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Return to normal life after a coffee and croissant at Cafe de Paris

ARE you prepared to go back to work? As the pandemic recedes, there are hopes for economic growth, and the expectation that jobs can come back. In America, according to The Economist, the unemployment rate has fallen from 15% to 6%, and rich countries are predicting a golden age for workers.

Strawberry tart at Cafe de Paris

In Zimbabwe, modest economic recovery is predicted in 2021, and leading economist John Robertson advises those of us hoping to make a comeback to ‘look after your business networks and client bases.’ He pointed out that ‘companies that have done careful preparations will be able to recover faster than others’. So far, so good. But do you really want to return to the office?

Health concerns may make you fearful of reclaiming your desk at the work place, and the prospect of sharing space in an open plan office could be stressful. This is where an effective office manager becomes essential. He or she must put health and safety protocols in place, and be prepared to set an example by following the rules themselves. Offices must be sanitised, desks socially distanced, loos kept spotless, and hand sanitiser provided at the entrance. Keep temperature checks on all staff, and if anyone feels off colour, allow them to work from home if necessary.

Many of us have gone to seed following months spent at home in our pyjamas and slippers, indulging in frequent snacks to pass the time, with little or no exercise. How to dress to disguise the newly-rounded pandemic belly is a problem, and a colleague who has spent most of 2020 padding barefoot around his house, can no longer squeeze his feet into shoes.

Mille feuille classic French dessert

Conversely, others are craving more in-person time with their business associates and team members, and feel that they’re losing connections by not going out and meeting people. Although the unpopular commute to work is reduced to a stroll from the bedroom to the computer on the dining room table, remote workers are fed up with large Zoom chats where they can’t make themselves heard during meetings, and the reality that they’re working longer hours through being available at any time, on any day of the week.

So if you’re preparing for a return to normal life, and the boss has asked you to be in the office for at least three out of five days, fortify yourself on the way to work with a hot cup of cappuccino and a buttery croissant at Cafe de Paris in Churchill Avenue, Alexandra Park. Look forward to a warm Gallic welcome from Parisian patissier Marc Banville, who arrived in Zimbabwe ten years ago. Cafe de Paris opened four years ago, and is a favourite meeting place for lovers of elegant French pastries such as profiteroles, macarons, mille feuilles, croissants and French fruit tarts.

Open every morning except Sundays at 7.30 am, Cafe de Paris is the ideal port of call before heading for your office and putting into action the plans you made the night before to re-energise your business. On our way to the CBD, George and I stopped off for an early breakfast a few Mondays ago.

Hot chocolate and almond croissant at Cafe de Paris

Steaming hot chocolate was served in a stylish elongated glass mug. An almond croissant, filled with almond frangipane with a hint of lemon, and topped with flaked almonds and icing sugar, was freshly baked and delicious.

Made from the best coffee beans, the cappuccino was full-bodied and rich in flavour. A fresh strawberry tart was almost too good to share – a thing of beauty, to be admired, savoured and eaten slowly. The tart shell, made from pate sablee, was crisp and perfectly formed, and filled with a velvety creme patissiere. Whole and sliced strawberries were placed in concentric circles, before being brushed with a strawberry glaze. We took a mille feuille (thousand sheets) home for later. Made from layers of puff pastry filled with creamy vanilla creme patissiere, the mille feuille is a classic and addictive French dessert.

Perfectionist Marc Banville always uses the best and freshest ingredients in his kitchen. Like most French chefs, Marc likes to cook with butter, never substituting oil or margarine. The tenderness and moistness of his baked goods is due in part to the use of trimoline, a syrup obtained from beet and cane sugars.

It’s not only sweetness and light at Cafe de Paris – savoury options such as chicken and mushroom pies are available at lunchtime.

Marc Banville says the months of lockdown were punishing, but it hasn’t stopped him from making plans for a new and spacious kitchen. Before long the lunch time menu will include fancy breads like brioches, panini and baguettes, green salads with goats cheese and feta, chicken and mayonnaise salads, and sandwiches stuffed with polony and gherkins.

The chef is particularly excited about the special burger and chips soon to be launched. He has a secret recipe for the burger bun, which he says will be ‘unbeatable’, and instead of chips, he’ll be serving hand cut Belgian fries.

Marc Banville says that whenever he eats out, he wants to be impressed, and if possible, ‘to be blown away’. There’s every chance that this will be your experience when visiting Cafe de Paris.
Bearing in mind economist John Robertson’s advice about the ‘careful preparations’ required to kick start your business, plan to factor in a coffee stop en route to work, whenever time permits.

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