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How to picnic like a Parisian

Didier Quémener30 June 2016

Paris remains a delightful city in which to picnic. We asked Paris resident and Roux Executive Chef Didier Quémener, a host of our London cooking experiences at the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School, how to picnic like a Parisian. It’s time to leave your troubles at home, grab a basket and step outside.

Didier, are all Parisians enthusiastic picnickers?

Yes, indeed. And in Paris, you are never far from sources of delicious food and drink so assembling an impromptu picnic couldn’t be easier. All you need is a baguette, a ripe peach, a piece of cheese, a bottle of chilled rosé and a pleasant place to sit to find contentment.

Where are the best places to enjoy a picnic?

The City of Light has no shortage of delightful gardens and open spaces where you can relax in the sun, pause in a welcome patch of shade or while away a summer’s evening.

Obvious choices are the Jardin des Plantes, Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries and the Champs-de-Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Or take a stroll along the banks of the Seine. During the summer stretches of the river are transformed into the Paris Plage, a sandy seaside promenade, where you can bag a deck chair under a parasol, lie on the sand, or go boating.

One of my favourite picnic spots is right around the corner from my apartment on the Canal Saint-Martin where I can happily pass the time watching the boats go by.

What are your essential ingredients for a perfect picnic?

A small cool bag, a blanket (ideally red and white checked) and a good mood are all indispensable. Next, food and drink that is easy to transport, keep cool and consume with the minimum of fuss, but is also a pleasure to eat, share and linger over.

What do you put in your picnic basket?

I like the contents of my picnic basket to appeal to my taste buds and my sense of well-being. I always pack a selection of fresh seasonal produce - we are spoilt for choice in Paris. And, of course, cool drinks.

What’s your favourite picnic dish of the moment?

This summer I’ve been enjoying bulgur-quinoa salads. Quinoa is an incredibly healthy and versatile grain. Bursting with nutrients, it is easy to prepare and happily partners an endless array of ingredients.

My Quinoa Salad with an Italian Twist was inspired by a visit to Sicily and combines the grains with an abundance of tomatoes, mozzarella and ham. It can be made in a matter of minutes - useful when the sun comes out unexpectedly. If you have no quinoa or bulgur wheat small pasta shapes work equally well. This dish is robust enough to transport without losing its looks and will arrive at the picnic appetisingly fresh and vibrant.

And to drink?

For outdoor drinking, I prefer a nicely chilled Chardonnay or rosé from Côte de Provence or Bordeaux. If I’m in the mood for red then Morgon, Côtes de Blaye or Crozes-Hermitage are good choices, or perhaps a Chianti or Bardolino.

But on a hot day, there is nothing more refreshing to drink than a Fruity Green Iced Tea. Cooling, reviving and brimming with antioxidants, this tea captures the essence of summer.

And what about cheese?

There’s only one cheese that will cut it at a picnic and that’s Camembert! Add a crunchy baguette or wedge of hearty country bread and you’re all set!

What do you suggest as a sweet treat to end a picnic?

Don’t pack fragile desserts that may break or melt in transit. Choose a handful of cherries or make a fresh fruit salad (strawberry, kiwi, blueberries, mango, etc.).

How do you make your fruit salad special?

A few mint leaves, a grating of fresh ginger, a sprinkle of cinnamon or a light syrup infused with green cardamom seed will lift a fruit salad from the commonplace to the extraordinary.

Where should we shop for our picnic ingredients?

My favourite market, Marché Aligre (Tuesday to Sunday) at Place d'Aligre, is a cornucopia of beautiful fruit and vegetables.

For cheese, head to Au Coeur du Marché 28 Rue d’Aligre. Tell Romain and Bati that I sent you.

For the all-important picnic loaf, Le pain au naturel, 5 Place d'Aligre, bakes amazing organic bread.

You’ll find wonderful wines at Les Caves Saint-Martin, 195 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin. Ask my good friend Antoine for advice.

Finally, call in at Maison Castro, 15 Rue Alexandre Parodi, for charcuterie, olives, and all manner of tempting goodies.

The friendly faces behind the counter (Nicolas, Gautier, Leo and Bruno) are my friends. Be sure to tell them I sent you!

Happy picnicking!

Didier hosts cooking classes at The Michel Roux Jr Cookery School and also in Paris through his private catering company Chef Q Paris.