Last Christmas I received one of the best presents of my life from my youngest daughter: a Larousse Gastronomique from 1938.
Davis must have heard me tell the story at least a dozen times, I'm sure, of having Sunday dinners at my grandmother's when I was a young, hungry, college student. Clotilde (my grandmother) would prepare huge, amazing meals, every time, just for the two of us. The evening would end with Clotilde pulling down her great big Larousse Gastronomique. We would look at the pictures, discuss the merits or flaws of various dishes, then put the book away.
The following Sunday I would arrive and she would have devised a menu from the dishes we had most admired. Fabulous. I loved that book and I loved Clotilde for sharing it with me in the way that she did. But when Clotilde passed away, the book went elsewhere. For years Davis watched me peruse used book stalls at the brocantes, caressing (but never buying) the various Larousse Gastronomique I came across.
The other day, just before the weather turned to rain and cold, I was out and about by the Pont des Arts (where lovers go to attach initialed pad locks to the fencing) and came across the Bouquiniste (secondhand bookseller) Alain Huchet. What stopped me was a print entitled "l'Art de Boire" (The Art of Drinking) depicting a man selecting, opening, pouring, sniffing and tasting a bottle of wine.
The print was inexpensive - less than the same print I'd admired in the windows of various shops in the 6th & 7th. Alain introduced himself and said "I have the originals too" and he did... they are sold individually for quite a bit more money. Turns out, he has quite a few of the rare and expensive original prints he sells reproduced. We began talking as Alain led me up and down his stall; not only are there fabulous old cookbooks, there are also vintage books on pastry, candy, wine, etiquette, tableware, game, mushrooms, Guides Michelin, prints of forks and knives, glasses, serving pieces, food art of all types and menus from restaurants long gone. Best of all there are lots and lots of Larousse Gastronomique - old ones, new ones, red ones, green ones.
Then it struck me, this was the man from whom my daughter had found and purchased her gift to me. I told Alain the story of my grandmother and her LG, of my daughter's quest and my beautiful Christmas gift. He thought for a second, smiled and said "I remember her, the American girl, she was very particular about which book she wanted. That was a very thoughtful and generous gift."
It turns out that Alain Huchet was a Chef de Cuisine for 15 years, but his passion for old cookbooks eventually won all of his attention. That was back in 1999. Alain has been tending his stall on the Quai de Conti ever since. Alain does not have a web site nor does he use email but, you can find him every day, seven days a week (so he says) from 2 pm to 5 pm in front of his beautiful books and prints. There is no hard sell, only a friendly smile and a willingness to share his knowledge and love of all things food, wine and print. If you happen to be in Paris, go see Alain, you won't regret the visit... even if you leave without your very own Larousse Gastronomique!
Alain Huchet - Bouquiniste
7 Quai de Conti, Paris
7 days a week / 2 pm to 5 pm