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Making Sense of the Gourmet Food World

 

Artichoke and Truffle Salad - Maison de la Truffe - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet.

I began this post with the intention of sharing my recent visit to the new Galeries Lafayette Gourmet megastore in Paris. No sooner had I begun work than I learned Dean and Deluca, New York’s first luxury food market had closed all but 6 of its locations.  This news had the impact of a personal loss.  

D&D opened in 1977, the year I started as my cooking school.  With the closure of so many stores I felt my childhood home was collapsing.  Was it just a coincidence that the gourmet food business is expanding in Paris and contracting in the States?   I had to find out. 

I was surprised to learn that that the gourmet food culture emerged suddenly here in the late 1970's.  In 1976  farmers and food artisans began selling their sustainably raised produce, cheese, bread and flowers at the Union Square Greenmarket just a ten minutes walk from Dean and Deluca.  And Whole Foods opened as a vegetarian market in Austin, Tx in 1978.  Quelle coincidence!

Over the next forty years, Dean and Deluca became an international chain of 37 stores.  It's current owner, a Thai real estate magnate, poured millions into a concept store that opened this spring in Manhattan's trendy meatpacking district, only to close it three months later after unpaid vendors stopped delivering. Over the same time period, Whole Foods has grown to nearly 500 stores (less than two dozen are in Canada and the UK) and was purchased two years ago by e commerce giant Amazon. 

 

Lower Level Grocery Store - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet

The original template for a gourmet market was created in Paris 130 years ago when pushcart vendor Auguste Fauchon opened a shop on Place de la Madeleine.  Fauchon grew to become synonymous with the highest quality prepared foods, patisserie and wines.  Auguste's family sold out in the lean years following WWII, and the store has since experienced periods of expansion and contraction under several owners.  The proud flagship store remains and was joined last year by a a five-star Fauchon Hotel a few steps away.  

Fauchon's left bank competitor in recent decades has been L'Epicerie de Bon Marche, an extension of the city's oldest department store, Bon Marche's.  The present owner is the luxury retailer group LVMH.  Frequent construction facelifts keep L'Epicerie looking fresh and fashionably turned out.  Its displays of meat, seafood, produce and cheese are as opulent and overpriced as the designer handbags in its sister store next door.

 Meat Department - L'Epicerie de Bon Marche  

The launch this year of Galeries Lafayette Gourmet exemplifies an acceleration of gourmet retail in this city that is trying to recover its appeal after recent terrorist attacks.  The extensive project combines a spacious food hall, kiosks of famous specialty food brands and a complete grocery store covering two floors of its Boulevard Haussmann housewares store.  I sampled a luxurious truffle and artichoke salad with a glass of Sancerre at the Maison de la Truffe counter during my visit there in June.  My lunch cost 30€, less than half the price of a mid-day meal at its posh Place de la Madeleine location.  Perk alert: the people watching is terrific.

The incorporation of a food hall in gourmet markets owes much to Eataly, the newest of the food megastores.  It’s Italian creator, Oscar Farinetti, claims his inspiration is none other than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  To date, Farinetti has opened 37 megastores around the world since 2007.  All have the comprehensive feel of an Italian theme park.  Is his lofty goal of spreading an understanding of Italian culture through classes, the exhaustive display of ingredients and an array of dining options sustainable?   

 

 L'Atelier de la Maison de la Truffe - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet 

This April saw the arrival of Eataly Paris Marais built by the family that has owned Galeries Lafayette for over 100 years and holds exclusive rights to Eataly in France.  The store is a five minute walk from BHV, the mid-priced Galeries Lafayette property across from the Hotel de Ville.  I look forward to my first visit next month.

That third innovative 1970's startup, the Union Square Green Market, continues to thrive four days a week year round.  It continues to inspire chefs and the other 50 plus farmers markets in New York's boroughs. While not technically a gourmet shop, the greenmarket draws its share of tourists. 

An important bond forms when farmers and artisan food producers sell directly to consumers.  There's an energy at a crowded open market that feels essential to our wellbeing..  I will explore the world of weekly food shopping in the US and France in a future post.  Stay tuned!

Dried Herbs and Spices - Galeries Lafayette Gourmet 

 

 

                                                                                                                                 

 

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