In our readings and recommendations from friends we came across a small cooperative that offers food and wine tour of Paris – “Paris by Mouth”. For our second day in Paris we booked well in advance a four-hour walking, tasting, eating and wine drinking tour of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. They note that their food tours have been celebrated by The New York Times (twice!), and knowledgeable foodies like David Lebovitz and Ruth Reichl. What we really appreciated and enjoyed is that the tour group size is limited to seven people! We also found that they were true to their marketing claim: “we spend generously at the best shops in town, and we only work with expert guides who have devoted their lives to food & wine.” [See: http://parisbymouth.com/paris-food-tours/]
It turns out that it is a very “small world, after all”. Our guide, a professional food writer (years at Gourmet and Saveur) looked familiar to the two of us (and vice versa). It took a while, but we finally figured out that we had met a couple of years ago in Paris when she was observing a cooking class that we were taking in the Marais neighborhood with a cooking teacher with whom we had cooked previously – as part of the background profile story she was writing for a magazine.
On our tour we learned a new term in French food – actually a title – “MOF” (see below for a detailed explanation of the “One of the Best Craftsmen of France” competition and title). Very few French craftsmen and artisans earn this award that takes years of preparation before the competitive examination. We were introduced to the term outside of Patrick Roger’s chocolate shop in Saint-Germain. It turns out that there are very few winners of the award in each category, with restaurant chefs being one of the categories with more numerous winners. Of course, a little later on the tour, it was no surprise that our guide took us to an MOF butcher and an MOF cheese monger (in the Marché Couvert des Saint-Germain – covered market of Sain Germain) and, for dessert, an MOV pastry chef-owned La Maison du Chou (known for Paris’ best pâte à chou).
“Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France is a craftsman competition in France, held every four years.
“The title of Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (shortened to MOF) is a unique and prestigious award in France according to category of trades in a contest among professionals. This contest is organized and recognized as a third-level degree by the French Ministry of Labour. The President of the French Republic is granted honorary membership with the title MOF honoris causa. The awarding of medals occurs at the Sorbonne, in Paris, during a large reunion followed by a ceremony at the Élysée [the President’s residence] in the presence of the President of the French Republic.
“This award for special abilities is unique in the world. Created in 1924, initially between the best workers of the era aged 23 and over, this contest was given the title of Un Des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (One of the Best Craftsmen of France). Today, by the diversity of specialities, the list of which is regularly updated, the award has also been awarded to more modern trades and high technology fields.
“In this competition, the candidate is given a certain amount of time and basic materials not only to create a masterpiece, but to do so with a goal of approaching perfection. The chosen method, the organization, the act, the speed, the know how and the respect for the rules of the trade are verified by a jury just as much as is the final result. The winning candidates retain their title for life, with the indication of the specialty, the year following the one in which they obtain the title. This prestigious title is equally recognized by professionals and the greater public in France, particularly among artisan-merchants such as pastry makers, hairdressers, butchers, jewelers, and others whose trades are recognized, particularly those for more luxurious goods.
“This competition requires months, sometimes years, of preparation. Technical skills, innovation, respect for traditions and other aspects are all practiced repeatedly to a level of refinement and excellence, effectiveness and quickness to succeed and be crowned by the jury, which makes its decision according to the distribution of points awarded during the entire process.” – Wikipedia
As provided by our guide, here’s a list of places visited during our Taste of Saint-Germain food tour:
- Poilâne bakery at 8 rue du Cherche Midi, 75006 (bread, apple tarts, punition butter cookies)
- Patrick Roger chocolate 2-4 Place Saint Sulpice, 75006 (rocher, basil lemon, individual selections)
- Marchè Couvert (covered market) de Saint-Germain at 4/6 rue Lobineau, 75006
- La Dernière Goutte wine shop at 6 rue Bourbon le Château, 75006
- Henri Le Roux salted caramels at 1 rue Bourbon le Château, 75006
- La Maison de Chou pastry shop specializing in pâte à chou at 7 rue de Furstenberg, 75006 (pâte à chou)