One of the things on my to-do list when visiting Paris was to buy a copper sauce pot, either a useable antique one from the flea market or a new one from E. Dehillerin, the kitchen supply store that was Julia Child’s favorite.
The copper at the flea market was mouthwateringly gorgeous, but it was way out of my price range. Most of the pots were in sets that were thousands of dollars and many of those needed to be re-tinned to be functional. Beautiful as they were, I decided to wait to purchase a new one.
And I am so glad I did. I found the perfect copper pot…
Shopping at E. Dehillerin was quite the experience, though!
After a morning cruise on the Seine and a couple of hours at the Louvre, we walked over to E. Dehillerin, which was “just a short walk away”. Well, it turns out that anything that looks like a short walk in Paris usually isn’t! We were already tired and it took us about 30 minutes to get there. I learned that having specific destinations to seek out in an unfamiliar city exposes you to streets you might not see otherwise, though. The walk took us away from the more common tourist destinations and we were weaving through commuters and locals walking their dogs more than tourists.
I finally spotted the store across the street, recognizing it from their website…
I felt my stomach flip with excitement and it began to bubble over when I saw the copper displayed in the window. This was it. I was going to get my copper pot here, in Paris, where Julia Chils and Ina Garten and other famous chefs have bought their cookware.
Oh, how I wish I had taken a picture of the inside of the shop, but it was so tiny and, even though there were only 8-10 shoppers in the whole of the store (us included), it was crowded. This wasn’t a beautifully styled Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table. It was a culinary warehouse with dusty display pieces hung from the ceiling and pots and pans filling a peg board in graduated order. It was narrow aisles with stacked bins that looked more like a good-ole-boy’s hardware store.
Feeling a bit underwhelmed and disoriented, I turned my attention to the copper pots. These are why we walked all this way. There were three rows of graduated pots and not one sign to distinguish one row from the other. There were also no price tags, but just stickers with SKU numbers. And, instead of looking like shiny, new pots, these looked used and tarnished. Was this the vintage cookware section?
I noticed someone flipping through pages of a binder, secured to what is best described as a built-in pulpit. I figured you must have to look up the price based on the SKU.
For a few minutes, I felt irked and the stuffiness of the store only coaxed that emotion to the surface even more. Why did this have to be hard and confusing? Why couldn’t the pieces just have price tags and proper signs and displays, so I could just grab what I want and buy it?
And I realized that I was carrying my American expectations into a very old Parisian store. If I wanted to experience this culture, I needed to embrace their process.
I decided the best course of action would be to talk to a store employee, so I could be guided through how to purchase a pan. I asked a friendly gentleman who was standing by for just this purpose.
He started off by letting me know I could shop their store online and have anything shipped home.
“Yes, I know I can buy these online, but I came here to buy a copper pot here, in Paris, in this store.”
I could see a spark of amusement in his face and a recognition of the fact that it was less about the copper sauce pan and more about the experience. This copper pot would be my souvenir.
He turned to the rows of copper pots hanging on the wall and then the magic of the store began to unfold. He excitedly told me about the differences – which ones were tinned lined, stainless steel lined, and why you might want one over the other. He passed pans to me to appreciate the differences in size and weight. And we walked over to the book to look up the prices of the pots that drew my interest.
What I loved about this man, who acted more like a host welcoming me into his world, was that he spoke English to me when needed, but otherwise spoke French, using inflection and body language to help me understand. He was going to meet me where I was in his store, but he was going to make me take a few steps to meet him as well. It took more time, but it made me feel like I was buying a pot in an old store in Paris, France. Had I walked into a brand new kitchen store, picked a pot, and scanned it at a self checkout, it just wouldn’t have been the same.
I selected a Mauviel 6.3″ traditional saucepan that was lined with tin. It was a good everyday size and it wasn’t too large to pack in my suitcase. (This is the one I picked.)
The host removed a rope guarding the stairs to the basement and started to descend. He motioned for me to follow him, “Come with me to get your pan. You, too, mom!”
My mom and I followed him down a curvy split staircase into the basement. It was a low-lit space akin to a wine cellar, but instead of racks filled with bottles, there were shelves filled with cookware. He led me to the section with the tin-lined copper pots and pans. “Now…you pick yours.” There were a few identical pans strung together on a long chain. I took a handle into my palm and wrapped my fingers around it. “This one.”
He smiled, unlocked the pan from the chain, and carried it back up the steps for me.
Here is where the process required further explanation. The pan, lid, and a couple of my other purchases (I also bought a small whisk and a wooden spatula) were brought to a table where the host hand-wrote a slip.
I carried that slip to the checkout, which was about a foot away, to pay for the order. My finds remained in a small pile on the table.
Once I paid for the goods and filled out the tax papers for reimbursement at the airport, I took my “paid slip” back to the table to have my pieces wrapped and bagged.
The whole process was inefficient, but it ushered me around the store and forced me to interact with three different people along the way and, once I embraced the process, I found delight in it. In the US, we’re so used to stores becoming more and more efficient. Here, scan your groceries and bag them as you go, then ring up one slip at a kiosk, and you’re done. Just order online and we’ll bring it to your car or, even better, right to your door. You don’t have to engage with anyone.
Any annoyance I felt in the beginning was gone and it was replaced with satisfaction. I was thankful for the experience and for the contact I had with each person in the store. I thanked everyone on the way out, especially the “host”. I wanted to ask for his name or take a picture with him, but I didn’t. I just walked out the doors and posed in front of the shop, holding my bag, so my mom could document the moment.
I was planning on taking pictures of the pan in our Paris apartment, but everything was thoroughly wrapped as if they were going to be dropped out of a fourth story window.
So, they stayed wrapped until I got them safely home and I’m sort of glad for that. It was like unwrapping a present I knew I was going to get, but I forgot all of the details. The hammered copper shimmered and it felt heavier than I remembered. I set it on my beefy range and it looked right at home.
Yes, you can buy Mauviel pots and pans anywhere, but this one is stamped with “Dehillerin Paris”, so I will always know it is the souvenir from my trip to Paris with my mom.
The beauty of this pan and the excitement about using it encouraged me to get some of my vintage and antique French copper pieces polished and re-tinned, so I can use them as well. It seems a shame to have them hanging on the pot rack when they could be put to use. I shipped out a box today and I’ll let you know how they turn out!