Gourmet Paris fare going to the dogs

Discussion in 'Food and nutrition' started by Victor Sack, Mar 19, 2006.

  1. Victor Sack

    Victor Sack Guest

    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

    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

    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?

  2. Yeah, yeah, there's a market for selling "food" to people who think way
    too much of their pets.

    Fact is, your pooch would just plain love if you would feed him the
    same amount of dry dog food at the same time every day, and train him
    to do all his tricks by using the same kibbles as rewards.

    Instead, he's training you to spoil him by giving you opportunities to
    assuage your guilt and superiority complex by plowing your cash into
    pointless extra calories.

    Give the money to someone who's been screwed by evil people instead.