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Is a Chic Parisian Pizza an Oxymoron?

Sespite France having some 350 kinds of different cheeses, anything Greek or Italian will still be favored by delicate palates
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Trust the French to always find new and better ways to eat. Any food, any cuisine. Traveling around the world for decades, I have eaten well in many countries on most continents. Sometimes food was scarce, like in some African countries, sometimes it was exotic, somewhere in Asia, sometimes it was boiled, in England, and sometimes it was BBQ'ed, like in Australia.

But no matter what, when I go back to Paris, the food seems to always be better there. I know I am biased, what can I tell you? One thing is certain, the reputation of great food has never faded in France and after so many millenniums, the chefs still find ways to invent new recipes and twist old ones. The Spanish-born molecular cuisine has not taken as well as some would have believed.

Foams and ethereal staples in various sci-fi form and shape is an acquired taste than French people have never fully embraced, and with the exceptions of a few establishment in large cities, the trend has never really become a ... trend. On the other hand, the nouvelle cuisine has a very large following, but that is not revolutionary cooking, it's more like use of little-offered veggies, smaller portions, and various new ways to accommodate new foods, such as edible flowers, roots of all kinds, fruits as vegetable, more legumes, more exotic meats, more herbs, less fat, imaginative combination of old and new recipes, and healthier nourishment for all.

That has taken very well. Organic food has also made giant leaps for those who can afford it, as in Paris especially, anything organic is still more expensive than other foods. No Whole Foods or Trader Joe's in sight. A new generation of pizzeria has appeared in the French capital, and we are not talking about the mom-and-pop red and white checked tablecloth-kind of pizzeria here, but more like a cool bar-like industrial looking joint where uber-trendy millenials and 30ish-olds come to sip on unpronounceable drinks and graze at or scarf out the kind of pies Italians would find scandalous.

Last week I went to visit the new pizzeria in town. The Quindici Pizzeria just recently opened its doors on the second floor of a new commercial shopping center, in the 15th arrondissement, not far from the Eiffel Tower. That side of the river is definitely not a very chic area, nor very touristic at all. This is for the business lunch crowd, or maybe a few (wealthy) students. You know you're in Paris though when your white pizza with Greek feta cheese sets you back a cool 14 Euros, or just about $18, for a pizza for one.

Other items on the menu include penne a la Norma (pasta with tomatoes, eggplants and ricotta cheese), and raviolis with sage butter sauce. Simple wood and aluminum furniture, a cute blackboard on the wall, and a large bay window facing the river Seine add a touch of sophistication to the eatery.

The high-tech look and industrial feel of these pizza places of a new generation certainly aim to attract more urban sophisticated clients, who want comfort food, but not necessarily the comfort look that pizzerias have been known for, kind of cafeterias of the slated pies with toppings.

Many other pizzerias of that kind have opened around the city and are able to survive and compete with the neighborhood restaurants with their chic and expensive pizzas. The ingredients are somewhat a little more exotic, the cheese more foreign (think Italian), the ovens are with real wood, not an easy feat in Paris, where wood is not easily found at the corner supermarket, and there is no chopping down the centenary trees of Paris.

And despite France having some 350 kinds of different cheeses, anything Greek or Italian will still be favored by delicate palates. Go figure. Pizza is an Italian discovery, despite what some New Yorkers would have you believe, as the unleavened flatbread cooked in a dedicated clay oven has been a basic food of the Middle East, the Egyptians, and the Babylonians thousands of years ago. Now, if we are talking about the same flatbread now topped with tomatoes, olives and cheese, this was then the food of ancient Greeks and Romans - isn't that Italian then? Romans being the inhabitants of Rome, Italy, duh!

A baker from Napoli (Naples, Italy) is often credited as being the original maker of the Margherita pizza. Raffaele Esposito was a good baker, his dough was known around. One day he was asked to make a special order of a pie with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil for the Italian King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889. The colors of the red tomatoes, green basil, and white cheese were to represent the Italian flag. The rest is history.

France is the second largest consumer of pizza, after the USA; the first pizzeria to open in the U.S. was G. Lombardi, opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi in New York City. To this day, it still operates in the Big Apple, but no longer at 53 1/3 Spring Street. So now you see why New Yorkers attribute the origins of pizza to their city, it was de facto the origin of the first American pizza, we'll give them that!

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