This post is part of our Love Letter series: first-person accounts of what we love about Paris.
On my first visit to Paris, I was enthralled with the architecture, the food culture, the Parisians themselves… I fell head over heels and wanted to learn more. And it was through this desperate craving for contact with local culture that I realized we needed to bring Devour Tours abroad.
I wanted to share the gems of Paris in the same way we’ve shared Spain’s local culture, people and stories with thousands of guests over the past seven years. And what better place to begin than in one of the world’s most important food cities? Paris is a place where passion for great food and wine is part of the identity.
There was never any doubt that Paris was worth devouring, but our biggest challenge in making Devour Paris as great as our other cities was finding the right person to steer the ship. We wanted someone who loves Paris with their heart, soul, and stomach, who knows the local food community inside out, and who would connect to our responsible tourism philosophy and mission to help local culture thrive.
I present to you our newest member of the Devour team, entrusted with feeding our bellies and our minds in Paris’ delicious hidden corners, Jessica Timmins.
— Lauren Aloise, Founder of Devour Tours
Paris didn’t capture my heart right away.
It took time for me to see beneath the oxymoron of cherry blossoms and grandeur, side-by-side with an overcrowded city and curt French people who don’t really smile. The people seemed distant, the language impenetrable, the streets littered with tourist traps and €9 coffees. It took me a while to see the beauty, to learn the customs and understand the sweet and sour of the French people.
The glossy, crispy, chewy, buttery pastries were easier to get to know. The market cheese counter, teeming with unknown textures and flavors, drew me in. The marriage of bitter green salad leaves, astringently salted blue cheese, rich nuts and sweet figs helped me on my way. The tender ham, called the “Prince of Paris,” made in a forgotten corner of the capital, aromatic and salty combined with creamy butter and eye-watering mustard helped, too. My first taste of French natural wine, crisp and tender and alive, woke me up, spoke to my palate in a language I couldn’t speak, but I could absolutely understand.
My first friends in France were foods. Is that weird?
But once I had a few of these good friends with me, I could go out and make more. I worked in restaurants and bars, making cocktails and serving the most amazing quality of produce to rich and poor Parisians alike.
In my two years at Septime I learned an enormous amount about food and wine, but also about people, dining, the French approach to food and the importance of gastronomical heritage in France. It was everyday for our Parisian guests; amazing food and drink is a way of life, something totally normal and expected. I had so much to learn—but I was here for that.
And learn I did. Getting to know your quartier means getting to know the quality places to eat and drink, and what to ask for depending on the season. You know the places to avoid; you know the places made for foreigners and the places for the French. You know the market traders, the wine sellers, and their schedules: you know the places where you can quell that rumble in your stomach on a quiet Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. (an unexpectedly challenging feat in a capital city).
If you have a bit of food knowledge, a French person will accept you: your knowledge will earn you hours of conversation, shared lists of the best restaurants and best market traders in Paris, at the best times of year. My years of research and countless euros spent at the cheese counter were validated in the quiet acceptance by others that I, a foreigner, had managed to grasp the intricacies of French cuisine: the complexities of terroir, of regionality, of the pleasures of artisanal food craftspeople working within thousands of years of tradition.
Devour Tours recognizes that this knowledge is unique, it’s local. The Parisian way of life can only be championed by those living here. Traditions are not something you can learn overnight.
You can’t magic this kind of knowledge on a three-day, whistle-stop tour of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but you can start to appreciate a bit more about traditions, culture and food, and about the people behind them. That’s why I chose to work for Devour: a company that knows that the traditional, the real is behind the scenes of the tourist trail. They realize you need a local in order to better understand the culture. And in order to understand French people, you have to understand their food!
For me, it’s never ending. I’ll never know every wine producer in a country of thousands of vineyards, I’ll never know every cheese when there are over 500 and growing (although I absolutely give it a go). France, for me, is a place I will never stop learning—it’s a complicated web of etiquette, traditions and local pride that, even after seven years, continues to inspire and excite me every day.
If you think there’s no better person to show you around Paris than Jess—you’re right! Join her on our tour of the hidden gems of Le Marais to get to know the historic establishments that are the heart and soul of this popular area of Paris that many visit but few understand.
After spending countless hours (and euros!) at Paris’ fromageries and two years working at Michelin-star restaurant Septime, Paris’ food culture has become a part of Jess. She is the Operations Manager and very first guide for Devour Paris.