A local's guide to Paris - Andreas Karapanos - Citimarks

Andreas Karapanos

Andreas Karapanos

Persistence is power


Citimarks: When was the moment you realized that you want to dedicate yourself to cooking?

Andreas Karapanos: It happened during my military service. On the first day, an officer called all the soldiers to assign missions based on our backgrounds. When they asked if there were any cooks, something compelled me to step forward and shout, "Me!" The truth was, I knew nothing about cooking.

They appointed me as the cook for the barrack, and as panic set in, a "Deus ex machina" intervened: every morning, I would call my mother, a former cook herself, to guide me through the recipes step-by-step. Over time, I immersed myself more in the role and realized how much satisfaction I derived from cooking for others, offering them a meal of my own creation, and witnessing the smiles on their faces. To my great pleasure, the soldiers found my food delicious. Towards the end of my military service, it was they who encouraged me to apply to cooking school. "You should do it!" they said. And so, I did.

What are the restaurants that your audacious spirit took you to? 

A year later, with the same determination, I approached another restaurant and asked to speak with the chef. Despite annoying him by taking him out of the kitchen during dinner service, he offered me a job opportunity. My work was well-received, leading to a position at the award-winning Hakkasan London and Daniel Boulud’s three Michelin-starred restaurant at Mandarin Oriental London. At Boulud’s, I embraced their commitment to using only top-quality, fresh ingredients, sparking my increased attention to raw materials and a desire to delve deeper into the alchemy between ingredients, flavors, and textures.

Driven by this passion, I decided to concentrate on the finest gastronomic restaurants and sent my résumé countless times to the team of Joël Robuchon, whom I had always admired. My persistence paid off, securing a position in his Atelier. After an intensive two-year experience, I moved to L’Abeille at the Hotel Shangri-La, another two-starred restaurant, under the supervision of Christophe Moret. The quality of their vegetables, especially the delicious aroma of tomatoes, left a lasting impression on me. Later, under the guidance of Alain Ducasse, Moret's mentor, at the Plaza Athénée, I learned the principle that "less is more."

Eminent French chef, Alain Ducasse.

Alain Ducasse, a living legend of the modern French gastronomy. © AFP/Fred Dufour. Source: Le Monde.

An original creation of Alain Ducasse's team.

Ducasse and his team advocate for a food elaboration process with a greater respect to nature.

"Escoffier pioneered the foundations of modern gastronomy as we know it today. [...] For me, he is not only an inspiration but also a spiritual father, guiding my culinary journey with his enduring legacy."

Less is more...I imagine that you refer to the Naturalité: Alain Ducasse’s culinary philosophy advocating a more natural treatment of locally supplied ingredients. What is the benefit from a meal Naturalité?

"Naturalité" treats vegetables in a novel manner, providing a comprehensive culinary experience. For instance, when preparing lobster with beetroot, the beetroot is deconstructed into various parts that take on different forms and textures. It can be crushed, melted, or sprayed, and then cooked with other ingredients, delicately merging with the taste of the lobster. The diverse preparations find their way into the dish, creating a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures. Through the use of seasonal, organic products treated with respect for their essence, "Naturalité" aims to achieve purity in a flavorful presentation.

What do you remember from your first day in the City of Lights?

Paris provided the support I needed to overcome the demanding conditions of a chef's work. Stepping onto the Parisian boulevards for the first time, I sensed a sense of belonging. The city offered me strength when it was most required.

At the conclusion of my initial workday, the enormity of this new world opening before me overwhelmed me. Seeking some fresh air, I strolled from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pont d’Alma. The beauty of the landscape and the majestic architecture infused my heart with enthusiasm. Later that evening, I ascended Montmartre. As I sat on the hill, observing the city lights below, I felt a closeness to paradise. On the return journey, I marveled at the picturesque Rue des Martyrs and the grandeur of Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Champs Elysées. The excitement of that initial evening provided me with the energy and a sense that the spirit of this city could help me confront the challenges ahead.

Are there any ethnic cuisines that you enjoy in Paris and what is your experience from the street food in the city?

Paris lacks a robust street-food culture because Parisians aren't accustomed to eating while standing on the street. Even when pressed for time, they prefer to savor their meals around a table. The ability to appreciate the taste of each dish is crucial for locals, aligning with the slow-food philosophy and reflecting the love and respect the French hold for their cuisine.

In terms of ethnic cuisines, Paris offers a diverse array from various countries. One of my favorite spots to explore authentic Japanese recipes is the Pyramides district, near the Garnier Opera House. A bowl of ramen soup paired with a mix of Gyoza stuffed with chicken and ginger makes for an ideal dinner combo.

Are there any other up-and-coming chefs we should know about?

You should explore the culinary creations of the talented chef Pascal Barbot, who owns the restaurant "Astrance." Barbot skillfully combines tastes and ingredients from diverse cultures, crafting harmonious and flavorful dishes. His innovative thinking pushes the boundaries of creativity beyond those of many chefs in his field.

What is the most precious lesson that a chef gave you in Paris?

I recall a moment when Joël Robuchon visited the kitchen to inspect our work. The atmosphere was tense as it was a bustling evening, and even the waitstaff were stressed. In the midst of this collective panic, Éric Bouchenoire, his right-hand man, turned to me and said, “You don’t cook for him, you cook for you.” He was right. I had lost sight of the reason I was there: to indulge my passion for cooking.

We get so focused on meeting the expectations of our chefs that, sometimes, we risk putting aside the pleasure we take from the process of creation. Each chef sets his own standards that we should not use as our single measure: we should try to set the bar as high as we can handle, and build our unique identity as chefs.

Andreas Karapanos
Andreas Karapanos
Andreas Karapanos

Cadavre Exquis

If Paris were a song, which song would it be?

"Altalena Dreams" is a captivating song by ManosJMT that seamlessly blends "Waltz of the Lost Dreams" by Manos Hadjidakis with "Altalena" by Lucio Cannavacciuolo. Since my arrival five years ago, not a day has passed without me immersing myself in the enchanting melody through my headphones, regardless of the weather. Whether it's raining or shining, this song serves as a source of strength for me. In my eyes, this is the essence of Paris.

If Paris were a food, what would that be?

Without a second thought, I would opt for a "Blanquette de Veau" paired with creamy mashed potatoes, prepared using the authentic French recipe. This dish holds a special place among my favorite French meals to both prepare and share with friends.

If Paris were a film, which film would it be?

"The Intouchables" is an award-winning French film that narrates the profound friendship between two men—François Cluzet, a wealthy quadriplegic, and his unconventional live-in caregiver, Omar Sy. This movie beautifully captures the essence of caring and the significance of having someone there for you. Given the demands of my chosen profession, which often keeps me away from friends, Paris serves as a comforting presence, managing to fill the void. This city becomes my source of joy, akin to a caregiver when my friends are not around, making me feel truly at home.

If you could travel in time for one day, which century of French history would you go back to and what would you like to discover? 

I would choose to revisit the late 19th century, a pivotal era when France laid the groundwork for modern gastronomy. My destination would be to meet none other than Auguste Escoffier, the globally renowned French chef and culinary pioneer. Escoffier is credited with revolutionizing modern cuisine, introducing techniques and codifying recipes that have become the bedrock of haute cuisine worldwide. His enduring legacy is encapsulated in the "Guide Culinaire," a seminal reference work that continues to shape culinary education. For me, Escoffier is not just an inspiration; he is my culinary muse and spiritual guide.

If you could meet an artist from the past, who would that be and what would you talk about?

Salvador Dali, a true artistic genius with a life as tumultuous as his creations, has left an indelible mark on the world of art. If given the opportunity, I would eagerly engage him in conversation, allowing him to expound on any subject of his choosing. The hope would be to draw inspiration from the depths of his eccentric and imaginative spirit. Dali's ability to seamlessly blend the surreal with the profound could provide a unique and enriching perspective, opening doors to new realms of creativity and insight.

What is your favorite French word?

"Incontestablement" is a fascinating word that I picked up in my initial French language class, and I take pleasure in incorporating it into my vocabulary regularly. Its rarity and complexity add a unique flair to my expressions, making it a standout choice that one doesn't encounter every day.

24 hours in Paris

French baker Christophe Basseur

The baker Christophe Basseur, founder of the bakery shop Du Pain et des Idées. Source: Ideemiam.

9 am
Morning coffee & breakfast 
At the bakery shop Du pain et des idées to have the best croissant in town and a delicious orange blossom brioche. The building, classified as a historic monument, features a magnificent painted glass ceiling that dates from the 19th century.
11 am
A stroll in the park 
At the Parc des Buttes Chaumont with its lovely hills and lake.
12 pm
A visit to the museum
The Centre Pompidou of modern art, for its always interesting temporary exhibitions. 
3 pm
A store that embodies the French savoir-faire
The Labo, a perfumery from Grasse, at the South of France. I would go to get a mist of my favorite perfume, Sandal 33, and buy a bottle freshly hand-blend, personalized and engraved on the spot.
5 pm
An elegant Parisian spot
A walk in the Passage des Panoramas, with its iconic 19th-century architecture of Haussmann Paris, its old fashioned Parisian shops and elegant restaurants.
6 pm
Away from the crowds
A stroll along the canal de l’Ourcq from the Bar d’Ourcq to the Parc de la Villette.
7 pm
A place to seduce
I would take my girl down to the river on the right bank of the Seine, between the Pont Marie and Pont de Sully bridges. We would sit at the edge of the Georges Pompidou embankment, a paved riverbank covered with oak trees, and watch the sun slowly fade away behind the Ile Saint-Louis. One of the best sunset spots in town.
8 pm
An unforgettable diner
The Septime gastronomic neo-bistrot offers a great value for money, considering its 15th place among the world’s top 50 restaurants. Also, its cousin, Clamato bar with its wild oysters and an original food & drink pairing featuring rare sake drinks and gins.
10 pm
A spot to enjoy the night views of Paris
At the square in front of the Sacré Cœur church, in Montmartre.
12 am
A seductive cocktail bar
The best whisky sour atDanico, a green velvet bar, hidden at the back of the fabulous Italian trattoria Daroco. Also one of the world’s best 100 cocktail bars.
1 am
A place to dream and be inspired
I would take my scooter and start from the Eiffel Tower, on the left bank. I would ride along the riverbank through the Invalides district; cross the river to reach Place de la Concorde; pass by the Louvre and the Hotel de Ville to end up at Place de la Bastille. After dark, of course, to enjoy the city lights and the fuzz-free avenues.
French baker Christophe Basseur

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