A Florida expat with spitfire spunk and a Southern drawl as thick as molasses, Wendy Lyn is not your typical Parisienne (hallelujah to that!). What she is, however, is every foodie’s fantasy come true. For an inside taste of Paris, join this culinary go-to-gal on one of her fabulous food walks.
When Wendy Lyn moved to Paris twenty years ago she found herself living out a foodie version of the book series, Eloise. Instead of the Plaza hotel, she had the famous Paris bakery Poilâne as her delectable dominion. With the luscious scent of buttery pastries as her alarm clock, she’d run down from her chambre de bonne on the top floor of the bakery to pick up apple turnovers or sourdough country bread fresh out of the wood-burning ovens.
Often she’d be invited to join the owners and staff in the adorable dining room behind the shop for breakfast under a bread chandelier. Call it crazy, call it fate, call it freaking unfair, this mouthwatering set-up sparked Wendy’s incurable passion for food—its origins, its producers, its purveyors and its best Paris addresses.
Today, Wendy’s got the city’s culinary circuitry running through her veins. With the speed of a 1920s switchboard operator she can plug you in to the latest hotspot, make an impossible reservation, or have your sipping Champagne with a three-star Michelin chef. When she’s not doing all of the above for her international clientele of gastronomic journalists, professional chefs, and restaurant owners, she’s leading lip-smacking food safaris and wine crawls through Paris.
So on one of the coldest days of the year, I bundle up to meet Wendy and a family from Chicago (I blamed them for the weather) for a winter wonderland tasting tour through St. Germain des Près. Leading us on a side street passed a bagel stand that I, the New York native, had never heard of (!!), we arrive in front of Wendy’s first apartment above the Poilâne bakery. Standing there, she gives us a primer on the history of the site, explaining that it was originally a 17th century monastery before it was purchased by the Poilâne family in 1932, and that during WWII hungry artists nearby would barter paintings, many of which are on display in the secret dining room inside, in exchange for a steady supply of fresh bread.
Once inside, we’re led down a stone staircase to the ancient wood-burning ovens to see how the famous miche bread is made. “Every time you eat piece of Poilâne bread, you’re tasting a part of history,” says Wendy, explaining that not only the recipe, but also the starter is the same as the first batch of Poilâne loaves from 1932.
Light dusted with flour, we take our appetites upstairs to pick up some shortbread punitions before heading down the street to another benchmark in edible history: Debauve & Gallais, the first chocolate shop in Paris. There, Wendy tells a brilliant behind-the-scenes story about how Dr. Debauve, the royal pharmacist to Marie Antoinette, was asked by her doctor to hide the Queen’s meds in something sweet (she did marry at fourteen, remember).
He “started goofing around, putting medicine in chocolate along with rose petals, earl grey tea, honey, orange blossoms and rolled them into shapes,” says Wendy. They were such a hit at Versailles that they had to be hidden in hollowed out books in the library to keep the staff from stealing them. Which lead to another problem: them melting together. So, the chocolate box as we know it today is actually the pillbox of yesteryear: a way to keep the Queen’s gout and flu medication separate. Go figure!
Skipping ahead two centuries in chocolate history, we enter the cutting-edge kingdom of master chocolatier Pascal Caffet with his hot pink eclairs, single origin, single bean, single plantation Venezuelan bars, and salted caramel, chocolate-covered crispy treats that Wendy appropriates declares “as good as sex!”
After a quick stop into the Ladurée’s secret gift shop, we’re ready for a savory salve to all those sweets. Within minutes we’ve got the most delicious mulled-wine I’ve ever tasted warming our insides while we speak with the purveyors at the delectable oyster and Champagne stand at the annual St. Sulpice Christmas fair.
We’re told to save our appetites for something that’s going to knock our socks off: a fresh stack of Ibaïona ham croquettes made-to-order by Wendy’s friends at Yves Cambdeborde’s hot new wine bar, L’Avant Comptoir. Crispy, gooey, sinful and addictive, they’re the perfect finish to our expertly-led edible escapade.
Tour length: 3 hours
Prices: 80E/person, 300E for 4 people, 460E for 6 people (tastings along the way included)
Reservations: Through Wendy’s online food-magazine, The Paris Kitchen™