The Ultimate List of Pastry Makers and Chocolatiers in Paris
Chocolate and pastries are irresistible any time of the year. But they are particularly addictive and tempting in cold weather.
That may be one reason ‘tis the season for both chocolate and pastries in Paris: the Christmas holidays and New Years are when chocolate consumption peaks, despite the fact that Paris’ now famous (some would say infamous) Salon du Chocolat is held in October.
My shortlist of top chocolatiers and pastry shops in Paris follows below.
First, a historical perspective: “The fine arts number five,” wrote Marie-Antoine Carême in the late 18th century, “painting, sculpture, poetry, music and architecture, the principal branch of which is pastry.”
Were he alive today, Carême would’ve melded “chocolate” into the art of pastry. The two cannot be dissociated.
Ephemeral, edible pastry-and-chocolate architecture has been part of the French repertoire for centuries. Like many edible arts the foundations of early French pastry-making are Italian: the word “pastry” (pâtisserie) comes from the Latin “pasta”. The ancient Romans filled giant pastry shells with live birds and much else, anything for a lark in the days of imperial decadence. No, they didn’t have chocolate. If they’d had it, the history of the world would be utterly different. Nero might’ve been a nice guy, for one thing. He would’ve gobbled a chocolate bar instead of burning Rome.
Everyone knows that Theobroma cacao – in particular the unadulterated dark variety with at least 60 percent cocoa – is great for the health, libido, mind, morale and much else. Chocolate makes people happy, fills them with energy, lifts them out of depression, and cures everything from rabies and rashes to the common cold, without undo weight gain. There’s plenty of impressive if unproven scientific “evidence” of the above, and more, much more. But most chocolate and pastry lovers do not worry about the wholesomeness of what they crave. Flavor, deliciousness, richness (or lightness) is all.
The most extravagant expressions of the art may go back to the pyramidal pyramous pastries described by Callimachus over 2,000 years ago. Pastry shop Ladurée continues the tradition today with pyramids of macaroons (widely imitated for reasons that escape me). These are the modern version of macaroons, with a crisp shell and gooey filling, sometimes chocolate, nearly always delicious if at times ludicrously complicated. Parenthetically, if you ask me, Ladurée is no longer the best of the best: there are several small, artisan macaroon makers (who also happen to be pastry chefs and chocolatiers) who do a better job, working from scratch. See my favorites, below.
In Paris I haven’t encountered many chef-pâtissiers or chocolatiers building fifteen-foot chocolate-pastry sculptures or pyramids in the style of Ancient Rome or Baroque Naples, not even for the Salon du Chocolat, though several of the city’s top practitioners do consider themselves artistes. They sculpt and mold and mount and pour chocolate the way Rodin worked with wax, plaster and bronze.
Dotted across the city are stunning delicacies of pastry and chocolate beckoning from the windows of celebrity chefs or maisons the likes of Jean-Paul Hevin, Pierre Hermé, Christian Constant, Patrick Roger, Michel Chaudun, Guy Mulot, La Maison du Chocolat, Peltier, Kaiser, Lenôtre, Fauchon, Hédiard, Sucré Cacao, Laurent Duchêne, Lahrer, Pierre Marcolini (a Belgian infiltrator) and a dozen others.
Visual and gustatory artistry meet marketing and promotional mastery in the person of Pierre Hermé. His talent in these realms is hard to beat. Under the spotlights of his chic boutique on Rue Bonaparte you quickly learn the meaning of dazzle.
Hermé was dubbed the “Picasso of Pastry,” but luckily he hasn’t concentrated on Cubist pralines and pâtisseries—not yet anyway. His shop is a must, Cacao Mecca in Paris.
Among the artistes several stand out: Patrick Roger and Michel Chaudun ought to display their wares at Paris’ Museum of Contemporary Art, but close behind the top two is Jean-Paul Hévin (some say the name rhymes with “heaven”).
Maybe these artists’ works should be displayed in the Fashion Museum? As I’ve noted elsewhere when writing about this subject, the nexus of food and fashion may well be what’s driving Paris’ booming chocolate and pastry craze. Haute couture and chocolate meet and make love – metaphorically – on fashion runways, where artiste-chocolatiers daub super-models with chocolate. Boutiques now sell the kind of chocolate lingerie formerly limited to the precincts of the Salon du Chocolat.
Now for something—and someone—completely different: Everyone knows the practitioners mentioned above. Also on my list of personal favorites I include chocolate sculptor Joséphine Vannier, master chocolate-bar maker Michel Cluizel, macaroon kingpin Gregory Renard, and the maker of what might just be the lightest, most delicious, crisp yet creamy éclairs anywhere in the world: Carl Marletti.
Marletti’s millefeuille pastry is his warhorse and justly so, but his éclairs are out of this world, and his Christmastide bûche de noel—the yuletide log reinterpreted—is also among the best in France. Both Renard and Marletti are in the Mouffetard neighborhood, one of Paris’ oldest and best food shopping streets (for cheese at the very least). Vannier hails from the edge of the Marais, near Place des Vosges; Cluizel is in the Rue Saint-Honoré, where customers are used to spending liberally for everything, including the air they breathe.