The Sweet Life in Paris

Pastry chef David Lebovitz praises the French capital without sugar-coating.
living the sweet life in paris

In 2002, following his partner’s death, David Lebovitz gamely decided to throw over his comfortable and accomplished life in the Bay Area, where he’d worked as pastry chef at Chez Panisse for 13 years, and move to Paris. Books by Americans in Paris tend to be either starry-eyed love letters or grump-fests. As an American who has lived in Paris for the past 23 years, I can assure you that the reality is much more nuanced, which is one of the things I love about Lebovitz’s new book, Living the Sweet Life in Paris.

Lebovitz dares to challenge the fiercely entrenched belief of many Americans that Paris is the world’s ultimate gastronomic paradise by giving the city and its food a couple of judicious kicks in the shin. (“When I think of a French supermarket,” he says, “the feeling that comes to mind is a Romanian prison.”) Critical though he may be of Paris and Parisians, he realizes he’s become one of the latter the day he takes a shower and puts on a clean shirt just to take out the garbage (“The unspoken golden rule {of Parisian life} is knowing that you’re going to be judged on how you look and how you present yourself). I love his sideways response to the question that’s incessantly posed to any American who choses to live abroad—will you ever come home?

But, still, he’s happy here. “It’s the bakeries with their buttery croissants served oven-fresh each morning, the beautiful outdoor markets where I forage for my daily fare, the exquisite chocolate shops that still, after all these years, never stop astounding me every time I step inside, and, of course, the quirky people that make Paris such a special place,” he says, noting, “And now I can count myself as one of them.” In an especially entertaining chapter, “A Fish Out of Water,” Lebovitz writes about his stint as a poissonier in the Marché d’Aligre. “I’m scared of fish. Terrified of them,” he says, but scraping the scales off of John Dories at the break of dawn is his way of vanquishing that fear.

You don’t go to this book without looking for the sweet spot, though, and Lebovitz delivers by praising the tiny Pâtisserie Viennoise on the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecin for serving the best hot chocolate in the city (while pointing a finger at more famous places like Ladurée and Angelina), revealing the best place to buy bakeware (MORA), and divulging the name of his favorite candy shop (A l’Etoile d’Or, in the Marais). You’ll want recipes, too, and Lebovitz won’t let you down.

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