There’s absolutely no doubt that Paris is a dream for those with a sweet tooth. The incontrovertible evidence: you can’t walk down a single rue in the French capital without passing at least two patisseries or chocolate shops. Even after countless and extended stays in the city, I still find myself stopping to ogle the colorful displays of cakes, tartlets, eclairs, fondants, and meringues in shop windows. In fact, if I had a euro for every time I was lured into a patisserie to purchase a delectable dessert that caught my eye, I could probably buy my own patisserie.
Adam Wayda felt much the same way during his first visit to the city – so much so that he decided to devote a large portion of his life to the pursuit of the perfect pastry in Paris, launching a blog, Paris Pâtisseries, to share his findings with readers around the world. After drooling over his photographs, reviews and articles for well over a year, I decided to speak to the man and find out how (and why) he turned a sweet dream into a real life career.
I visited Paris a few years back, together with a now ex-girlfriend – who happened to be a pastry chef. She enjoyed the trip and the pastries we ate, but I loved it all. So when we broke up a month later, I started plotting an extended return visit. There was no plan for the blog at that point. Then, one night, I was sitting around thinking what exactly I would really do for three months in Paris, and the idea of a pastry blog popped into my head. I set up the framework of the site that evening, even though it would be another few months until I actually got to the city.
Somewhere between the initial idea for the site and arriving in Paris, the concept of doing a pastry-a-day chronicle for three months had morphed into aiming to buy 3-5 pastries/day and obsessively photographing them from every angle. With the help of Jamie Cahill’s book “The Pâtisseries of Paris”, and a ton of internet research, I mapped-out a plan of attack for eating my way through two dozen of the most acclaimed shops. When I got to Paris, that’s exactly what I did, practically day-and-night. By the end of my stay, I had over 200+ pastries on my hard drive – plenty to do twice-weekly updates for the next year.
The more I posted, the more attention and momentum it all seemed to be gaining. Respected sites/publications started referencing me, pastry students started to leverage me to get stages/jobs in Paris, others would write and tell me how I inspired them to finally enroll in culinary school, people would say how they’d used my site to plan their vacations, professional chefs would say how I’d helped inspire new pieces for their bakery or restaurant, I started to getting invites from chefs to come do photos of them at work, and even Sadaharu Aoki started following my Facebook page. This all began unfolding last fall/winter, and I decided there was so much support and enthusiasm for my little project that moving back would be even more amazing than the first go’round. So I began the visa process for a six-month stay, which wound up being all this past spring and summer.
I usually wake up around 8, shower, eat the pastry I’d saved overnight in the fridge, and head over to Coutume on rue de Babylone, to get my special “cold extraction” coffee. I might stop in at La Pâtisserie des Rêves on the way back, but I always make sure to go to Pierre Hermé for my croissant Ispahan, a pastry, and an on-the-house macaron or two. Luckily, I’ve been picking apartments near St. Sulpice, so I can easily drop my goodies off at home, before heading to Un Dimanche à Paris for a little hot chocolate, espresso, and a pastry. From there, it might be a Jacques Genin, Jean-Paul Hévin, Hugo & Victor or any other grande pâtisserie kind of day.
Throughout all of this, there are lots of individual pastry photos being done back at my apartment, in-shop photos, in-kitchen photos with the chefs, and even trips out of town to snap greats like William Curley and Philippe Rigollot at work. I’m also lucky enough to sometimes do a pre-pastry-debut tasting to help a chef work out some kinks or … the best thing was when I ate Jacques Genin’s first-ever Baba au Rhum, while France 3 filmed. It was surreal. Of course, I also like to hang out with my French and American friends, subjecting them all to me playing pastry “sommelier” during afternoon-long pastry binges.
Almost not at all. Back in the States, I’m a devout vegetarian – so I won’t even eat gelatin, as is in most pastries. It’s all soy “meat”, rice milk, fruits and vegetables. I wind up easily losing weight faster than I gain it in Paris. However, I do sneak a square or two of chocolate in once a day. If it weren’t for this ongoing pastry project and needing to shed 30 lbs.+ after each stay in Paris, I would actually cheat a little more on my diet, since my other hobby is working on high-end waffle recipes. For now, all my waffle irons are in storage. And, yes, that’s plural. I have 4 of them … one of which weighs 35 lbs.
Jacques Genin’s Tarte au Citron is my favorite overall and my favorite classic. But Des Gâteaux et du Pain’s Pomme Tatin is my favorite modern/reinterpreted piece. And when it comes to macarons, Hugo & Victor’s spicy mango is the tops in my book.
Definitely. Even among my favorite shops, there’s typically a piece or two (or more) that I think is either disgusting or ridiculously bland. And then there are very well-known, hyped shops that produce generally poor work. Arnaud Larher and George Larnicol are great examples. They get a lot of attention because of their MOF titles – and for other more complicated reasons, which I’ll spare you – but very few people in-the-know seriously cares about what they do. Georges Larnicol, in particular, is very poorly regarded among some of his peers.
Jacques Genin. Even though Hugo & Victor and Café Pouchkine could vie for my pastry loyalties, Monsieur Genin’s caramels, pâtes de fruits, and chocolates put him over the edge. Almost everything he makes is incredible.
Even though I get free macarons at Pierre Hermé, I still prefer Ladurée. But there are other shops that have better individual pieces than either of these two.
Jacques Genin, because he helmed La Maison du Chocolat for years, made it what it is, and then one-upped them . . . maybe even two-or-three-upped them
Un Dimanche à Paris. Their use of an Ecuadorian dark and spices puts them above Angelina, which is certainly an amazing hot chocolate, too.
I don’t eat ice cream in Paris. Not that I don’t love ice cream and gelato, but I’m stuffed and in pain every day from pastries and chocolate.
Arnaud Delmontel. Monsieur Larher overuses/abuses gelatin and has too many quality-control issues.
I’ll give you a series of random words of wisdom here…