Even though Paris has plenty to offer when it comes to organic food and natural wines, we can’t call it easy to find a piece of nature in the city and its surroundings. As it has expanded so fast in the last century, all the suburbians lands that used to feed the Parisians before 1910 are now constructed and often overcrowded. Parisians don’t have a strong tradition of getting away in the nature, most of the time a pic-nic in a park or along the Seine is their favourite way to meet with friends and enjoy a sunny moment. Using a barbecue in a public space is strictly prohibited in the city, so the meal consists mostly in cold salads, bread, cheese, charcuterie, maybe a quiche, and a lot of wine.
Marilyn Brentegani is the kind of person who deeply believes in the connection between plants, health and taste. As an herbalist, she advises people on how they can cure troubles with plants and also regularly take little groups on foraging tours around Paris where she teaches how to recognize wild plants and properly pick them up for consuming. For this Get Away, we asked Marilyn to take us to the beautiful Parc de Belleville in the 20th arrondissement and to show us the many varieties of plants and herbs that grow out there.
We all met at Holybelly, a specialty coffee-shop and restaurant opened this year by Nico Alary and Sarah Mouchot, a well travelled french young couple willing to offer a tasty option for breakfast and lunch. They stand for using almost exclusively locally grown and seasonal ingredients in the kitchen, cooking everything from scratch and not doing it half-way when it comes to quality, quantity and transparency. The coffee beans are roasted up on the hill of Belleville by David Flynn and Thomas Lehoux. The roastery they opened last year together with Anselme Blayney is soberly called Belleville Brûlerie, and it’s a place where all the focus is made on sourcing the beans and roasting them the exact amount of time necessary to release their full flavours according to their own character. By cupping every single batch of coffee, they tend to insure the maximum consistency in its quality. Because Holybelly is only a couple of doors away from the Canal Saint Martin where all of the right-bank-young-people love to gather in the warm summer evenings, Nico started to craft « Cool Brews ». They consist of a hot brewed coffee hand encapsulated in beer-size bottles and then chilled for few hours. They work as a charm to cool down the temperature on a warm day, and that’s what we had as a little apéritif before going out to the park.
We all grabbed our bikes to climb up to the parc de Belleville. Despite the driving rain, Marilyn dutifully showed us what was growing at the moment. We realized how exciting is naming the plants that surround us and discover in what way we can use them. She reminded us that plants are originally here to heal the soil and prepare it for the forest, which is the ultimate stage of nature. A big part of them is edible and provide us with everything we need to sustain a healthy mind and body. An outdoor pic-nic was originally planned but the mad weather led us to gather in a cute tiny studio nearby the Canal. Gerd Vanderostyne had prepared fresh salads and quiches using vegetables collected at the Bastille market and grown without chemicals in Normandie-about 1h30 from Paris.
As for beverages, we had advised guests to bring a bottle from le Verre Volé, a nearby restaurant and wine cave opened 14 years ago. It’s actually the first natural wine bar in the city and wether you’ve got a clear idea of what you’d like or you’re keen to discover something new, they always come up with the right recommendation. Thomas is one of Le Verre Volé partners, he frequently travels around the country to meet the food and wine producers but you’ll also find him serving at the restaurant by the end of the week. He gave us some advices on wines that would pair up with our diner, amongst them a fresh, fruity and sharp sparkling chardonnay from the Jura region. « Ouf », from the Domaine des Bottes Rouges is made by Jean Baptiste Munigoz who is a winemaker and part time teacher for disabled people.
We wrapped up the diner with a couple of herbal infusions, a delicious apricot pie brought by one of the guests and some summer fruits slathered with elderflower whipped cream. As we were discussing our own way to find nature in the city and our favourite things to bring for a picnic, the belated sun briefly appreared before fading behind the backyard tree. (some parisian courtyards abounds with green leaves !). Before everyone leaves and pass under the massive porte-cochère to ride home on the wet cobbles, we gave a warm thank to Marilyn for teaching us about nature with humility and kindness. We are definitely more conscious of every lump of green surrounding us in the city when we learn even just a tad more about plants.
Photographs by Svein G. Kjøde
Written by Nina Sahraoui