Market, Avenue du President Wilson, Paris 16th arrondissement: note happy native shoppers
When you hear a certain self-satisfied New Yorker (whose blatherings appear in books and in The Only Newspaper That Counts in America) tell you that the food in Paris is no good anymore, that no one but Americans can "save" French cuisine, tell him to take his straw out of the Kool-Aid and talk a walk–and discover the city's open markets, at least one for every district and often more.
Who knew Woodrow Wilson was a Closet Gourmet?
Then tell him–yes, this New Yorker is definitely a he, and boy is he pleased with himself and with everything American–tell him to stroll down the Seine on the pedestrianized former expressway and enjoy a market-based, local, handmade, fresh daily lunch from Maison Maison, where the charming young chefette is up at dawn cooking out of her kitchen in a reconverted shipping container.
She's sweet and talented, and the location isn't bad, either.
Or there's the Breizh creperie on the Left Bank quay: organic, local, handmade, fresh, good (and the Malongo coffee is good, too). The personnel isn't exactly sweet but the crepes make up for that.
Both are refreshingly simple and affordable. No stars, no egos, no pneumatic reviewers with agendas to accomplish.
But most of all, walk this blinkered guy through an outdoor market, any market, and check out the produce and the food artisans.
Apples, direct from the grower, I cannot tell a lie. Oops, wrong president!
Don't focus on the stands that sell okay but not outstanding stuff mostly imported from sunnier countries on the Mediterranean. Look at the others, the charcutier who makes his hams and terrines by hand, the farmer who brings her fresh produce in from the outer reaches of the Ile de France, the guy who cooks up the paella (Paris is a cosmopolitan city, by the way, not everything good has to be French), the fish mongers with the freshest stuff in France, some of it still alive, the sellers of flavorful dry-aged beef, the sad little bunny and birdie hawkers, in short the real people who supply Parisians, real live French people who speak French and love food and know how to cook, with the ingredients they put together at home, homes being sanctuaries where most know-it-all parachute American reporters don't tread.
Seasonal mushrooms: boletus edulis aka cepes, and girolles, alias chanterlles, guaranteed good because gnawed on by French gourmet insects, no pesticides used, merci!
Them there is certified, organic carrots and pretty tasty, no RoundUp, nossiree.
No grapes, mate, these are Extra!
Now for some hard stuff, the reality check: What, they eat bunnies and birdies? (I've purposely made the images small. I'm no hunter and I actually love animals, all animals including cows and lambs and chickens. Maybe we should adopt Swift's good old modest proposal after all? Eat each other, save the animals, rid the planet of humankind?)
Somehow it's okay to eat oysters, right?
Why is it that when outsiders think of Paris and food it is always in terms of restaurants, and always focussed, obsessively on the Michelin-starred places or the trendy, new, angular, uncomfortable spots with high chairs for outsized bobo babies?
Food and the culture of food extends way beyond the superficial restaurant scene, mon vieux! Let's get beyond France 101 for the arrogant and ignorant!
Cockles and mussels, quel bulot!
Remember Gerard de Nerval, the Romantic-era novelist and poet, the proto-surrealist? Yes, he really did have a pet lobster and took it for walks on a leash. Did he buy it at an open market and save it from a horrible death?
Maybe I'll adopt a pet langoustine?
Forgive the rant: marketing and cooking in Paris is actually a wonderfully positive experience, a complement to doing the restaurant thing. So who can save French cuisine? No one, because it doesn't need to be saved, certainly not by us.