Novice and professional cooks alike jostle for space in the claustrophobic aisles of E. Dehillirin, the family owned cookware shop in Paris’s First Arrondissement. Established in 1820, the iconic institution is a utilitarian center of culinary commerce where gastronomes from around the world intentionally herd themselves into cramped, dusty rows of ancient shelving units overflowing with professional kitchen tools.
The wooden plank floors creak beneath the weight of frenzied customers valiantly trying to catch the eye of a sales clerk who will courteously assist them with a purchase but will not hold their hand during the selection process. The educated staff at E. Dehillerin knows their stuff and they expect their customers to know it too. Several of the clerks have worked at the shop for decades and speak a variety of languages to assist them in fulfilling the needs of their international clientele. Tradition dictates that the staff use only their first names and this includes Monsieur Eric, the fifth generation Dehiller to oversee the store and manage its dizzying inventory.
I lamented the modest size of my suitcase as I ogled the mind boggling selection of pastry tools, mortars, pestles, pans in every shape and size, meat saws, sharpening stones, cutting boards, gratin dishes, mandolines, carbon and stainless steel knives. To name just a few. The store is renowned for its copper selection, boasting 295 different objects lined or forged from the metal. There are ten different strainer sizes, eighteen whisk varieties and twenty petit four mold options.
Braving the precarious staircase to the anemically lit basement affords the adventurous a wide array of broilers, kettles, even a paella pan wide enough to feed the entire population of Basque country.
There are also a few eccentric objects stuffed into the nooks and crannies of the shop’s forgotten places. I was tempted to purchase one of them just to prove it actually existed. A few of the gems include a knife and fork combination for the one-armed culinarians among us, a diminutive meat press to prepare food for the carniverous infant and a “masticateur,” a special knife and fork designed to finely chop food for toothless diners. Proving that E. Dehillerin appreciates the present as much as past, the store also boasts a wide variety of fiberglass and silicone products.
I shopped for several chaotic minutes, running my fingers along the well worn wooden shelves and objects still in their plastic bags waiting for a kitchen to call their own. I climbed one of the ladders to the top of a shelving unit in a consumer fever dream to assure myself that the copper bowl I selected was not available in additional sizes in a teetering space high above my head. Lost in the musty pandemonium of it all, I grew weary of being elbowed by oblivious tourists and hip-checked by cantankerous French grandmothers and headed for check-out. Gripping the bowl tightly to my body, I navigated my way through the masses to a tall, antique counter where a clerk hand wrote my selection on a receipt and skillfully wrapped my purchase in brown butcher’s paper.
Whether a home cook, curious tourist or professional chef, the staff treated each customer tersely but equally and I imagined the same egalitarian attitude was extended to the store’s heavyweight regulars with names like Paul Bocusse, Michel Troigras and Joël Robuchon. I suspected it even applied to an E. Dehillerin fixture like Julia Child, who frequented the store right up until her death in 2004.
As I tucked the wrapped bowl into my shopping bag I took one final glimpse at E. Dehillerin. I imagine this was exactly what it looked like when it first opened its doors nearly 200 years ago, refusing to morph to fit the times like so many institutions with historical pedigrees do, or disappear all together like Les Halles. I imagined Julia glancing back from the doorway at the breathtaking bedlam ensuing within, the scene before her a mirror of my own. I decided the dust on my shoes and bruises I earned from my visit were well worth it. A purchase from E. Dehillerin will last forever. Most importantly, so will the memory of the day I successfully made my way through the mob to claim it as my own.
E. DEHILLERIN / 18 et 20, rue Coquillière – 51, rue Jean- Jacques Rousseau / 75001 Paris, France / Phone: +33 1 42 36 53 13 / Fax: +33 1 42 36 54 80 / Email: email@example.com / MAP / OPEN Monday: 9:00am-12:30pm & 2:00pm-6:00pm Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00am-6:00pm Closed on Sundays