Eating on The Road: Well-Trained Palates in Paris
We're taking a road trip this month for Inviting Writing, and Lisa drove the first leg (rather queasily) last week. Today, we'll head to Paris with Anny Wohn, a D.C.-based pastry chef who previously contributed this lovely essay on Korean picnics.
If this inspires your inner Kerouac, there's still time to send in your own story about road food. E-mail submissions to [email protected] with "Inviting Writing: Road Trips" in the subject line by August 1st.
Our Moveable Feast By Anny Wohn
On the first morning of our trip to Paris, I awoke to Andy pacing around our darkened hotel room, deliberately trying to get my attention. That rainy November day began with his words, “I can’t sleep knowing there’s a city full of pâté out there!”
When you are a pastry chef married to another chef, all vacations, conversations and road trips converge on food. After three days in Paris of continuous eating punctuated by museum visits, we were about to embark on a 307-mile voyage through northern France, dipping under the English Channel for 20 minutes, before arriving in London via the countryside of Kent.
Because I have lived only in large cities throughout my life, and didn’t even sit behind the wheel of an automobile until the age of 29, the network of transit systems is my “open road” of possibilities wherever I journey in the world.
Preparations for the 2-hour-and-15-minute train ride from Gare du Nord to London’s St. Pancras Station on the high-speed Eurostar began early on the day of our departure. During our breakfast at the café near our hotel in the 5th arrondissement, we pocketed leftover tabs of Isigny butter wrapped in foil paper.
Then, traversing the Seine over the Louis Philippe Bridge, we arrived in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, where we hunted for unpasteurized cheeses and pâtés, and gathered nutty financiers and boozy cannelés for dessert. I peeled away the woolen gloves from my frozen fingertips to linger over my last chocolat chaud of the trip.
Breaking a long crusty baguette in half (breaking this pastry chef’s heart to compromise the integrity of the beautiful loaf) in order to conceal it in my carry-on bag, we finally ducked into the metro and headed for the train station.
Weaving through the crowd, passing French police dogs whose discerning noses were unperturbed by pungent cheese, we stepped across political boundaries at the immigration desk and onto our train as the door clipped at our heels. As we were just placing our bags overhead, the more punctual couple in our four-person seating pod was already clearing their lunch of fast food purchased from a stall at the Gare du Nord. We sat facing them, yet avoiding eye contact, and strategically positioned our feet to avoid knocking knees.
Andy left to find the café car—where he exchanged the last of our euros for a Stella Artois and a bottle of mineral water—while I watched the scenic frames of northern France whizzing past at 186 m.p.h. When he returned, we set up our feast in an assembly line, stretching across our half of the table surface from window to aisle.
I spread the baguette with the golden butter made of grassy Norman cows’ milk, and passed it onto Andy, who topped it with any one of the full kilogram (2.2 pounds) of treats we'd purchased. There was country pork pâté, unctuous rabbit terrine, duck liver mousse and Pounti, a dense Auvergne-style meat loaf studded with sweet prunes.
After that, we unleashed our cheese course of Saint-Nectaire, followed by a sweet ending of pistachio-brown butter cake with sour cherries and cylinders of rum-soaked custard pastry (cannelés).
Upon detraining at St. Pancras and following the stampede through the labyrinthine Underground, we emerged from the Sloane Square Tube station, walked a few blocks to my sister’s flat, bearing small gifts of colorful macarons from Ladurée and a tin of crêpes dentelles from La Grande Epicerie.
We were just in time to join the expats for a Thanksgiving dinner in London.