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An American living in Paris does the hard work of investigating all of the city’s best chocolatiers.
LIVING IN NEW YORK, everything was a thing — a treacherous, slogful grind of a thing. Fortunately, my family and I moved to Paris last September, and what I’ve come to learn is that everything in Paris is also a thing. Only here it’s a gloriously historic, golden-plated, impossibly tailored, intellectually pleasing, all-five-senses-turned-on kind of thing.
Traveling through Paris, just getting from point A to point B is such a wonderful event, and today is no different.
Because the trains are so good and the traffic is so bad, I usually never take taxis. But since it’s the middle of August, the trains are hot, the streets are empty, and I’ve got three chocolatiers to visit, I am in a cab. With my three kids in tow.
We drive over the Seine (Notre-Dame is to the right), through the main courtyard of the Louvre (unquestionably the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen), and right through the heart of Paris…
Oh no, my 6-year-old daughter is starting to … Oh no, please don’t yell, not now. She’s just 6, I remind myself. You’re smarter than she is. Distract her, quickly. “Are you excited to start your new school?” I say. That’s a good one. Well done.
“I’m so excited, Dada. What grade am I in?”
“I don’t know …”
In the States, she’d be going into first grade, but the grade levels here have names, and then the levels move, numerically, in reverse order. … Panic. How could I not know this? I need to enlist the support of the other kids.
“She’s going into CP,” sighs the mumbling, suddenly angsty 11-year-old.
The little one moves on to the next question. “Can we see the new ‘Ninja Turtles’ movie?”
“Maybe.” I do not want to see the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie.
“I hate sitting in the middle.”
“Why is it so hot in here?”
It’s all falling apart. I tell the kids a joke.
“You told us that one already,” says the scowling 6-year-old.
She’s definitely smarter than I am.
“Monsieur, nous sommes arrivés.”
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À la Mère de Famille has a dozen locations throughout Paris, but the one at 35 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, opened in 1761, is the oldest chocolate shop in the city. Walking through its rich, perfectly aged, deep forest-green wood-and-glass doors, I am surrounded, engulfed by 262 years of product development, meticulously curated maximalist refinement that leaves me feeling flush with memories of simpler times. The kids are excited but focused, anticipating what’s coming.
Our job here is to try everything, so, “Yes, you can have anything you want.”
The staff, unaware that we were doing research for this piece, is still wildly generous, willing to satiate each child’s polite but longing gaze with a gracious, “Would you like to try that?”
After trying just about everything, we’re ready to order. I pay the cashier, who’s stationed in a sort of old-timey, wainscoted, ticket-collector’s booth. She looks like a fortune teller, but there’s nothing for her to say: We already know how great everything is.
With the kids jacked up on sugar, we hop into our cab, back through the courtyard of the Louvre, across Pont Neuf (I can’t believe this is where Pharrell Williams staged his Louis Vuitton show), over to the Left Bank to Patrick Roger. SHOP NOW
We pause outside the Boulevard Saint-Germain location for a second. I ask the kids if they can spot the differences between this shop and the last.
“Do some people say the Earth is flat?”
The contrast between these two confectioners’ aesthetics couldn’t be greater. If À la Mère de Famille is a chocolate funhouse, Patrick Roger is her equally gifted but somewhat moody stepbrother. Its 12-, maybe 15-foot, lightly smoked, glass entryway and sans-serif wordmark clearly communicates what you’re going to find inside: a minimalist, art-house aesthetic, seemingly more suited — or maybe designed specifically for — showcasing artwork. This makes sense because, while Patrick Roger is indeed known as a world-class chocolatier, he is equally renowned for his aptitude as a sculptor (whose medium happens to be chocolate). Before knowing this, I feel a bit disappointed, not by the chocolate but by the experience of buying the chocolate. We aren’t given the opportunity just to wander about, picking and choosing what we think we should experience. Instead, the artist has curated the experience for us. However, the 2000 Meilleur Ouvrier de France winner’s edit is spot on: The chocolate is perfect, and I am able to let go of my resentment. SHOP NOW
I visit the third shop on our list the following day, with just my 6-year-old daughter. I often feel as if I should do more front-end research for these stories, but, because I suspect that this would prompt expectations and prevent me from wholly experiencing with novel curiosity whatever it is I’m writing about, I usually choose not to. I also like to see how my experience lines up with the story the brand is communicating.
Either way, today, I’m happy to have committed to this strategy because the shop feels magical. I later learn that it indeed is. If you love Paris. Which is magical.
The shop was designed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s official architects, and the company was earlier founded by French King Louis XVI’s chemist, Sulpice Debauve, who also developed a medicinal chocolate intervention for the king’s wife, Marie Antoinette (a version of these chocolate medallions, Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette, is still in production). How could this not be the oldest chocolate shop in Paris? Either way, the chocolate is exquisite, obviously. But even if it weren’t, I’d still strongly encourage heading over to 30 Rue des Saints-Pères to experience the very Parisian, impeccably maintained, state-designated historical monument. SHOP NOW
I’m alone. The kids don’t want any more chocolate, and frankly, neither do I. But, as I told the kids, I have a job to do, an important, delicious, chocolate-tasting, 1,500-word job that won’t write itself.
This award-winning, family-owned confiserie is still run by a Bonnat and committed to hand-producing small-batch, single-origin chocolate out of its Voiron laboratory.
Stéphane Bonnat is one of only a few remaining chocolatiers fanatically committed to a painstakingly slow 48-hour conching process, which is a sort of micro-polishing that promotes and elicits flavor development. His obsessive efforts are justified, given the end result.
When you’re in Paris, visit the shop at 189 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and have a go at their 100% cocoa dark-chocolate bar. SHOP NOW
It’s a seven-minute walk from Chocolat Bonnat to my favorite hotel in the world: Le Bristol Paris. Once inside the hotel, just ask any of its ultra-accommodating staff to point you in the direction of the Épicerie (grocery store). That staff member, who would never point to anything, will instead insist on escorting you, graciously, to the recently made permanent space. There you can access all of the hotel’s culinary ateliers (wizards), including, of course, Johan Giacchetti, who, from the hotel’s in-house chocolate factory, handcrafts more than 3,000 chocolaty things every week from grand cru (hand-harvested) cacao. You will never be sorry to have done this. SHOP NOW
Jeremy Malman is a part-time journalist and full-time dad based in Brooklyn. His writing explores topics including motorsports, design, fitness, farming, and fatherhood — in other words, some conceptually comical notion of modern masculinity. He also really enjoys traveling.
Victoria Black is an art director at Departures. They love typography, vegan treats, and collaborating with other artists. When not in Queens, you can probably find them in an old museum or exploring Paris.
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