populations, even here, in the very heart of Paris. Top restaurants line up for his honey, which tastes like a Parisian garden, with notes of citrus and mint from the graceful linden trees lining the streets. His honey is a perfect match for grilled baguette and melted goat’s cheese, a simple dish made sublime using the best ingredients.

Another highlight is lunch at charming La Soufflé, where the only items on the three-course menu are soufflés, savoury and sweet. It’s quite an experience, eating three different soufflés in one sitting, but they’re all so perfectly fluffy and ethereal it’s an easy thing to do. Especially when dessert appears: a Grand Marnier soufflé, with an entire bottle of Grand Marnier liqueur for me to drizzle over as I like. Which I do like. A lot!

Extracting myself from Paris proves hard. I could spend months and still only scratch its elegant surface. I explore as many streets, markets and landmarks as I can, soaking up that Parisian love of art, food, beauty and all else that is good. Along the way I meet chef Eric Fontanini, at his restaurant in the grandly historic Palais-Royal. We cook outside in the stunning palace gardens, preparing the fattest, tastiest asparagus I’ve ever seen, drizzled with a rich butter sauce infused with bergamot and vervaine.

Later, as I wander about, I’m amazed how similar the street life is to that in Vietnam. My friend Franck Verschaeve, a fellow chef in Paris, explains there is nothing more Parisian than to sit, kerbside, at a small brasserie table, over a coffee, and simply watch the world go by. As we do in Saigon and Hanoi too.

Then there is the baguette: everywhere I see people carrying these long crusty loaves home, tucked underarm. I’m keen to make the real French thing, and Benjamin Turquier, of the famed 134 R.D.T. boulangerie, happily shares the art of fashioning water, flour, yeast and salt into a loaf with the right surface crunch and airy, fragrant interior that a good baguette demands. To return the favour I slow-roast a goat leg in his baker’s oven, smothering it in lemongrass, fish sauce and chilli, served in his prize-winning baguettes in the style of a classic Vietnamese bánh mì.

Living spaces here and in Vietnam are tiny, so I feel at home on Franck’s small balcony, high above the traffic, cooking pot-au-feu. From the blanching of the meat, use of marrow bones and cloves in the stock, to the long, slow cooking that melds all the flavours in a clean, pure way, I leave convinced this dish is indeed the mother of the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, pho. With the sun setting over Parisian rooftops, I’m in heaven.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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