Gourmet Paris fare going to the dogs By Doreen Carvajal -- International Herald Tribune PARIS When morning comes to Rue Mademoiselle, waiting customers in fur literally drool outside the neighborhood patisserie for a taste of something new to Paris: baked canine cuisine, from foie gras biscuits to yogurt-frosted "pupcakes" and teeth-crunching lollipops on rawhide. Mon Bon Chien, a tiled purple-and-white storefront on a tranquil street, is an innovation in a city renowned for pampering its population of 200,000 pooches by welcoming them in bistros and, occasionally, five-star hotels. The innovator is an American pastry chef, Harriet Sternstein, who met with incredulity when she opened the store in June but has apparently succeeded in selling her high concept of a peanut butter "plat du jour" to French dog owners and their beloved "toutous." "The first couple of days we sold, like, three euros and five euros," said Sternstein, 44, who presides over her dog biscuiterie in a crisp white chef's jacket. "People walked by. They turned their heads. They laughed. They left." Her words pour out in breathless bursts, never ebbing while she flips tiny teddy bear biscuits that bake for hours at low temperature. "I hand-shred the carrots," she says. "There's no sugar. No salt. No preservatives. It's really good for the dogs, and if the customer eats them, too, it's not a problem." That has been Sternstein's consistent message throughout her French baking adventure, which has been marked by quirks and frustrations. It took her five months to obtain a commercial license; this involved formal presentations to French officials. (She pressed them to taste the carob pupcakes; they said they had already lunched.) She negotiated a lease with a landlord who abruptly canceled the agreement. A plumber stopped working when the remodeling was only half done. She broke her arm in three places while lifting a box in the store. Then, this month, a burglar drilled into the front door of the shop and broke the lock, apparently in search of tropical fruit biscuits or the hand-stitched pet sweaters that line the cluttered canine clothing boutique corner of Mon Bon Chien. Despite such minor adversities, Sternstein remains unbowed. "A lot of people talk about their dreams and their regrets that they didn't do them," she said. "I don't want to live like that. I really wanted to see if I could do this and build a life in Paris." A former occupational therapist, Sternstein changed métiers to become a chef with the ambition of opening a small take-out restaurant in the United States. She won awards there for dishes like a tricolored Bavarian cream with candied plantain banana. Then Sept. 11 happened and a relationship broke up, she said. She yearned to move to France with her golden retriever, Sophie-Marie, but discovered that no one wanted to hire an American chef in Paris. "My lawyer told me I had two choices: You're either going to marry a Frenchman or start your own business," said Sternstein, who invested more than $200,000 in Mon Bon Chien, or, as she tallied it, "every dime. All that's left are a few family jewels." She seized on the idea of creating a dog bakery, a familiar concept from her hometown in Seattle where there are several such shops. With a recipe book based in part on some American ingredients, she flew back to the United States and returned to Paris with three suitcases of such vital elements as molasses and Heinz 57 barbecue sauce. When sales proved weak during the grand opening, she tried a new strategy. She opened the shop door so the odors of peanut butter and carob cookies drifted to the sidewalk. In fractured French, she passed out samples and delivered a sales pitch on the merits of low-salt, no-sugar, 50-cent dog cookies. Sales built by word of mouth, but the real marketing success came after a French newspaper wrote about the store. Local television crews started trailing to Mon Bon Chien, and then came the BBC. Today her financial future rests with loyal canines, some of whom visit daily for a sniff of the biscuit du jour, listed on the shop's purple wall. Chantal Boucher, 23, and her King Charles spaniel, Poulet, are habitués with a preference for foie gras biscuits and dog sweatshirts. "I saw the dog bathrobe in the window," Boucher said. "And now we come in three times a day because we can't take our walk without him pulling to come in." She has to limit Poulet's biscuits, she said, because the spaniel has weight issues. Jean-Remy Daumas, a visitor to Paris who lives in the south of France, was drawn to Mon Bon Chien after hearing about it on a French television program. His dog, he said, adores the biscuits, smelling them through his luggage when he returns home from Paris. "Everybody I know thinks this concept is extraordinary," he said. "All the pet food in the supermarkets is horrible packaged foods. We have the desire to treat our dogs well and this is really charming. No?" For the future, Sternstein is now turning her attention to another group of animals. She is experimenting with blends of tuna and salmon, but the consistency still isn't quite right. Cat biscotti anyone?