Tammy: Visiting Jacques Genin, French Chocolatier, Caramelier and Pastry Chef
One of the most memorable visits from my honeymoon last year was stopping through Jacques Genin's Chocolate and Pastry Shop on Turenne. We planned to visit Europe again after our summer market season ended and on the day of my husband and I's one year wedding anniversary, he suggested I write Mister Genin a letter to ask if he might be available to meet with us during our one day stay in Paris on our upcoming trip. I put pen to paper quickly. A few days later, I received a voicemail from Genin and we called him back eagerly and agreed to meet at his shop on Turenne.
We arrived around mid afternoon and the shop was bustling with a steady stream of traffic. We were lucky to snap up one of the few last tables when he came down a few moments later to say hello. Even with the business of the day, he invited us upstairs to his workshop for a tour. We were impressed by how large it was (his shop on Rue de Varenne even has three stories!) Everything in his shop is handcrafted. We counted at least six other bakers and cooks making pastries, and five caramel wrappers in a row with another young man stirring caramels in an oversized steaming copper pot. Everyone was furiously working and we were interjected a few times with one of his assistant's coming up to ask Genin a quick question about an impending order. It was a thrill to see all this!
At some point, my husband commented that making caramels is like an art, to which Genin corrected him and said, no, caramels is not an art, it is simply hard work! I laughed when I heard this because it's completely true. There is no secret behind making truly good caramels, it is just hard work and patience. He turned to me and said, the more caramels you make, the better your caramels will become.
I spoke no french at all and we communicated through my husband's broken French which he's not used in over 12 years. But Genin listened patiently and responded with thoughtful answers and carried us through from topic to topic as he thought of more things to show us and spoke in much slower French than how he normally spoke so we would understand easier.
He showed us a few copies of his graphic novel, The Secrets of Chocolate which was just published this year ("in seven languages!") He was particularly proud of this publication--he thought of the idea himself. We're super eager to purchase an English version once we're back in Canada! My husband and I went back to our table to enjoy the coffee and digestifs we ordered. Coffee came as an espresso and four squares of rich milk chocolate, and we selected our own (what else?) caramels to pair with the coffee.
The shop itself is filled with beautifully robed rich chocolates, jellies, and caramel candies lined in neat rows behind glass display cases. Like most things European, his sweets are sold by the lb/kg.
When we finished, we went back upstairs to say goodbye to Genin and to give him two things. First was my broken fortune cookie that I received the previous day at the Edmonton airport:
When I tried to get the fortune back, Genin backed away and said he wanted to keep it to show a friend. Thrilled, I agreed!
The second item I gave him was a small box of our caramels which contained the last few caramels made from our market season. He popped two in his mouth, one right after the other. My legs turned to jelly and my ears turned bright red with nervousness (I may even have been fanning myself at this point!) and after some contemplation, he said he thought our caramels were better than most caramels made in Paris!
He then said to me to keep working hard, and to keep following my dreams. We took a few last photos and said our last goodbye, until next time!
It was an exciting day and I was reminded again how many exceptional people there are in the world.