Marie-Antoinette didn't say it - but it's fun to think that she did - in that we-can-look-back-at-it-now-and-laugh kind of way. I didn't plan to eat cake today - Bastille Day - but I discovered a beautiful new pastry shop - all of 14 days old - so I did.
I was running the gauntlet down rue Mouffetard - La Mouffe - known more for its touristy street market, sidewalk cafes, and crepe and panini stands - when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a glimpse of a gleaming huge display case standing square and center inside a sleek, stark space.
I walked around mesmerised - heavy white pots filled with chocolate cream, housemade peach and verbena preserves, fat handmade marshmallows tumbling off tropical fruited cakes. What was this place? And the kitchen was clearly visible through glass walls at the back.
And then I did a double-take at the prices - make that a triple. With the shop's passing resemblance to Pierre Herme and Fauchon, I'd guessed close to that level of pricing. But a tarte sablee a la fraise - golden butter-rich sweet crust crowned with radiant summer strawberries - only 1.95E. And the creme de chocolat? Only 2.50E. Including the pot. That's less than some nothing-special neighborhood patisserie - not that you'd find a pot de creme chocolat in a modern ceramic pot there. What was this place?
I asked the chef-coated guy filling the case - turns out he's the namesake chef himself - Xavier Le Quéré. He was last the Pastry Chef to the Prime Minister and previously to Christian LeSquer - now Chef at the Michelin three-star Ledoyen here in Paris - and whom I'd met at my Cordon Bleu graduating class dinner. They'd earned two stars together at the InterContinental's former restaurant Opera. I commented on how I thought getting the second star was in a way harder than the third. He asked where I worked - then kindly invited me back to see the kitchen. His philosphy - transparence.
First he plated up a Rocher - his creation with a flourless chocolate cake base, topped with a cube of hazelnut mousse, garnished with a caramelised hazelnut crumble and all enrobed in chocolate. He added a scoop of vanilla bean-flecked ice cream - sold by the cone and pot - for good measure. The rectangular plate - which looks a lot like the Bernardaud ones at the Crillon - he sells as well - small for only 3 euros, big for 5. They're loaded with pastries - sold separately of course - which he presents in clear plastic box wrapped with a narrow pale green vellum band.
I spooned into the Rocher, softly revealing its hidden layers of pale mousse and even darker cake, and picked up a few fallen pieces of crumble. The rich chocolate cake was balanced by the creamy mousse with a hint of nuttiness, offset by the buttery, crunchy crumble - and none of it was overly sweet. I asked what kind of chocolate they used. Valrhona. How can they afford to use Valrhona! And looking around the kitchen, they had every state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line gadget and appliance - including a bank of satellite-monitored KOMA blast freezers.
Miraculously he's doing all the production with only one assistant. We commiserated about long hours - they work roughly first Metro to last - that's a brutal 6AM to midnight. But they still were excited to show me their sous-vide sacs of ripe peaches - cooked in vapour in their combi-oven - and to happy to stop and smell the fresh lemony verbena.
Here's the chef keeping a watchful eye on a his plated pastries.
Their website is currently under construction. Clients will be able to order online - or ogle from afar - minimum purchases will be eligible for delivery for only 5 euros - within Paris only.
Xavier Le Quéré
121 rue Mouffetard
Phone 01 58 10 00 32
Fax 01 58 10 01 70
Open 10:00 to 20:00. Closed Mondays.
Closed 01 to 20 August 2005 for their summer vacation - and do they deserve it.