Art + Fashion

What could be better than shopping in the midst of an art exhibition? Art and fashion, two of my favorites. Today I discovered both at Le Bon Marché, Paris’s first (and most exclusive) department store founded in 1838.

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s in-store exhibition titled “Where are we going?” begins on the ground floor where the artist has spun 300,000 yards of white thread throughout a designated space. It’s both calming and perplexing as you wander through this white abyss. I was so mesmerized, I almost forgot that I had come to shop. All 10 window displays too are filled with the artist’s web, some with ancient maps.

The celestial element of this exhibition by Chiharu Shiota is visually poetic. The symbolism stayed with me long after I had left the store. It comprises 150 white boats carried on a wave and invites us to be amazed but also to question. The artist establishes an analogy between human life and travel: people set off for an unknown destination, crossing an ocean of experiences, emotions, encounters and memories. Chiharu Shiota evokes a fresh start, while keeping the itineraries open: “Life is a voyage with no destination”.

For those in Paris, this exhibition that was meant to close on February 18th, will continue until April 2nd.

 

The Velvet Hours

During these seven years living my own love story in the City of Lights, I’ve read quite a few others. One of the most romantic tales to date is the latest novel by international bestselling author Alyson Richman.

The Velvet Hours takes you into the lives of two women in very different circumstances, connected by a common thread. Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Richman composes a glamorous love story set in the period of the Belle Epoque. In colorful accounts of her life, Marthe de Florian recounts this story to granddaughter Solange. Marthe describes herself as A  woman of the demi-monde, the half-world. Caught between beauty and darkness. In some ways trapped, but in other ways completely free.

As the mysterious life of this beautiful courtesan is revealed to her, Solange tries to make sense of her own. She finds refuge in the company and stories of her grandmother as Germany invades France and Europe prepares for war. In time, she learns the secrets of her family history, and discovers her own unique path.

In lieu of Valentine’s Day, I share this book with you, written in Richman’s characteristic poetic prose. You can easily imagine yourself walking the streets of Paris, intertwined between the lives of Marthe and Solange. The Velvet Hours is certain to become a favorite of any romantic Francophile.

Cook’n With Class

Often when I go out to eat and love a particular dish I wonder, “Could I make this at home?” I usually never end up trying, not knowing the chef’s tricks in the kitchen, afraid my attempts will fall short. I could certainly read my friends’ cookbooks and learn their unique recipes, but what about being taught by the chefs themselves? And what about wine pairings? I know which wines I like, but when to drink them, and with what dish? That’s when I discovered Montmartre based cooking school Cook’n With Class Paris. As well as many classes in cooking and baking, they offer a French Food and Wine Pairing, perfect! Let the food and wine education begin.

I sat at the table overlooking the kitchen with six dinner companions from around the world, many of whom were regulars. I quickly learned that the chef owned and ran a successful French restaurant for many years in the US, evident in his skillful movements. As he cooked the meal, he described the dishes and how to prepare them, answering any questions we had. And all we had to do was watch. Following an appetizer and champagne, the first course was split pea velouté and buttered croutons. While he served the dish, our expert sommelier came over to explain his choice of wine and the region from where it came.

While I savored every bite and learned about wines I knew little about, and how best to pair them, I was intrigued with the preparation. This master chef explained why plates are kept hot in the best restaurants, and took every care in the presentation of each dish.

The next dish of seared scallops with crunchy celery, rocquefort dressing and candied orange peels was my favorite, and I made sure to take notes on the preparation, asking the chef questions during the plating. How lucky I felt to have a seasoned French chef cooking right before my eyes!

The main dish of black legs chicken fricassée with creamy leek risotto was delicious, as was the wine it was paired with. In the French dining tradition, a cheese plate followed, along with a lesson on cheese. The meal ended with a heavenly tarte tatin paired with just the right sweet wine. Not only did I dine like a queen, I learned quite a bit about food and wine that would serve me in my own kitchen.

I’m already planning on heading south to visit their second school Cook’n With Class Uzes, and learn the tricks of the trade by chef Eric Fraudeau. Stay tuned!

Cooking with Friends

This year I vow to spend more time in the kitchen, enhancing my creativity not only in my designing but in my cooking. Lucky for me, I know quite a few culinary masters and food writers and have collected their Paris inspired cookbooks. Having them within close contact should I need any help gives me all the more reason to whip up their recipes. So who are these chefs I’m lucky enough to call friends? Allow me to introduce them.

David Lebovitz doesn’t need much of an introduction. Many already read his well-known food blog and follow him in his Parisian adventures of the last 10+ years. In addition to running into David at local flea markets, I more recently caught up with him at a brunch at Treize Bakery, where he signed copies of his new book My Paris Kitchen, of which I snagged a copy. In this, his latest cookbook, David remasters the French classics in 100 sweet and savory recipes. I think I’ll try my hand at Coq au vin…

One of my favorite cookbook authors is Toronto based Laura Calder, who’s quite the culinary star in her home country, having had her own cooking show.  We met at a girls’ lunch several years ago and have remained good friends ever since. I even helped Laura design the table setting for one of her many Parisian dinner parties. (She doesn’t believe in paper napkins.) The latest of her cookbooks that I’ve added to my collection is Paris Express. I’m sure I’ll be able to handle a few of these quick, modern recipes and make both Laura and myself proud.

I met California born Emily Dilling through the expat network. Her blog Paris Paysanne is dedicated to Paris produce markets and the people behind them. Her passion for artisanal and craft food grew into her book, My Paris Market Cookbook. Not only does she share her market recipes, but the book is filled with farm-to-table restaurants, natural wine bars, organic breweries and urban gardens. The perfect handbook for food lovers!

Yoga always seems to create positive connections in my life. One of them is Lora Krulak, a nutritionist, chef and fellow New Yorker. I was impressed by all her knowledge on health and wellness, and quickly she became my (and many others) nutritional muse. Her blog provides sage advice about eating and living well. In her book Veggies for Carnivores, Lora demonstrates how easy and exciting it is to cook with vegetables, while taking us on her around-the-world travels.

Rebecca Leffler and I met years ago at a Parisian soirée and became fast friends. In the last few years, this east coast expat has created quite a name for herself in what she calls the “Green & Glam” movement. Her blog La Fleur Paris NY shares her discoveries, recipes, events and food demos in both Paris and New York. Rebecca’s most recent contribution to green living is a collection of 150 recipes in her book Green, Glam & Gourmande (in French) and Très Green, Très Clean, Très Chic, the English version. Warning: uncontrollable laughter may ensue.

I met Ann Mah at one of her book signings at the American Library in Paris after reading her first book, Kitchen Chinese. I was interested to learn more about this woman who writes so engagingly about food and travel. Her blog is a collection of tales from Paris and New York, as told by cooking. Her latest book Mastering the Art of French Eating, documents Ann’s journey around France while discovering the truth behind the country’s regional dishes, recipes included. Rumor has it she’s finishing her third book…

I could very well relate to Kristen Beddard when we first me. An ambitious New Yorker ready to plant seeds in Paris, but how? Over time she settled in to her new life, found her path, and planted her kale seeds. Through her blog The Kale Project, this “Kale Crusader” as The New York Times coined her, succeeded in bringing this forgotten superfood back to the French capital. In her memoir Bonjour Kale, she endearingly articulates her story of life and love in Paris, while sharing her fondness for kale through recipes collected since childhood.

Hope these inspiring friends will help you hone your skills in the kitchen, and keep you healthy and well fed. Follow along as I share my culinary adventures on Instagram.

 

Weekend in the 8th

I’m of the opinion that in order to truly appreciate where you live, and not take it for granted or let it wear you down (yes, even Paris) you must once in a while play tourist.  So every year I plan a local weekend escape for my Italian and I. This year it was across town to Hôtel Daniel in the 8th arrondissement. This Relais & Châteaux haven hidden just behind the Champs-Élysées and steps away from rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoréis a four-star gem. We were looking forward to moving in!

Upon entering I felt as though I had been invited to a private home. The vibrant living room was filled with travel artifacts collected by the hotel’s owners during their journeys around the world, which I would soon discover ornamented all 26 of the unique rooms and suites. The decor revealed a unique combination of Toile de Jouy materials with chinoiserie-style motifs. Even the basket for my tea kettle looked like an artifact from the Silk Road.

Once my handsome date arrived we settled into our room on the top floor, overlooking the Parisian rooftops. We both favored the cozy loveseat with a view and knew that would be where we’d sunbathe while reading the morning paper.

On Friday night we happily caroused the quartier, feeling like we were indeed visiting from faraway. At the hotel’s recommendation we dined at 110 de Taillevent, where 110 wines are available by the glass. Impressive! It was a perfect meal on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a nice change from our usual right bank eateries. For breakfast we opted not to part with the views, ordered room service and dined with the sun.

That day we went window shopping on the Champs-Élysées and explored the annual Christmas Market, vin chaud in hand. My Italian went running in new territory and I stopped by neighboring Gagosian Gallery, one of my favorites for stellar art exhibits. After tea time at our new home, we headed out once more for dinner, with no clear plan in mind, only to get lost in our new neighborhood.

24 Hours in Paris

kasia-dietz-paris-5

My first encounter with Paris was as a student living in London. Having dreamt about the city of love since hearing my parents recount their romantic interludes, I eagerly boarded the Eurostar, having no idea what to expect, and with only 24 hours to spare. Years later, I don’t remember much of where I wandered or what I tasted, but what remained was the feeling. In that brief encounter I became completely smitten with the City of Lights and somehow knew this was my place on earth, or at least one of them. What I didn’t know is that fate would find me living my own love story many years later.

Now, calling Paris my home for the last seven years, I can well advise visitors on how to spend a day discovering much of what this city has to offer, namely food, fashion and culture. For anyone coming to Paris for a quick jaunt, either alone or with a friend, here is how to spend 24 hours in my favorite city, and feel much like a local. Keep in mind that spring and fall are the most enchanting seasons to discover and fall in love with Paris, though it’s shamelessly charming all year round.

kasia-dietz-paris-13

A real Parisian experience begins with breakfast at one of the best boulangeries in this food haven. A croissant is not simply a croissant until you’ve tasted Du Pain et des Idées. Make that a pain au chocolat. The most flakey and buttery you’ll ever taste. (Keep in mind they are only open on weekdays.) If you prefer a more hearty meal, nearby Holybelly is as good as it gets. From here you can stroll along canal Saint Martin and make your way into the trendy North Marais for a café crème at boutique cum coffee shop The Broken Arm, or the uber cozy Boot Café.

After a stop at Paris’s oldest covered market Marché des Enfants Rouges for a quick stroll or early lunch where you can feast on French, Lebanese, Japanese, African or Italian cuisine, continue along rue Vieille du Temple. You’ll discover all the latest trends while passing the French fashion boutiques lining the street. It is here too that the Hotel Salé sits, home to the Picasso Museum, exhibiting the life and work of this Spanish master with an affinity for France. Recently expanded and re-opened, it’s worth a visit.

If you’re in the mood for classic French fare, head south along the same street until you reach one of Paris’s most famous decades old dining haunts, Robert et Louise. In this charming bistro which maintains the tradition of grilling over an open fire, you can feast on escargots, côte de bœuf, and confit de canard among other dishes.

kasia-dietz-paris-16

Part of Paris’s charm is its tangle of narrow streets, my favorite being in the Marais. Once home to the French aristocracy, this is more recently where the Jewish community settled, making it a vibrant neighborhood even on a Sunday, while the rest of Paris sleeps. Stop by for a chocolate tasting at independent chocolatier Edwart or satisfy your sugar cravings with world famous Pierre Hermé macarons. Don’t forget to try my most recent favorite, the heavenly cakes from Aux Merveilleux de Fred. (Did I mention I have a sweet tooth?) If tea happens to be your beverage of choice, skip the desserts and stop by French tea emporium Marriage Frères for an exotic blend. Don’t leave without heading up the antique stairwell to their Tea Museum.

Next stop is a stroll through nearby Place des Vosges, an elegant historic square once called Place Royale. Writer Victor Hugo’s home, now a free museum, is hidden within the brick facade. You can also find one of Paris’s most elegant tea salons Carette, beneath the regal arches. (I won’t mention how decadent their desserts are.)

kasia-dietz-paris-9

Continue walking towards the river and you’ll discover one of the most picturesque spots in the city, and what causes me time and time again to fall in love with Paris, the island of Île Saint-Louis. This is the place to sit along the banks of the Seine and admire the pink and blue hues of an ever changing sky. Now back to sweets, it is here that the famous (and best) French ice-cream shop Berthillon can be found. Well worth the wait on line!

Crossing Pont Saint-Louis to the second of Paris’s islands, Île de la Cité, you’ll encounter 850+ year old medieval treasure Notre-Dame Cathedral. By courageously climbing 387 steps to the top of the South Tower, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city, as well as a few gargoyles.

 kasia-dietz-paris-20

You could definitely spend all day walking along Paris’s rues and boulevards, but a faster and equally scenic way to explore Paris is by Vélib’, Paris’s public biking system, or even better, by boat. Just in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral on the south side of the river, jump aboard the Batobus, what can accurately be described as a river shuttle service. With a one-day ticket you can hop on and off as many times as you like, at most of the major sights. Cruise from Hôtel de Ville, office of the mayor, to the world’s largest art collection housed in the Louvre Museum. A stop here will bring you to the well manicured Tuileries Garden where you’ll be in good company with Rodin and Giacometti, in sculpture form that is.

kasia-dietz-paris-11

Continuing along the Seine via Batobus, you’ll enjoy a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower. Where better to savor a sunset than below (or atop) this cultural icon.

Another sight to behold along the Seine is the Musée d’Orsay. Formerly a train station constructed from 1898 to 1900, this left bank museum houses works from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements. Even the facade, one of my favorite Parisian structures, is a work of art.

You can’t visit Paris without getting lost in the rive gauche. Exiting the boat at Saint-Germain-des-Prés will find you in one of Paris’ most charming, albeit touristic neighborhoods. The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants, including two of Paris’s oldest and most well-known, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. Good stop for a glass of wine or chocolat chaud. It was at these cafes that the literary elite would often congregate, Hemingway included.

One of many French traditions is the evening apéro, shortened from l’apéritif, a before dinner drink. There are dozens of terraces in Saint-Germain in which to indulge in a glass of red, white or rosé. My terrace of choice for people watching (a favorite Parisian pastime) is Le Bar Du Marché. For dinner, head to neighboring French eateries Semilla and Fish La Boissonnerie, or latest hotspot Freddy’s for more casual dining.

kasia-dietz-paris-17

With an after dinner walk through the city by night, you’ll quickly understand why Paris is so often called the City of Lights, with the 37 bridges illuminated and antique streetlights at almost every corner.

From here you can head to the rooftop of department store Galeries Lafayette for a first class (and free) view of the city (open until 8:30pm). During the summer months the sun sets late into the night, providing the perfect opportunity to head up to the artists’ quarter, Montmartre. Take a metro or uber to Abbesses, walk up the hill (or take the funicular) to the steps of majestic Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and prepare to be dazzled by the twilight views.  Are you in love yet?

1 2 3 4 24