Sunday, 28 March 2010

Jean-Michael Rochoux

It was a few years ago, standing in the line at Pierre Hermé, that I began to appreciate the ideal of affordable luxury. In Paris, €5 buys several metro rides or a sandwich and soda lunch. Yet, as I quickly discovered, it could also buy three small macarons from the city’s most renowned patisserie, each displayed and selected with the care ordinarily reserved for fine jewels.

My purchase that day comprised perhaps 12 (delicate) bites. Gone within a few minutes, it was sheer perfection.

Paris may not have the monopoly on affordable luxury, but opportunities to enjoy it abound. At even the most elegant cafés, an espresso at the bar doesn’t top €2. The product is the same as that enjoyed at the pricey sidewalk tables, the service and atmosphere often better. Pastry shops are ubiquitous across the capital, and the pricing gap between humble and exquisite surprisingly small. Likely prompted by declining consumption, more restaurateurs and bar owners are making serious wines available by the glass.

In pricey surroundings, where others may be spending five or 10 times more, social discomfort could easily arise . Yet on the whole, small purchases—a few macarons, one or two slices of the most expensive cured meats—are handled with attention and care. This attitude, is I think, both a function of innate respect for the product being sold and a response to patrons’ own level of social comfort. The size of a purchase is rarely explained or justified, as is so often the case when Brits or Americans self-consciously indulge.

I was thinking again about affordable luxury after two recent visits to Jean-Charles Rochoux, an artisanal chocolate maker situated in one of Paris’ most expensive quartiers. Rochoux is famous for his whimsical chocolate sculptures—a man’s torso worthy of Michaelangelo recently graced his window—and truffles. The latter include tiny squares of velvety ganache, lightly dusted with the finest cocoa powder. Packed into a package hardly bigger than a matchbox, 6 of these marvels sell for 3 euros.

Though I was purchasing what was by some margin the cheapest item in the store, the transaction charmed with its attention to detail. Storage instructions were given (though the owner and I agreed that this was unlikely to be an issue), a copious bag was produced for the other items I was carrying and I was escorted to the door as if I had been that day’s big-spender.

Exceptional? Perhaps. But so were the chocolates.

Jean-Charles Rochoux
16 rue de Assas 75006
Metro: Rennes or St Suplice (currently closed)
01 42 84 29 45
Open M 2 :30-7:30; Tu-Sa 10:30-7:30

1 comment:

joni said...

I love these thoughts!