La Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac, in the 11th arrondisement of Paris, is one of the city’s best bakeries. Its croissants are mindblowing. We’re talking flaky, buttery, melting deliciousness, made fresh to order every day – exactly the treat you’d hope to find in the French capital.
It’s where I’m due to meet YouTuber Alexis Aïnouz this morning. Alex for short. Or French Guy Cooking, if you go by the name of the channel where he shows eager home cooks – like himself – how to make classic French dishes to restaurant standard. He arrives on his bike, dressed down in jeans and a hoodie, with an ear-to-ear grin that I soon realise is permanent.
We order a few of the famous croissants and, while they bake, drink coffee at the café across the street. Alex begins to relate his story in English, with the thick French accent that he’s known for among his mostly Anglophone viewers but that nevertheless vexes a few rare French râleurs (grouches).
“The râleurs say that my accent sucks,” he says, laughing. “That I should just go to culinary school. That everything sucks. I think that everything sucks in their life, so I’m part of that.”
Why should anyone care that Alex is attempting to recreate the perfect ratatouille, onion soup or, even, croissant at home? The answer has to do with a certain stuffiness around food that has made French cuisine seem inaccessible to many. For decades, Paris’s kitchens have been governed by a hierarchical system of brigades and a faithfulness to tradition that also made them resistant to change.
Thankfully, however, the city is currently in the middle of a culinary revolution. Artisanal coffee roasters are taking the place of ho-hum cafés, and smart neo-bistros with no-frills dining rooms are appearing on street corners, inside of which innovative chefs serve dishes designed to share, featuring just a handful of fresh ingredients and loads of international influences.
Connected to all this is Alex, who’s amassed over 1.6m followers on his YouTube channel in seven years of cooking, and is putting a smiling face to the idea that food doesn’t need to be pretentious to be superbly tasty.
“My content is quite casual. It’s fun in the approach,” he explains. “But, in fact, my missions are very serious. One of them being: I really want to get the ‘posh’ out of French cuisine.”