Bastille Day is Saturday, July 14, and to celebrate France’s national day, we’re dedicating the week to the very best French things. You may be familiar with stories we’ve done on French pharmacy products and cookbooks, but we’re going even deeper this week, from the best books on Paris and French baking to the greatest French pantry essentials and lesser-known French beauty products. Welcome to Made in France week.
Perhaps the only thing more legendary than the French larder is the French kitchen itself. But that can mean one of a couple things: Whereas the look of a rustic French country house still has a certain kind of appeal, most French homes these days contain a mix of trendy accessories and appliances, like pineapple oven mitts and colorful Smeg toasters, and more timeless pieces like Le Creuset pots and Peugeot salt and pepper mills, often handed down from one generation to another. In my own French kitchen of several years, you’ll find a woven market basket for weekly visits to my neighborhood farmers’ market and stops at the butcher, baker, fromager, and wine merchant; a porcelain pitcher for serving water; and classic Villeroy & Boch flatware for setting the table. But that’s just my kitchen. To find out about the essential items in other Francophone kitchens, I asked around and got a handful of people in the food industry to share their must-have everyday items.
Paris café waiters who can pop open a bottle of rosé or Perrier in one swift motion are always using these limonadiers. Julie Mathieu, the co-founder of Fou de Pâtisserie magazine and pastry boutique, keeps one in her kitchen drawer, ready for all possible beverage requests. “This is the bottle opener that all the café waiters in Paris keep in their pockets or aprons. It will open bottles of water or soda and uncork wine. As you can imagine, this is a very important tool for everyday life in France. Many companies have produced modern or more design-forward models, but the original, the one that Parisian café waiters swear by, is the most efficient. My father had one when he started as a waiter at the legendary restaurant Pied de Cochon in the 1960s, and I’ve kept it carefully in one of my kitchen drawers. I use it to open wine at home and to open bottles of Orangina for my daughter.”
In a similar vein: If you’ve ever been hiking or picnicking in France, you know how well-prepared the locals are with snacks, drinks, and the tools to open both. Opinel, among the most loved heritage brands in France, has been producing handcrafted pocketknives in Savoie since 1890. That its brand name is included in the Larousse dictionary — a folding knife that tucks away into a groove in the wooden handle — is a testament to its influence. Food journalist Jill Cousin, who splits her time between Paris and her boyfriend’s permaculture produce farm in La Manche in Normandy, says the N10 knife never leaves her bag. “It doubles as a bottle opener, and since improvised picnics and aperitif gatherings along the Canal Saint-Martin are frequent when I’m in Paris, I’m always prepared to open a few bottles and cut up slices of sausage. And when I’m walking through the fields in La Manche, it’s a precious tool for collecting ripe vegetables. With its supersharp blade, it can cut anything, and it’s perfect for cooking no matter where I go.”
Trends in tableware have gone from elevated (expensive) to utilitarian (Ikea) to artisanal (ceramic). But as the French have looked to reconnect more and more with tradition, there has been a revived interest in vintage and flea-market finds. That’s the insight that drove Ajiri Aki to launch Madame de la Maison, the latest online destination for antique tableware and linens, as well as a growing personal collection of her own. “Every French kitchen has antique plates, silverware, or glassware — people inherit them or find them at one of the country’s many flea markets,” explained Aki. “There’s always something special in showing off a wholly unique piece.”
Just for oysters — also very French.
The great thing about kitchen shears is that they don’t have to be used for just cooking. You can use them to open packaging, cut paper, snip off the tags on a new dress. But for those serious about cooking, these are shears designed by the pros. “These kitchen shears from Michel Bras,” — the famous French chef — “cut well and are ideal when you need to work with delicate ingredients, or put the finishing touches on a dish with great care,” says Delphine Plisson, who opened La Maison Plisson gourmet grocery in Paris a few years ago. “But handling them requires the right tools. The blades can be removed and cleaned thoroughly (dishwasher-safe!), which is super practical. I use these all the time in lieu of knives, particularly to cut fresh herbs.”
Some things don’t change much, and that includes the rectangular pieces of fabric that hang from every oven door. Striped tea towels from the mid-20th-century pop up at antique markets across the country and are coveted abroad for the sense of place they inspire. Food photographer Joann Pai sees them not only as iconic but useful in far more ways than as a styling prop. “I like this particular nod to French country style because it’s both stylish and multipurpose. I use it for drying, cleaning, and even wrapping day-old bread to keep it fresh.” These linen ones from French line Merci are simply perfect.
And for a good muted look-alike.