Walking into E. Dehillerin can trigger sensory overload in foodies.
The walls are lined with copper pots. Cast-iron cookware from Le Creuset and Staub dot basement shelves. Hard-to-find copper moldings and porcelain are in abundance. Pots and crepe pans from minuscule to monstrous are stacked floor to ceiling.
It is like stepping into the world's greatest and oldest French kitchen, one that has served as an indispensable resource for chefs and globe trotting gourmets since it opened in 1820 at the center of this gastronomically rich city.
But E. Dehillerin is no Williams-Sonoma. Don't expect some Martha Stewart experience. This cavernous kitchen supply store is dusty, and looks more barn sale than Sur la Table. And the sales people do not fawn over customers.
"It's practical," says Eric Dehillerin, the fifth generation of this Parisian family to run the famous store. "When clients enter here they are surrounded by what they see. The equipment is all around. They can see it, hold it, look at it. It's living. It has history."
And it isn't cheap.
"What's important is the range," says Dehillerin. "The diversity is essential."
The store was founded by Eugene Dehillerin near the famous Les Halles market. In 1880, it moved to it current location, an attractive building in the 1st arrondissement.
For decades, the store fabricated its own inventory using copper and iron. After World War II, it focused solely on retail rather than production, Eric Dehillerin says. The store, which also does considerable online business, works with French manufactures to produce top-notch equipment that caters to French cooking.
"There's a lot of mystique around the store and the brand," says French-born Eric Ripert, the famed chef at New York's Le Bernardin restaurant. "It has this kind of aura. It's like a secret but everybody knows about it. You basically find everything you need and everything you don't need."
The store also works with chefs to customize equipment to their needs. Dehillerin declined to discuss his current clients, but says he has worked closely with the great Paul Bocuse.
"You have to above all listen to them," Dehillerin says. "They have a certain idea of something they want to prepare and they want a certain shape, something made a certain way. We have to help them realize their wish, sometimes on a very quick turnaround. We have to be available and quick to react, which isn't always very easy."
Ripert remembers visiting the shop when he lived in Paris during the 1980s and before he'd made it big.
"I was going there mostly to look," Ripert says. "It was like fantasy for me. At the time I couldn't afford much. When I needed something of quality, I was going there. They had a reputation to be amazing but expensive."
When he returns to Paris, he still likes to pop into Dehillerin. But times have changed. He's no longer a poor cook. He doesn't have to dream about what he would like to buy for his kitchen.
"Those are dangerous stores. You go to buy a knife, you end up with a pasta machine."