Most North Americans have experienced at least once in their life roasting a marshmallow over a summer camp fire, turning the soggy bulge at the end of a stick so as to find the perfect roast, nice and brown, without letting it burst into flames.
Those were great times and never, back then, did I wonder why I couldn’t possibly eat the mushy thing without a minimum of brown crust. The fact of the matter is that it didn’t taste good. The gooey things contained more sugar than a jar of honey, and the nighttime singing by the fire was sweet enough for me.
Marshmallows also made it into hot chocolate powder preparations. The first bit of fun was to find the marshmallows in the powder and get as many as possible into the cup before pouring the warm milk. It was somewhat the same as looking for the cherries in the cans of fruit salad by Belmonte: a lot of fun. The second challenge, with the marshmallows, was all about gulping them down without burning your lips to a char, before they could melt away. Needless to say, the end of the chocolate powder was barren of any of those white beads.
Thus, thanks to gamification, some of these foods survived the test of taste. Because aside for the addictive side of sugar, the interest for these mushy things is relatively limited, not to mention they are very hard to sniff or inject.
This is maybe why altogether, with age and the strict separation of sweet and sour in France, I abandoned the idea of keeping a year and a half old bag forgotten in the back of the cupboard in case some last minute grilling came about. Besides, what little and excessively promiscuous camping can be found in Michelin country doesn’t allow campfires most times, which is understandable given how close tents are one to another. They don’t exactly offer the barren wilderness of a beach side or a provincial camping ground with a hundred yards between camping spots. Plus, when I reflect upon souvenirs of petrol been squeezed upon the fire, offering instantaneous eyebrow epilation, or manscaping, to a good many of us, I reckon European electric grills have some benefits.
This is where, as a faithful follower of Brillat-Savarin, I would like to add a side dish intended to dispel any confusion between the Bibendum from Michelin and the giant marshmallow man dubbed Stay Puft from Ghostbusters. One is made of sugar and steroids, the other is out of white rubber before becoming dark due to the strengthening of dark carbon.
But then, from the depth of Paris, came enlightenment in the form of marshmallow reborn. It was unexpected, unwarranted in that I had said goodbye to that north-americanness of mine and made my peace. But lo and behold, here came the rebirth of the marshmallow in its noblest form, a pure essence of delight from which it should never - except for kids and camp fires - have strayed.
My dearest half, upon one of her regular trips back to Paris in her 13th district - arrondissement - gathered the inspiration to walk into one of the finest patisseries in Paris, conveniently located a few hundred yards from her parents’ place, inspiration being one of those tantalizing feelings of gourmandise.
Now, ecosystems, walking proximity and accessible frequency are some of the topics which Biztronomy promises to expand upon for a long time, because ease of test and taste are of the utmost importance in any business venture or gastronomy. Just as the Silicon Valley concentrated a vast amount of ressources that allowed, through proximity, to attain new heights in interaction and innovation, so to, Paris in the early 19th century concentrated capabilities, produce and wealth - on top of spirit - that allowed a higher level of culinary consciousness to take root.
The fact is, places like Paris bulge with fantastic treasure troves and they are as common as any ordinary boulangerie just a few steps away, just like my own boulangerie a hundred yards away, elected best boulangerie in all of Occitanie!
The treasure trove per se is a Boulangerie-Patisserie by Laurent Duchêne who was elected Meilleur Ouvrier de France or MOF. Now, for those who aren’t familiar with the MOF, this is one of the ultimate consecrations for craftsmanship in the hexagone. It’s importance in France illustrates with almost a divine aura how much importance the French dedicate to this title and what it represents.
Marshmallows, macarons, pates de fruits, éclairs au chocolat, calissons, just few of the wonders in this shop. Photo Credit to Corinne, Paris, 13e.
Without delving into excessive academic thoroughness, it wouldn’t be too much of a feat to demonstrate the lineage between the cathedral builders and the cake makers, positing Antonin Carême as a key player in this transmission. It seems that Richard Sennett in his book The Craftsman, has extended this supreme hinge of mind and matter - thinking and modelling - to the art of coding. But that is another dish for another day. In short, the hands of the craftsmen and women pay hommage to the divine in this country in their own lasting way. The secular melts into the eternal and it can only be fathomed through intense awareness and sensuality.
Just as there is a terrible deficiency in describing wine with lame and ordinary words, painting the extraordinary experience of these fluffy, light and unbearably savory puffs of pure heavenly delight is completely impossible. If I believed in the afterlife, I would then beg to spend eternity on a cloud of these Oh so delicate matters of immateriality; time would not be enough for me to embrace the most delectable pillow, devour it before plunging into the next and be carried by the multiple divine scents plucked with cherished love and extreme science - Brillat’s candid and curious science - from the most generous and concentrated forms of organic matter.
Lime takes life and floats into our dreams, chocolate diffuses through our taste buds like a brown love-roasted ghost; vanilla, from the throes of artificiality is reborn as a great sunbeam of taste and pacific paradise; and yet more perfumes of elsewhere coat the palate with hues of the most tingling and awe inspiring reds.
There is nothing that can be said to describe this ecumenical experience of enlightenment, it is worth a pilgrimage in its own right, to cherish the virtuosity of MOF and his team, the incredible delicacy of nature and its essence preserved, nay, pinnacled in these mouthful-clouds so light, so devoid of sugar yet so sweet a gentle wind could make them swirl away like an autumn leaf.
Though more a path with its destination than a messianic arrival, the transformation from quantity to quality is a gastronomical mantra that can contribute to business growth through differentiation; sustainability by focusing on reasoned husbandry; and universal enlightenment, nothing less, through the quest for excellence and the positive energy of sharing.
Should we propose tax credits for marshmallow acquisition, maybe. Should we erect a statue to the greatness of puffy, probably. Should we all at least once in our lives summon magnificence and beauty by sanctimonious consumption of these delicate djinns, absolutely!
The future is quality, not quantity. And then next time you are in Paris, forget the Eiffel Tower. Go visit the Marshmallows!
The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands, Jean-Noël Kapferer and Vincent Bastien
Drawing by Dall.E. Prompt : "A happy bacchus, eating a marshmallow puffy cloud, pastel colors".