Daniel Hadida, a 25-year-old cook from Toronto, was already on track to a bright career before he moved to Paris last summer. In three years at Nota Bene, one of Toronto's better restaurants, Hadida had risen from prep cook – that's just one step above dishwasher – to tournant, one of the kitchen's highest positions.
He wanted to travel and learn, though. So through a friend who had cooked in Europe, Hadida scored a job in one of Paris's most respected kitchens. Today, he works the pastry station at Septime, a top restaurant that's run by one of the leading lights of Le Fooding, the populist French culinary movement that emphasizes great food, an openness to new ideas and accessible prices over the Michelin star system's stodginess and formality.
The cooking at Septime is light, playful, always inventive and always changing. Hadida's position doesn't demand mere culinary skills, but the ability to come up with good ideas, too: He's responsible in large part for developing the restaurant's dessert menu. The other requirement to high-level cooking in Paris: commitment. "In Canada, people will go in at 11 and work until midnight and gripe about it," Hadida says. "Here we're starting at 8 a.m. and get out at midnight and no one's going to say a word about that."
In spite of the hours, he's learning his way around the city – particularly its top food places. "There's no such thing as a foodie here," he says. "The idea of that is completely ridiculous. There is such thing as a gourmand, but a gourmand is sort of a glutton: fat, Champagne-slugging, not so romantic an idea.
"It's a birthright here that food must be good. You can be completely broke and you can still get a good bottle of wine and good bread. I love the idea of that."
One afternoon and evening in January, he showed me around a few of his favourite spots.
Le Verre Volé
This friendly, inexpensive neighbourhood bistro and bar à vins is a true local hangout, with beat-up furniture, quiet reggae on the stereo, simple food and tables filled with families at Saturday lunch. Pro cooks flock to eat here on their days off: The kitchen, run by a sort of cooks' collective, as opposed to a single chef, is known for sourcing some of the best ingredients in the city. I loved the boudin noir (blood sausage), served with a bracing salad, though there are plenty of less offal-focused picks as well. 67, rue de Lancry; leverrevole.fr
This cheesemonger in the Marché d'Aligre, a 230-year-old covered market, stocks 350 varieties, all at prices low enough to make Canadian curd lovers weep.
If you turn up here with, say €45 and a large bag and tell them you want nothing but raw-milk cheese, for instance, they'll happily oblige with a huge, stinky wheel of creamy cow's milk Mont D'Or, an oozy tomme de Fleurette the width and heft of a stack of flapjacks, a whole Burgundian beauty called Pierre-qui-Vire, a ripe-to-the-point of lewdness Coulommiers brie, and an herb-rolled goat cheese that weighs at least half a kilo – all of which they'll even offer to vac-pac so you can potentially make it past the sniffer dog at the airport and back into Canada and then bring it to a huge party the following weekend at a friend's cottage, where you'll serve it with crusty bread, mushroom ragout and innumerable bottles of natural wine and be your friends' hero for the month, at least.
Not that you would, of course. Smuggling cheese is illegal and undermines Canada's supply-managed dairy system.
But if you wanted to, maybe you could. 6, pl. Aligre Marché Couvert; 01-43-45-35-09; fromagerie-hardouin-paris.fr
Jacques Genin is often called the greatest French chocolatier; his bonbons and caramels draw a cult-like following, and his shop, with its credulity-straining prices (they're worth it!) and white-gloved attendants, feels as much like a boutique where you'd buy a $700 scarf as a place to purchase food. Full credit, though: The man is amazing at his métier. If you can grab a tarte au citron or a Paris-Brest , do not hesitate. Genin offers just one type of pastry each day. They are spectacularly good. 133, rue de Turenne; 01-45-77-29-01; jacquesgenin.fr
Boulangerie Du Pain et des Idées
The awning above the door at this 10th-arrondissement gem says "Fabrication Traditionelle." The term is not taken lightly. Everything here, from the crunchy, intense baguettes, to the tartelettes, the crumbles au citron and the viennoiseries, are made by hand, the old-fashioned way. And they taste that way. "Ask any cook in Paris where to get bread, they'll say Du Pain et des Idées," Hadida says. 34, rue Yves Toudic; 01-42-40-44-52; dupainetdesidees.com
Septime La Cave
A new offshoot of Septime, Septime La Cave is a wine bar and bottle shop specializing in offbeat, interesting and natural wines (i.e., wines made with a minimum of chemical doctoring). If you're dying to discover regions you've never heard of, or to know what all the fuss for Vin Jaune is about, this is a great place to start. The room has space for about a dozen people; it's casual and friendly, filled with votive candles and old vinyl for the turntable. There's a meat slicer, too: Crusty bread and the cured Italian pork called lombatello de cinta were on offer when we stopped in. 3, rue Basfroi; 01-43-67-14-87
This small, affordable, two-level room opened in a ritzy area of the 7th arrondissement late last year. It's been approved by Le Fooding but hadn't yet become an impossible reservation when Hadida sent me on a Friday night; I was able to get a seat at the six-spot kitchen counter. Garance's young chef, named Guillaume Iskandar, trained under Alain Passard, who is considered one of the world's top vegetable chefs. The restaurant's owner-sommelier, meantime, was Passard's sommelier at the three-starred l'Arpège. Iskandar's cooking is extraordinary: vegetable-focused (but not vegetarian) and as breathtakingly beautiful to look at as it is to eat. I ate a plate of crimson-fleshed venison tartare with red berries and sorrel leaves, plus a bowl of delicious, light-as-pollen mushroom and hazelnut velouté with rare-seared pheasant. One of the mains came with a separate vegetable plate that could have been a study in greens and yellows: tiny potatoes braised in Normandy butter; baby cabbage leaves; Brussels sprouts so tender that eating them felt like discovering a new genus of vegetable; crunchy, refreshing watercress stems. The cheese course was shavings of L'Etivaz, a punchy, raw-milk gruyère, melting onto brioche. Dessert was butternut mousse with lemon sorbet, orange pieces and ricotta, followed by ice cream made from wheat flowers. Anyway: incredible. Go. 34, rue Saint-Dominique; 01-45-55-27-56; garance-saintdominique.fr
Though Hadida's lived in Paris for nearly eight months, he still gets lost. So he relies on Metro Paris Subway, an iPhone app that finds metro, commuter rail and bus routes in the city – without requiring an Internet connection.