At first glance, the rue de Chabrol (Métro Poissonnière, in the 9th Arrondissement) vindicates its absence from guidebooks; it’s just the sort of unremarkable area the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides of the world ignore. But what I’m searching for here is anything but ordinary—in fact, it’s the oldest chocolatier-confiseur in Paris. I find Le Furet Tanrade* right in the center of the street, housed in a rather Swiss-looking shopfront at number 63. I step inside with no small excitement. After all, this is the latest incarnation of a business that has been running since 1728, with devotees like Balzac and Proust, Napoleonic gourmand Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière and modern Franco-foodies Patricia Wells and David Lebovitz. Until 1990, Pierre Tanrade ran it for his family. Then it was purchased and moved here by the star chocolatier Alain Furet.
A former president of the chocolatiers of France, Furet is an energetic presence on the Paris sweet scene. Colleagues call him the Doctor of Jams, and a shelf in the shop groans under the weight of his awards and trophies. There is Best Jam Maker in France and Best Creator with Unusual Ingredients, plus numerous awards from successive Salons du Chocolat (my favorite is For Creation Using Vegetables—won by transforming tomatoes with a secret anise-infused chocolate).
Inside, the firm’s legendary chocolates, jams and jellies (the latter made out of produce from the Château de Versailles) are everywhere: filling windows, spilling off the shelves and sitting out as samples. There are also 150 teas. Scrutinizing the labels, I find them provocative and intriguing. There’s gelée of Ricard, a patriotic confiture whose stripes are made of blue curaçao, white chocolate and ruby-red raspberry, and jar after jar of exotic combinations such as sweet pepper with zucchini, walnuts and cinnamon. The more unlikely a recipe sounds, the better it seems to taste—perhaps because Furet has traveled the French diaspora searching out unusual fruits and spices to inspire him.
To me, his sorcerer’s touch is most evident in the chocolates, handmade using copper basins handed down for more than a century. Although presented simply—I could be at my grandmother’s—these taste as sleek as anything from a left bank choco-couturier. Many yield sensations it’s even challenging to describe. One of the most popular is chocolat au chanvre (hemp) and, although a card warns that all are “sans THC,” they’re cheerily decorated with bright green ganja leaves. “They’re harmless and they open the spirit,” the shop assistant says with a smile, packing up yet another box for waiting customers.
Furet’s research has often taken place at a second home outside Paris, a strange building, modeled after a ship, that rises out of the wheat fields in Eure-et-Loir. Known as the Stone Boat, it was built by another famous pâtissier, Camille Renault. A fanatical art collector born in 1866, Renault was a central inspiration for Furet. The older chef named dishes after artist friends like Braque and Picasso, and Furet has made a similar gesture with his new jam collection. Titled “Politics in a Pot,” it consists of confitures named after French political personalities—and each jam’s ingredients double as a witty critique. I opt for Ségolène Royal’s “Arabian Nights,” whose title alludes to spinning out a story as long as possible (in her case, overweening presidential ambitions). Its taste somehow manages to combine the comforting with the sublime: the perfect souvenir from a special afternoon.
More about rue Chabrol
* Above Le Furet Tanrade, on Halloween 1883, the famous painter Marie Laurencin was born, the illegitimate daughter of a servant seduced by her employer.
* From 1914 through the late 1960s, the imposing building at number 18 housed Atelier Mourlot. This fine-art press was known throughout the Western world for its work with artists including Chagall, Miró and Picasso.
* In 1899 a police siege known as Fort Chabrol paralyzed the street for 38 days. It took place at number 51 (now a supermarket) when the employees of an anti-Semitic paper blockaded themselves in protest during the final stage of the Dreyfus Affair. French people today still use the expression “Fort Chabrol” as shorthand for any type of hostage taking.
*Update, March 2012: The Furet Tanrade shop has closed.