Paris – La Grande Epicerie, Parisian Gastronomy by LVMH
How come I wasn’t invited? Last week on December 9th after a year and a half of renovations and relocation Le Bon Marché opened the doors to the new La Grande Epicerie. This food palace was relocated from the basement of Le Bon Marché and moved across the street to the chic corner of rue de Sèvres and rue Bac in the elite 7th arrondissement. At the opening soiree 1500 of Paris’s culinary and consumer elite along with the beautiful people were lavished with champagne, fois gras, oysters and tray after silver tray of gourmet charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates and desserts. The evening opened with a parade of the Le Epicerie’s artisans descending by escalators to the sound of Ravel’s Bolero played by a brass band. France Today (who was invited) is reporting that it was quite a show with “The maraîchers, wearing vegetables on their sleeves and hats, followed by the pâtissiers, the fromagers, the butchers, decorated in sausages, and the boulangers—all prized métiers deserving of the hearty applause from party guests including celebrities like actress Diane Kruger.” And if this is not enough when they left they were given the Epicerie’s cloth bag and asked to fill them with breakfast items for their petit dejeuner the morning after (croissants, jams, fresh juice bottles and more).
Well, I wasn’t at the opening but made my way there yesterday and almost needed to be resuscitated. Stepping into this gastronomy palace takes your breath away and stops you in your track. 35,000 square feet of gorgeous space on a grand scale opens before you, in the tradition of 19th century Grand Magazin style with high domed ceiling and great open central space. This vast space is full of any culinary items you have ever dream of. I can only think of it as the Versaille of food and I think the extravagant Louis the IV would have approved. This is not about local and seasonal. It’s about having access to the best of the global culinary artisanal world under one roof. You can debate the merit of the philosophy, but this is Paris.
The three levels of space are spread under a gorgeous glass dome reminiscent of the main store next door and connected by sets of escalators allowing you to view the space below as you are transported between floors. The entrance level, the Place du Marché, is where you find the food: fresh produce in the centre with a selection of gorgeous produce from all over the world. Fat white asparagus from Peru, potatoes from Israel, artichokes from Spain (they are in season there I guess) and bien sur, much of the fresh produce is from the various regions of La Belle France. I could not resist the white asparagus and will post a recipe either with or following this post. In the centre of the produce section they positioned an old refurbished Citroën truck and piled it with produce making it look as if it just drove in from the farm to deliver vegetables to the market.
Produce is not all they offer. Boulangerie, fromagerie, charcuterie, patisserie, poissonnerie and aisle upon aisle of bottled, canned, jarred and boxed gourmet items from across the world. Oils, vinegars, mustards, spices, sugars, salts, peppers, varieties of foie gras, Osetra and Beluga caviars, more than10 varieties of smoked salmon, some of the items I am sure you have never heard of and are available exclusively through La Grand Epicerie. And the dairy section, it’s a world unto itself with butters, creams, eggs, yogurts, 150 varieties of cheeses. Did I mention coffees and teas selections? I can go on but you get the picture. To top it all, these items are displayed on beautiful walls of glass, stoneware and tiles that serve as backdrop to the products on display. This floor is also where you find the food items to go, prepared on the premises in their production kitchens by more than 50 chefs and artisan bakers along with many apprentices working behind the scenes, all under the leadership of Meilleur Ouvrier de France Jean- Jacques Massé.
Le figaro says the broad range of selection “pourrait déclencher des crises existentielles chez les plus angoissés” (could trigger an existential crisis). If you need a break from the sensory overload you can find refuge at one of the wine bars set in the middle of the store and enjoy canapés freshly prepared with the right topping for your wine selection. In the LVMH fashion (they own the shop), they thought of everything. “We wanted to offer our customers a unique experience. The expertise of our architects, our artisans and artists selected for this project has enabled us to successfully fulfill this desire” said Patrice Wagner, Chairman of the Bon Marché and La Grande Epicerie.
It’s not over yet. The lower floor houses La Cave, a wine department featuring more than 2,000 wines offered by 14 merchants and sommeliers. The wine cellar is also home to restaurant Balthazar, offering small bites to go with the wines, from mini burgers (sliders) to supreme de vollaille (chicken supreme). I will report more once I go there for a tasting.
Upstairs they opened a lovely restaurant, La Table de la Grande Epicerie, set among tall live trees under the domed ceiling overlooking the retail space blow. On your way to the restaurant you can view the kitchen with its kitchen brigade working away preparing your lunch. The menu was prepared by the director of gastronomy Jean- Jacques Massé, Meilleur Ouvrier de France cuisine. I look forward to sampling the cuisine and will taste and tell soon.
I have heard that they offer workshops in pastry. I will look into that soon and hopefully participate in one. I will also try to get better pictures that will convey the grandeur of the place. In my experience they frown upon photo taking and I was trying to be discreet.
La Grande Epicerie provides culinary services to its customers that include catering and menu planning as well as gift service, tax refund for non residents and valet parking. If you wish, you can shop and have your selection delivered to your residence without having to go through the cashier lines. But of course.
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La Grande Epicerie de Paris
38, rue de Sèvres
75 007 Paris