To say that E.Dehillerin sells cooking tools is an understatement. E. Dehillerin has every quality cooking implement that can be imagined, or ever will be imagined. If you can prepare food with it, E. Dehillerin has it. From stockpots big enough to take a bath in to strange-looking julienne knives with six razor-sharp blades mounted parallel on the same handle. There was cast iron, enamel-ware, cast-iron enamelware, stainless steel, pottery, glass. It is all there.
The main floor is divided into two narrow wings. The building is located on an odd-shaped corner, and occupies most of the front of two blocks, but not the center of the block, hence the two narrow wings. From the creaky wooden floor to the high ceiling, the store is lined with ancient homemade. wooden shelves dating from the turn of the century at the very latest. Merchandise is stacked on the shelves, or arranged in wooden bins on either side of narrow aisles. Most of the light in the building comes from the windows lining the outside walls, and from ancient fluorescent fixtures mounted over the central office. Merchandise is not price-marked; the clerks will be happy to help you look up the stock numbers in the price catalogs mounted on the ends of the aisles.
Purchases are brought to a worn wooden workbench, where they are tallied by the clerk making the sale, then wrapped in paper dispensed from a roll on the wall, and held together by string and gummed paper tape. On the other side of a wooden desk, is an office, equipped with desks, one with a computer, manned by the office staff, which helps the clerks with difficult calculations, customs information for tourists, and special orders. While Joyce was comparing cutlery, I snuck downstairs, not for the love of cooking, but because I loved exploring the building. There were two more wings, not of overstock, but of other cooking stuff that they didn’t have upstairs. It was amazing trip down, through a narrow wooden winding stairway. Everything is so close together, that store patrons must proceed carefully.
Joyce met the “next available clerk”, Emille, at the door. He was very darked-skinned, and explained in his limited English that he could look up the price of anything we were interested in, and that he was our clerk. There must be a big dependence on commissions among the E.Dehillerin clerks. Emille was very good at playing ‘em and reeling ‘em in. Joyce had heard of the Mandoline on Martha Stewart’s show, so she had to see that. It is a precision-manufactured slicing apparatus, like a sauerkraut cutter with exposed razor blades. It has a straight blade, a julienne blade which looks very menacing, a crinkle-cut blade, and, most important of all, for another $40, a safety guard, which holds the intended food in the track for the blade, and the unintended food, such as fingertips and knuckles, safely on the other side of the handle. Having paid my dues at the Candle Glow restaurant years ago with the wooden potato/sauerkraut cutting board, I recognized the value of a safety guide, and strongly recommended the extra investment. Without the safety, the unit cost $100.00, but is a precision instrument that will last a lifetime, well worth it.
Then started the dickering. Over a certain minimum, Emille told us, our purchase would qualify for a tax refund, after it passed through customs. The refund would be mailed to us. However, we were about 100 francs short of making the minimum for refund. We just had to buy a little more. Joyce liked a cast (aluminum or steel?) sauce pan. She had run out of the francs from the traveler’s checks she had cashed at the hotel. I loaned her some of mine. The opportunity for a customs-tax refund this sizeable comes but once in a lifetime. It was well over the 100 francs, especially with the lid, which was extra.
But then Emille added it up again, and it was still short. How much more do we have to spend? Suddenly the English is a little less plentiful, but a very small purchase would get us up to the required refund amount. A cheese cutter had caught Joyce’s eye— it is a blade with a built-in server. It looks so much like a spatula I used to have, but had broken while scraping the stuck material off of the bottom of my cast-iron fry pan, long, long ago. We got the cheese cutter. Emille said that it was still not enough, but we had noticed a pattern of salesmanship. Emille was quite the huckster— he’d do ok demonstrating cutlery at a USA State Fair. Still, we were purchasing good quality cookware, and maybe we hadn’t understood him right, so we didn’t really get angry at him.
I write this in September, though, and we have still not received our refund in the mail from this August visit. But, at that point, we gave orders for the final wrap-up. We got detailed instructions of how to properly get the form processed by customs as we left the country. So with a shopping bag holding a 30-pound tightly-wrapped package, we continued up the street. Satisfied with all her new purchases, Joyce thought it would be a good time to stop at a sidewalk cafe for a soda, or a coffee. Wouldn’t you know it — not a cafe in sight! One of the things I will always remember about Paris: I was always hot and thirsty. And now, I would be carrying a 30-lb package for the rest of the day.
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