I’ve been busy: busy getting to know Paris. Busy getting blisters from all the walking. Busy not getting lost on the metro, which as a solo traveller with an abysmal sense of direction was far from guaranteed. For a while i was busy checking the pocket-sized metro map repeatedly before hopping on board to make sure i was taking the right line and then double, even triple, checking the first few stops, convinced I’d head in the wrong direction. I didn’t. Then i got busy zig-zagging the city on multi-coloured metro lines in search of gastronomic adventures: including cooking at Le Cordon Bleu and Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse where we simmered pots of stock for hours until they reduced to glossy, syrupy jus, learnt the art of pastry making, confiting and how to make impossibly crisp and pretty croutons. I’ve been busy enjoying 28-degree days and beers in busy sidewalk cafes. Busy in a gastronomic bliss bubble of steak frite, tartare, and tartin.
Olives and i have become firm friends so far on this eight-week European trip: i’ve progressed from being an olive lightweight – eating only the tiniest of black ones (those from Coriole vineyard in South Australia being my favourite) – to enjoying medium-sized black ones and even the dullish green ones that I’ve always avoided.
I’ve struck a particularly good friendship with sardines, too. Flora Mikula’s tempura sardines – served as part of her innovative tapas menu at the fashionable Auberge Flora (hotel and restaurant) – are the aquatic equivalent of the bees knees. I could pop those thumb-sized morsels into my mouth endlessly, and would’ve attempted as much had a two-tiered tapas stand not tempted me in other ways: think chunky pork pâté, chicken rillettes, asparagus panacotta, and foie gras with fig chips.
I had a cracker of a steak at Mama Shelter, served with a paper cone of spot-on thin frites and a generous side of cheeky industrial-urban cool that the hotel group has perfected. The buffet breakfast is a feast of pastries, bread, fruit, crispy bacon, creamy scrambled eggs, and damn fine coffee.
Along the city’s sidewalks I found strawberries, raspberries and cherries sold in punnets that are the perfect size to fit in one hand, leaving the other free to pop berries like sweets as you walk and browse – and get blisters.
Amongst the old buildings with heritage facades and pretty balconies, the museums and cathedrals and endless sight-seeing pitstops, I stumbled upon a pretty pop-up garden of bright wild flowers, the sheer loveliness of which made my heart swell and my eyes well. Wild flowers in Paris, one of the best sights so far.
At Le Cordon Bleu and Ecole de Alain Ducasse I basked in gastronomic heaven with culinary inspired classmates from around the world. Awe-struck, we tried to keep up as our French chef-tutors bounced between numerous recipes and had myriad complicated processes simmering at once.
I found satisfaction making stock from scratch: roasting and browning bones, deglazing pans of flavour-loaded bits of sucs – the brown, sticky bits clinging to the bottom, straining the liquid of bones sucked of flavour and fat, then simmering it for hours until a much-reduced syrupy jus remained.
I’ve been busy enjoying my own company, taking a plunge, embracing the challenge. Busy making new friends, exploring life beyond the comfort zone. I’ve been busy relaxing, not multi-tasking and working all day and well into every night. I’ve been busy making some promises: about not being so busy in a soul-sucking, work-ridiculous kind of way when I return home. Busy rebalancing things, my life. Busy taking stock, and making it, in Paris.
The Food Sage was a guest of Auberge Flora, Mama Shelter, Le Cordon Bleu and Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse.