Debauve & Gallais - Gastro Obscura

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Debauve & Gallais

Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte were fans of this 200-year-old French chocolatier. 


When Sulpice Debauve started selling chocolate in 18th century Paris, he touted the exotic import as medicinal. Debauve was a trained pharmacist, and, not incidentally, a “lumière,” one of Voltaire’s enlightened who saw science as the future. He used the utile dulci (useful sweet) to help the French Queen, Marie-Antoinette, cure her headaches.

In the process he revolutionized French chocolate. At the time, cacao was largely consumed as a beverage, one which Marie Antoinette had been drinking since her childhood in Vienna. Debauve mixed drinking chocolate with sweet almond milk and the bitter headache powder he concocted for her, then molded the mixture into disks and allowed it to solidify. The queen named these chocolates Pistoles after their resemblance to gold coins.

Debauve would become the royal pharmacist under King Louis XVI. Even after the revolution, Debauve’s reputation remained intact and Les Pistoles de Marie Antoinette, became a popular treat. In 1800, Debauve opened a chocolate shop on Paris’ Left Bank. His nephew Antoine Gallais joined him in the business. Later clients included Napoleon Bonaparte and Marcel Proust.

The Pistoles are still sold here, minus the headache powders. The shop has retained much of its original look over the last couple of centuries. Glass apothecary jars and ceramic canisters are lined up on wood shelves behind the original wood counter. Even the somewhat self important sales people seem straight out of Molière.

The shop continues to sell chocolates based on other historic recipes, including King Charles X’s Fleur de Lys, with caramel ganache, and Croqamandes, dark chocolate-coated caramelized almonds created for Napoleon. As a final flourish, chocolates come in boxes with the royal insignia on them which are wrapped with a royal blue ribbon.

Know Before You Go

The shop has two locations in Paris, but the original one on 30 Rue des Saints-Pères is a designated historic landmark and the more atmospheric.

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April 23, 2024

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